In the third and final part of their German trilogy Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game head to Borussia Dortmund to take in the sights, colour and massive sausages.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks.
Although I am a big fan of the Western themed concluding part of the Back To The Future saga, I can however appreciate that the third part of many trilogies can fall a little short. The Godfather and Star Wars being fine examples, but waking with a fuzzy head again, my feeling is that today is going to be a little bit more time travelling train, than weird shit at the Vatican or tiny furry tree dwelling teddy bears.
Within walking distance of our hotel there is everything you could possibly want, including a sandwich shop that puts any Upper Crust or similar such station eatery horror show you get in England to shame. Freshly made offerings help overcome the countless local beers we guzzled last night, in a pub that looked straight from the pages of a Hans Christian Andersen story after eating a steak the Flintstones might have struggled with.
Opposite the central station and our morning entertainment before heading off to the game is the German Football Museum, its glass fronted, angular design is hard to miss, and far too close to ignore. We are not the only ones who have had the same idea, black and yellow is everywhere, fans of all ages displaying their support every which way they can. One car owner has gone as far as fitting a Borussia Dortmund (BVB) shirt over the driver’s seat, to match the BVB seat belt covers.
The Germans eye watering national football history, can justify a museum all of its own, and this is what the first large room is dedicated to, every so often the lights would dim, and a highlight from one of the many finals, would play out on one of the screens dotted around the room. Memorabilia and artifacts of all kinds fill cabinets and cover walls. One favorite of mine was an Oliver Bierhoff shirt, a player I was a huge fan of growing up, watching his exploits on Football Italia on a Saturday morning.
Into the Kino, which is one of the few words of German I remember, it means cinema, a short film is showing the events of the most recent victory in Brazil. As fantastic at football the likes of Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Philipp Lahm are, when asked to do a segment to camera or segway between videos, their skills are slightly lacking. One particular bit of ‘World Cup winners banter’ between Hummels and Müller, which I think is along the lines of ‘we are enemies at our clubs, but for our nation we are friends’ breaches the language barrier with its overwhelming awkwardness, and we with everyone else in the darkened room, let out a sigh.
Next along, and perhaps the most impressive are seven uplit cabinets, displaying four World Cups and three European Championships. It really does feel very special to be in the presence of them. Seeing the the 1996 European Championship trophy, I get a flashback to one of the saddest days in my young football life, all with the Lighting Seeds playing in my head.
“A hell of a lot more yellow and black” says Tom as its BVB shirts galore at the station, this time there is no discussion what train we have to get on, and we are lucky to find a seat before it quickly resembles a commuter train from Japan.
We cross paths with two other English guys on a similar trips to ours, also on the way to BVB and who are able to shed a little light on the mystery broken glass on the coach, that followed our near death experience on the first day. Such was the sudden and violent manoeuvre the bus driver had to make to stop us crashing into a wandering car, one passenger ended up putting his elbow through a glass door.
From behind a line of bare trees, running alongside the railway line, we get our first view, from ground level at least of the Signal Iduna Park, its yellow stanchions jutting out from its grey body. Its very clear, that it is not a pretty stadium, it’s not going to win any style awards. It’s huge mass is not very inspiring, but you never judge a book by it’s cover, unless it’s written by Jeffrey Archer. As all our Mothers told us, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and there is one specific part of the inside in particular, that we are most excited about seeing.
Before we get off, an older Irish chap we had chatted to, says something I thought only people doing bad impressions of your typical Irishman would say “enjoy the craic!”.
Up a long slope from the station, along a sticker plastered pathway, we arrive at one entrance to the ground, not far from us a noisy group are getting off their coach. A high fence at the end of the approach is closed and heavily manned with people in high viz jackets. On the other hand the food, beer, and merchandise stalls, either side of us, are raring to go.
Being inquisitive sorts, we pass what feels like the obvious options, walk down a short narrow tunnel and on the other side find a table filled courtyard, each one with a yellow and black umbrella. White single storey buildings surround us on three sides, and on the fourth is not quite what we were expecting, a high dive and a couple of murky looking swimming pools. As we look a little closer, studying our surroundings the banks of lockers, the Neptune mural on the wall above our heads, it dawns on us that this is the local outdoor swimming baths, right next to one of Germany’s largest football stadiums.
There are two options for food, either the stainless steel trailer, with its vat of bubbling soup, grill with burgers, next to a bucket full of boiling sausages, or chips, endless piles of chips. We opt for the sausage, “buon appetito” says the vendor, the micro bun seems simply there to give you something to hold it with, so you don’t look like a total heathen walking around with a huge bratwurst in your hand, but the chips are calling us from their white paper tray, like mayo covered sirens, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing them soon.
