Bundesliga Rivalries: Borussia Dortmund – FC Schalke

They may not be as intense as the local derbies in London, or as glamorous as the El Classico in Spain, but Germany’s grudge matches are also steeped in tradition and intensity.  In part 1 of this mini-series, we’ll take a look at this Friday’s Ruhr Valley clash between Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04.

“We’re still ahead of Borussia Dortmund in the table!” answered Schalke star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after his club’s 2-0 loss to their bitter rivals during the 2007-2008 season.  There is very little love lost between fans of the two clubs — let’s take a look at the reason why the Revier (Ruhr area) derby is so popular.

The history

The rivalry between the clubs is rooted in the similarity of their fan bases.  Both clubs are supported mainly by fans of a working-class background within close geographical proximity.  The two teams first met in 1925, and the seeds of their mutual dislike were planted as Schalke dominated Dortmund up to the end of World War II, although the teams played in different district leagues..  The derby intensified in 1947, when the two clubs began playing each other more regularly and Dortmund began not only winning games against Schalke but started appearing as a power in Germany.

The formation of the Bundesliga in 1963, coinciding with Dortmund’s increased rise to national prominence, helped create the rivalry we know today between the Ruhr Valley clubs.  Each team has won 27 times in the derby since then, with 23 draws, ending  Schalke’s early dominance.  Meanwhile, Dortmund have won three Bundesliga tables, while Schalke haven’t won one yet, although they’ve been runner-ups six times, giving Dormund fans plenty of bragging rights to hurl at their rival fans.  Both Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park and Schalke’s Veltins Arena are huge stadiums, holding over 80,000 and 61,000 fans respectively, and the Bundesliga’s policy of keeping ticket prices low means each locale is packed with a huge throng of enthusiastic fans.

Schalke fans, however, can boast as an honorary member of its club the popular late Pope John Paul II, who celebrated a Mass at Schalke’s Parkstadion in 1987 in additon to two DFB Pokal Cup crowns since Dortmund have last won that competition.  Schalke can also boast a mention in Das Boot, the internationally renowned classic film in which a member of the crisis-laden WWII U-boat crew finds tme to relay the result of a Schalke match to his fellow crew-members.  Schalke were again runner-ups in the Bundesliga title chase last year and can brag of still being active in European competition and the DFB Pokal Cup, while Dortmund were eliminated from the Europa League and Cup in 2010.

Although the rivalry has not degenerated into excessive displays of violence between supporters of both clubs, it’s obvious that animosity between the two groups is there.  One example occurred after Dortmund’s 2-0 win over Schalke ruined the Royal Blues chances for a Bundesliga title.  Dortmund fans obtained a blimp, which was launched above the Vetlins Arena at Schalke’s next home match. adorned with the message  “You will never win the championship.”

Friday’s match

Borussia Dortmund’s dynamic play under Jurgen Klopp has lifted them to a comfortable perch atop the Bundesliga table has been one of the major talking points this season around the world, while Felix Magath’s Schalke side have endured a sub-standard Bundesliga campaign thus far, despite success in the Champions League.  The Gelsenkirchen club have so far lost two of their three matches since winter break, while Dortmund ahve begun 2011 by winning twice and drawing once.

Die Knappen lost the derby to the Yellow and Blacks of Dortmund 3- 1 last fall, and Dortmund will be looking to double the humiliation to their neighbors in front of their home fans Friday.  Expect tempers to run high on the pitch, along with some memorable moments.  If this match holds what it promises, it should be a humdinger.

Niklas’ look at another big derby, St. Pauli and Hanburg SV, will be posted soon.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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