Editor’s note: twenty years ago, Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League in sensational style, topping Juventus 3-1 in the final at Munich’s Olympiastadion. BVB’s triumph shocked many people, given Dortmund’s underdog role and the talent that likes of Juventus had on display, such as Zinedine Zidane, Christian Vieri, Didier Deschamps, Alessandro Del Piero, and Antonio Conte. To win the title, Dortmund tied for first in its group with Atletico Madrid. In the knockout stages, Dortmund beat the endearing Auxuerre (from Ligue 1), then Manchester United before facing Juventus in the final.
In this piece, on the 20th anniversary of BVB’s Champions League win, Ben McFadyean, founder and president of the Borussia Dortmund Fan Club London, interviewed BVB defender, Steinar Pedersen, who played for Borussia Dortmund from 1996 to 1998. The Norwegian defender also played for IFK Göteborg in Sweden and IK Start in Norway among other clubs. As the first Norwegian to win a Champions League title, Pedersen was capped once for his country. Currently, Pedersen is the head coach of IK Start.
Ben: Steinar Pedersen, we are honoured to speak to you, a Borussia Dortmund player of 97! Thanks for taking part in this interview series of 1997 Borussia Dortmund legends special!
Although you had limited opportunity to show your skills at Borussia Dortmund, with 4 appearances including 2 in the Champions League, you were part of the BVB squad that won the now legendary 1997 Champions league. Dortmund were on a huge high at the time, having just won the championship in 95/96 what was the atmosphere like at the club?
Steinar Pedersen: A scout arranged a trial at Dortmund, we were on summer break in Norway and I wanted to gather more international experience and a flavour of European football, I went down to Switzerland to the summer training camp of BVB, at 21 I was very motivated by the idea of such a big opportunity at one of the biggest clubs in Europe at the time I was a young player with potential but I was surprised to be getting a trial at BVB and I knew it was going to be a huge challenge. The day before the trial I had played a match in Norway, I was given a match straight away to play on arrival and then a second followed a day later, three matches in 3 days was quite a start for me!
Ben: A lot of readers have been football players at local club’s themselves, how was your experience of joining a top international club like BVB?
Steinar Pedersen: After a successful trial I was offered a contract by the then manager Michael Meier, Dortmund saw potential in me, I knew it was going to be a huge learning curve playing with some of the best players in Europe.A great opportunity and a big step forward from the Norwegian league to the Bundesliga one I could not afford to miss out on but the start was not so good; my first match with Borussia was a surprising loss away at SG Wattenscheid 09, 4-2 if I remember correctly, the local rivals knocked us the reigning champions out in the first round of the DFB Pokal.
Ben: Was it a challenge settling in in Germany? Do you have any recollections to share with us about your experience of Dortmund?
Steinar Pedersen: The club was incredibly well run. I could see from the great discipline and training any result could be achieved under Ottmar Hitzfeld. I was very impressed from the outset a big leaning curve for me and an opportunity. Although it is an industrial city and very different to the Norwegian coastal town of Kristiansund where I grew up I was really struck by the friendliness of the local people in Dortmund and their attachment to the Borussia. Black and Yellow is everywhere in Dortmund. I moved there with my girlfriend, now mother of my three boys, one of my boys is now a professional in the third division in Norway by the way, the tempo and the training was on a different level and I had to really concentrate but I was lucky to share the hotel where I initially lived with guys like Paul Lambert, Jovan Kirvoski and Vladimir But. They all spoke English perfectly and we were all young international players especially with Vlad I had some great laughs I remember all of them, great players and great people.
Ben: You were part of an amazing team including Germany World Cup winning stars like Andy Möller, Kalle Riedle, Jürgen Kohler who were your friends in the team and what do you remember about these guys? How was the atmosphere in the locker rooms at BVB with so many legends in the team?
Steinar Pedersen: For me football has always been about working hard, believing in yourself and getting results. I’ve always been a very focussed professional I was a young professional and joining up with the players who had just won the European championship at England 96, it was amazing having the chance to be part of the locker room with European champions like Andi Moeller, Juergen Kohler and Matthias Sammer I was somewhat overawed as a young professional and my time with BVB was just one season but an amazing year to be there, I have amazing memories of the teamwork and friendships, I got on great with Knut Reinhart and Steffen Freund, great people and fantastic players. A chance to learn from the best!