Fans of BVB will clearly come from far and wide to support their team, going by the jacket of the man in front of us who is a member of the “Dortmund sailors” a Hamburg supporters club. They it seems will also wear anything black and yellow, literally anything. One man is sporting a spiffing pair of yellow trousers which have a hint of the Rupert the Bear about them. With the cold weather there is also an eclectic mix of hats, and we discuss which is our favourite and which we might go and buy on this chilly day. My choice does not go down well with Tom “I hate bobble hats”, his I think “is a little bit too yellow”, one person has a Bert from Bert and Ernie one, and takes the prize for best head wear, but sadly I doubt we can pick one of them up from the official shop.
Having demolished his sausage, Tom decides its “chip time”, encouraged by the two guys who just passed us eating away. The queue is long, the lady a little surly, but that has probably more to do with my poor German, than any disparaging judgement on what I’m sure is normally a gleaming personality. Regardless the wait is well worth it, and despite them being “fucking hot” as Tom learns the hard way after being a little hasty chucking them in his gob, and manages again to get another condiment stain on his jacket, it’s worth it, and with the beer, they go down so well.
Eager to move on, we can hear the occasional burst of a horn in the distance, we head off, hoping the gates are now open. They are, and the numbers have swelled, “its a sea of black and yellow” comments Tom, more and more fans with scarves around their wrists are making their way in, men in jean vests covered in patches, and one woman in the same get up is carrying a drum almost as big as her.
Whatever country you are in, whatever football team you are watching, the clubs shops sell all the same tat, just a different colour, with a different badge on. The official BVB trailer is no different, even selling a dog bowl, amongst the flags and shirts. Tom however, adds to his pin collection picking one from the many on offer.
Post pat down, bag search and quizzical look from security when we showed them our flag, our waiting around at this particular entrance has been a little fruitless, because we can’t go any further without our ticket, so need to double back, and go for a walk. Thankfully it’s not far, and means we get to peek over the fence at BVB’s old ground, with its sweeping banks of terracing and what looks like a wooden grandstand, all in the immediate shadow of its far more modern and younger brother right next door. It also explains the stone arch, and wrought iron gates we had passed earlier, looking like a set piece from Gladiator, beautiful but totally out of place.
Standing outside the club’s mega store, a towering club badge hanging on the front, looking calm amongst the throngs of people is Bjorn, who works as a fan liaison at BVB. It is he who we are to collect our tickets from, and after introducing ourselves, he is kind enough to offer a bit of a tour.
Up close now, past the barriers and our second manhandling of the day, the scale of the stadium is astonishing. Walking around the windy concourse, we occasionally get a teasing glimpse of the pitch and the stand inside through wide block entrances. More than once Bjorn stops, exchanges handshakes with passing fans, before we continue, his position means he is very much a face around here.
He is more than just a corporate staff member, someone clocking on and off. Before taking the position he tells us he used to go to all BVB games home and away. I say this must be his “dream job”, but he looks almost sternly at me and replies “but you have to think”, think about turning your passion, your love, your obsession into your job, and what impact that is going to have on your experience. He adds that he can’t always watch the games, like he used to because his job now means sometimes he is required elsewhere.
We are even lucky enough to get a look behind the scenes, as he takes us to where not long from now the team coaches will arrive, and the players and staff will disappear down the respective stairs into the changing rooms below, cameras are already set up, in anticipation of their arrival. In a bit of a juxtaposition, only a few feet away from us is the entrance of the club’s old ground, that we had passed before, there is something almost poetic about them being so close, one almost merging into the other. I have to admit the stone facade and high metal gate are much more interesting than its new incarnation.
Bjorn is to leave us now, but not before I have our third or fourth Spurs oriented chat of the trip, I guess I can’t be surprised considering the two teams imminent Europa League games. He tells us he will be off to London soon, for a site visit at White Hart Lane, and I ask how the club are feeling about the draw “happy about the city, not the team” surely the mighty BVB are not concerned about little old Spurs.
Tom asks one last question, standing on an open corner of the ground, between two stands the scale of what is behind us is almost hard to fathom “can it get any bigger?” his reply is short, and to the point and
delivered with a smile “we have to have more tickets than Bayern Munich”.
Opportunities for food, drink and merchandise seem to be everywhere, like a shopping centre and food court all mixed into one, but only selling one brand. I succumb and get us both a beer glass, İlkay Gündoğan is smiling back at us on ours. It has a little of the ‘hello I’m a tourist’ about it, but lots of ‘locals’ seem to have them, so I don’t feel totally like I have just bought a Union Jack hat, and I’m walking around central London. One of the more boutique shops if you like, is run by one of the three Ultras groups the club has, there is a considerable queue, stickers are the order of the day, as people hand over their money, and get a handful in return.
