It was supposed to be simple. When I first heard about the champions league draw earlier this year I was in the south of France, sitting at a desk, frantically surfing the web for reaction.
“APOEL and Tottenham? That’s four wins.” One Dortmund fan said. “It’s the group of death because we’re in it,” responded another.
Two draws with the Cypriots, and two less than convincing performances in losses to Real Madrid and Tottenham later, and all of a sudden BVB’s European campaign was on the edge.
A winless campaign for APOEL is understandable, but for a German super power, is both unthinkable and unacceptable. That coupled with a crumbling domestic effort, in which Dortmund’s finest have gone from unbeatable, to leaky in under a month, has made for tough viewing for the locals prior to the game.
This week’s European tie vs Tottenham at home therefore was a chance to bounce back, but also a crucial test against one of England’s stronger sides. They needed a win.
Now, cards on the table. I’m not a Dortmund fan, in fact, in Bundesliga terms I’m a Stuttgart supporter, and have been since a German colleague of mine told me he was a Karlsruher fan just as I was getting into the Bundesliga after studying its history during my sports journalism University course.
“Who do you support then?” I asked.
“Karlsruher SC,” he replied.
“So who’s your big rival then?”
“Then I’ll cheer them on,” I chuckled.
I then went out on a limb, and took a trip to the Mercedez-Benz Arena for the home opener against Köln two years back, and to my surprise, I fell in love with the Swarbian team.
So why Dortmund v Spurs? Well, because I’m from North London, and a big Tottenham supporter. So when Dortmund came up on the draw, it felt like a calling, and I quickly planned my first Champions League football adventure.
The weekend before the trip, Spurs lost to bitter rival Arsenal, but, Stuttgart beat Dortmund. So really, I had mixed feelings headed in, my head said a Dortmund victory, my heart rested in the Tottenham win camp. That was, until, I heard the chatter between some Dortmund fans before the game. It appeared that the Revierderby on the weekend was the big priority, any chances of a champions league resurgence was over.
I didn’t mind though, travelling to Germany and seeing Spurs win at Signal Iduna was the priority here, in addition to experiencing the patriotism and camaraderie from meeting fellow supporters at every step of the journey there and back, storming a country with a common goal; it’s an interesting way to see the world…
The loss of hope from many Dortmund fans did however, affect the atmosphere. The ‘Yellow Wall’, 90 percent full and just 80 percent pumped up, wasn’t quite as imposing as I’d expected. Nevertheless, the fans were still jumping, singing and drumming for the entire game, still making for one of the most electric atmospheres I’ve ever experienced at a football game, when added to the relentless nature of the Spurs fans.
Oddly, I had the interesting experience of sitting in the home end, to my right, the away fans, to my left, the biggest terrace in the world. Being unable to shout and scream was a price to pay, clap and cheer in the right places though and there’s no worries. For someone who works almost every weekend, and usually out of the country, (and therefore has no chance of making use of a season ticket), it’s either sit in the home end and take it all in, or don’t go at all. Sorry Dortmund fans, I couldn’t pass this one up.
The game itself was a belter, Dortmund’s supporters getting a real boost from the return of Stuttgart loss absentee Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who thumped one into the back of the net in the first half to hand Dortmund a confidence-inspiring 1-0 lead.
But the second half was a different story, it didn’t last. The sieve-like BVB defence I’d read about and seen on TV, was present and noticeable up close, Spurs not having to work too hard to break into the box and create chances. And in the end there were plenty, headlined by Harry Kane leveling it shortly after the break, before Son Heung Min scored what turned out to be the decisive second goal, after a sublime feed from a determined Delle Ali, who broke into the box late in the half and whipped a pass into the middle for the final blow, putting BVB out of the Champions League, and Spurs firmly atop the group.
After that, many fans left, but it was the ones who stayed that I was most impressed with. Even after the whistle, much of the Sud Tribune continued to shout and cheer, clapping the disappointed players, who stood in a line and watched in awe at the unwavering loyalty shown by the ultras.
And it’s that which draws me to German football more and more with each passing match day. The culture is different, but in a good way. Everyone from the UK who visits Germany leaves envious. You can drink together, sing together, party together and enjoy whole experience together. There’s too many places now where the segregation of fan bases extends further than just inside the ground, and where even if it doesn’t, many would argue it should.
Strobles pub outside Westfalenstadion was an incredible place to take in the pre-game festivities, full of both sets of fans getting hyped up as one. It’s the way it should be.
The only disappointment came after the game. The pub I ended up in after midnight didn’t have any Dortmund supporters left drinking, despite being the site of the Dortmund Rio De Janiero fan club gathering. I can’t think why?
As a place though, Dortmund is a diamond in the rough as a place to visit it seems, it’s a very welcoming place. While some of our fellow Spurs supporters ended up stopping over in Düsseldorf, citing it as a better place to spend time away from the ground, my dad and I were in the thick of it, just outside the main station and a stone’s throw away from the Deutsches Fußballmuseum, which after visiting, I can confidently say is a must-do for any passers through, if you haven’t been already.
So will I go back to Dortmund? Yes, 100%, even after seeing it for a match which ended in crippling disappointment for the home fans. But next time, I’ll head there for a Stuttgart game, and take in the Bundesliga atmosphere again.
I was told before going that the only problem with going to the Westfalenstadion as an away fan is that you’ll leave wishing you supported Dortmund. And to be fair, I can understand why now, though I’ll still be cheering on VfB during Bundesliga Saturdays.
But, before I head back to Dortmund, there’s a chance I may end up back in Germany for another Spurs game. Round of 16 vs Bayern anyone?
It’d be hard to say “no.”
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