Ben: What match experiences stick in your mind at BVB, I guess something every BVB fan wants to know what was it like playing in front of the Yellow wall at Westfalenstadion? What makes Dortmund such a special club?
Steinar Pedersen: Playing in Dortmund is very very special, for me one of the greatest stadiums in the world. What I remember especially is Champions league matches, I travelled with Dortmund to play Steua Bucharest and Lech Warsaw in Poland and played against Atletico Madrid twice. My dad who is the goalkeeping coach of IK Start the team I am the manager of keeps a special souvenir of my experience at Borussia, it has a funny story, Long before I had secured my contract with BVB we as a family had booked a family holiday to Thailand, my father keeps a special souvenir of my career the BVB shirt I gained for the match I played for BVB against Atletico Madrid, although my father was in Thailand at the time and never got to see the game, my two matches against Atletico Madrid in the Champions league for BVB remain with me as one of the proudest moments of my career at least he has the shirt!
Ben: You were with BVB for only one season do you have any regrets? What happened?
Steinar Pedersen: Being a football player you have to make choices and at the time I was on the bench at Dortmund, I chose to go out on loan and when I came back to Dortmund at the start of 1997/98 Nevio Scala was the new manager, there were new players and new coaches everything had changed, If you look at BVB now, Tuchel seems to have done a great job on paper and yet it looks like change in the management, its a special dynamic in football, I think if I had the choice again I would have stayed at Dortmund even as a reservist but you always know better afterwards.
Ben: It has been 20 years since you left Dortmund, do you still go to BVB matches? What has been your experience since leaving BVB? Have you kept in touch?
Steinar Pedersen: I returned to Dortmund as part of my coaching training in 2012, I spent a week in Dortmund, what surprised me was the reception I got from BVB how I was so well received after all those years, Susi Zorc especially was very open, he is doing an amazing job, how he keeps on top of things the player transfers, the agents, buying and selling, it’s no coincidence that Dortmund get the results they are focussed in an impressive way, also my team mate from 97 Teddy De Beer who is now goalkeeping coach at Dortmund. It’s about structure an focus at Dortmund. Also youth is the key factor, the club train with great coaches and have a great youth set up, Lars Ricken who I played with is doing and amazing job with the youth development. During my coaching training I also did some sessions with then coach Juergen Klopp, what a great influence he has had on BVB. We all remember reading about the struggles with bankruptcy in 2008, BVB has only come out stronger.
I have been invited twice to watch matches at Signal Iduna Park, I also went to the UCL qualifiers in Brann in Norway vs Odd last summer but I have never in the yellow wall unfortunately, the atmosphere is fantastic though especially You never walk alone and the chants. Maybe the best in the world?
Ben: You yourself are also now a coach at the club you played for in your childhood, IK Start, what is it like going from youth player to coach and that at your childhood team? A dream?
Steinar Pedersen: The best thing ever is being a football player and having that as a job, the second best is being a coach, as a footballer you want to give something back after your playing career, you want to give 100%, what better way than being a coach? Last year due to financial challenges IK were relegated to the second division so we are now rebuilding but I am confident we will get to the first division. Football is a lifestyle being a coach has great challenges but also great opportunities, being a coach with my home club is special, amazing to have a career like that!
Ben: What makes the Bundesliga special for you? In England people now follow the Bundesliga more and more and say the play is tougher and harder like the premiership was 20 years ago. Is it really the toughest league in the world? Did you ever have a chance to play in England? Would you have liked to?
Steinar Pedersen: I like English football, although as child my favourite football team was AC Milan, I actually played as an U21 Norway international against Edgar Davids, I did also follow English football in particular Erik Thorstvedt when he was a goalie at Tottenham Hotspur, I had talks with David Moyes when he was at Preston North End but I came very close to signing with Bolton Wanderers who I trialled with and played some reserve matches the issue was Bolton had financial issues and they had to sell Nathan Blake before securing any new signings. English football has always been popular in Norway but now we have also many Bundesliga fans, I often get contacted by BVB fans in Norway who ask if I can help with tickets for matches. A great club, I am proud to have been part of!
Ben: Thank you Steinar Pedersen for sharing your memories with us today, please come and meet the English Borussia fans at our Stammtisch, we would be honoured to have you as a member of our fan club and congratulations on doing us all proud as part of the squad who won the 1997 Champions league Borussia Dortmund.
Steinar Pedersen: Thanks a lot Ben for the conversation, I will be glad to visit your fan club when I am in London, keep up the good work as BVB fan club president in England also.