A small sign at the bottom of what feels like a never ending set of stairs, points to our block. We can also follow the men whose hoodies display their loyalty to one particular block in the stadium. “That was hard work” says Tom, only ever so out of breath, as I drag myself up the last couple of steps, calling out for a oxygen mask.
Once I have composed myself, there is only one thing to do, and that is to see it with our own eyes, that thing we have watched countless YouTube videos about, read about, looked at God only know how many pictures of and read numerous accounts of other people’s experiences, but we now get to see it for ourselves, the ‘Yellow Wall’, the Südtribüne.
There is not an adjective in my vocabulary that can do this living, black and yellow mountain justice. The landing at the top of our entrance, gives us both a moment not just to take it in, but also to comprehend the fact that in less than an hour 26,000 people, us included, will be standing, safely, to watch the game.
We climb a little bit further and find a spot that suits us, and the view is outstanding. The flags down below, are already going, a small child clings onto his father’s arm nervously, as they pass us in search of a somewhere to stand. For a 32 year old brute like me this is mind boggling, for a child it must be a mixture of terrifying and life changingly exciting.
The air is thick with cigarette smoke, and Tom and I continue to be slack jawed in awe of where we are. “That’s not a handbag” he says to me on one of the few occasions he can pick his chin off the floor. I must admit I do find the timing of what I first think is a catty, fashionista comment about some ladies accessories a little strange, but then realise it’s another case, as at Bochum, of giant pretzels, so big you can hang them off your arm.
It’s my turn to do the beer run, only I come up against a bit of a hurdle, they don’t take cash. So I go in search of a man who will take my money, and convert into credit on a yellow pay as you go top up card, which will then allow me to get the drinks in. Interestingly I find as with the “Borusseum” the club museum that Bjorn had told us about, that the same play with words also applies to the ‘bretzels’. Can you see what they did there? As I wait to be served, I’m almost overcome by the noise coming from back inside the ground. Doing as the locals do, carrying our snacks like the latest Hermes, the stand is a mass of whirling scarves, and even more flags as the player start to come out for the warm up.
“Shit got busy” says Tom, in the short amount of time I’ve been away, it has become chocka block. When the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (TSG) players come out to the familiar boos and whistles, along with the now familiar German love of a middle finger, one fan in particular gives them both barrels, mounting the railing in front of him, thrusting both digits towards the opposition.
Not content with playing each other on the pitch, the stadium announcer introduces the clubs official FIFA players, who are sitting on a couch in front of a TV on a little stage way down the front.
A drum somewhere in this heaving, living 8th wonder of the world in front of us is quietly thumping away. Now less than a quarter of an hour to go, everything starts to gather more and more momentum, flags seem to be appearing from everywhere, including on the side of the pitch, as people like pikemen get into position, with them rolled up resting on their shoulders.
It feels like one power ballad, after another, every supporter seems to know the words, and belts out the lyrics. The Ultras are clapping above their heads in time with the drummer, who could do a fine job on a Roman Galley.
What always motivated this trip, was not really the football per se, you can watch that anywhere, football’s, football unless you perhaps go to see one of the ‘greats’ who are particularly awesome at it, but it was the supporters and atmosphere that was the biggest draw for us.
As the opening bars of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ start, the next few minutes are ones I will have
difficulty ever forgetting. 80,000 people, scarves out above their heads, flawlessly sing a song that is not in their first language, the whole pitch is now covered in people whose choreographed flag flying adds to the spectacle, its hairs up on the back of your neck kind of stuff.
I’m not ashamed to say it, I like a bit of Van Halen, high pitched guitar masturbation at its finest, so when ‘Jump’ starts as the team’s appear, well I’m fucking pumped!
I wish I was able to describe quite how much is going on, I think I’m suffering from sensory overload. When the stadium announcer asks for a cheer from each stand, there was never going to be any debate as to which one was going to give the loudest, and I’m almost lifted off my feet.
“Sha, la, la, la Borussia”
For the first time, we spot the lesser spotted Capo, on his perch. He has discarded the megaphone as was
the weapon of choice of his contemporaries at the previous two games. A bigger stand, come more people, your own personal PA system will only do, its yellow and black speakers flank him, as the crowd immediately in front of him pogo.
Oh yeah, there is a game on as well.
Behind the unfurled flags, standing to attention, just itching to be brought to life, BVB are both dominant and wasteful in possession all at the same time, on more than one occasion the whole ground grumbles in unison, like a Godzilla sized Eeyore.
If I thought the keg carrying beer sellers at Essen had a tough job, the “Drink Man” as their badges describes them, are performing a task of biblical proportions, we assist as best we can, lightening his load with a quick tap of our BVB contactless credit card.
With twenty five minutes gone, it’s the small pocket of TSG fans at the opposite end, whose flags look so small it’s like someone is waving a handkerchief, who are celebrating, when their team finally punishes BVB and score, somewhat against the run of play, but it’s not like they have not had a fair bit of possession themselves, with the home team giving the ball away time after time.
Despite the goal, I think the fan to Tom’s left is more concerned about the fact he is flicking the foamy head off his beer “what are you doing?” than the fact his team have gone behind, “it’s the best bit!” he proclaims.
Tom’s neighbour is chatty, and happy to share his opinions. When BVB almost concede again,“this is the Bundesliga, everyone can beat everyone” he tells us and I must admit with BVB second from the top, and TSG flirting with relegation, I think we both thought it was going to be a bit more one sided. At least though in his beer haze he is still able to be philosophical “but it’s only a game” he says shrugging and smiling.
If you wanted the ideal voice to charm Tom in going on a date with you, that of the Capo, who he describes as sounding “sexy and gravelly”, would not be a bad choice, Not quite Barry White deep, a bit more Marlboro reds and straight Jack Daniels, he keeps the atmosphere at a constant level regardless of the score or performance.
Marco Reus almost levels the game, just before halftime, with a sweetly hit curling free kick, which is up and over the wall, but just a little too close to the keeper, whose slightly overly theatrical outstretched save, pushes it round the post.
“No toilet break for him” Tom notices, pointing at the Capo, who instead of stopping and taking a chance to rest, he continues to manage the Ultras as both teams leave the pitch. We on the other hand use the stop in play to take advantage of the free Wifi, and check the football scores from home. When we had looked before kick off, both Spurs and Arsenal were losing, but with the full time whistle having gone now, the fortunes of Spurs at least had changed, they have managed to turn things around and win, sadly for Tom, boohoo, Arsenal have lost to Man United.
For a moment I forget where I am, and start to rub salt into Tom’s raw Arsene Wenger shaped wound, reconfirming for him how awesome Spurs are, and other such nonsense, all in my Spurs scarf, in the ground of our next Europa League opponents. I received a few looks, nothing aggressive or threatening, just a glance here or there, which has probably more to do with me dancing about, rather than a blue and white scarf, but revert back to the shrinking violet I am, nonetheless.
I’m a big fan of a raffle or 50/50 and nine times out of ten at the non-league games we go to in England you can win a hamper of fudge or a bottle of plonk, but sadly it’s not a tradition that continues higher up the pyramid at home, but not here. If we didn’t think football in Germany was awesome enough as it is, the half time entertainment is two people guessing the weight of a ham, like two children guessing how many sweets are in the jar at the School Summer fair, to win a mobile phone.
That voice, that rock and roll voice starts up again “Borussia, Borussia” it’s absolutely deafening, and perhaps spurred on by the crowd, BVB hit the post in the opening minutes of the new half. Tom however is contemplating his life where you just sound like everyone else “wish my phone voice sounded like that”.
I think the last thing you would want to do is make ‘The Wall’ angry, 26,000 people baying for your blood, but the referee seems adamant to wind them up, with some very strange decisions.
Another subject covered in our German football masters this weekend is if the crowd disagree, the beers starts to fly. One fan just in front follows suit and launches his drink forwards. Whereas in the last two games this has gone on without even the hint of disapproval from the stewards, a watchful one on our block is squeezing down the line of the beverage hurler, and starts to scold him, it gets quite heated, and it looks like he is going to get chucked out.
If Tom was not in the loo he would have undoubtedly said to me “game on” when TSG get a man sent off with thirty minutes of the game left. The angry wall, is now a happy wall, and its wave, after wave of BVB attack, but they are still unable to shake that sloppy tag from the first half.
A team can have all the possession in the world, but when the one you’re up against put ten men behind the ball, it’s a tough proposition, along with TSG playing for time, taking just that little bit longer to get up after fouls, taking an age to take throw ins or goal kicks, the clock is slowly ticking down.
You know a fan is committed when their oxygen tank is in the colours of the club they support, and she along with the other 81, 359 here today are willing on the team, and will ten minutes to go there is finaly a breakthrough.
“Toooooorrrrrrr” people are hugging each other, people are hugging the stewards, confetti rains down around us. Every conceivable thing, that can we waved, swung, whirled or swooshed is above people’s heads, as TSG’s rear guard is finally broken down. Literally the whole stand is bouncing, not just the hardcore, not just the Ultras, everyone its spread like wild fire, I’m sure I even saw the woman with the oxygen at it.
If you can imagine the atmosphere and excitement of the equalising goal, now try and picture how the place went through the roof, when they went ahead. Once again my vocabulary struggles to express quite how fucking insane it is when this many people, well over double of what Bournemouth get in their whole ground, and not taking into account the rest of the place, celebrate together the goal that now puts them in the lead.
Once Tom has stopped singing along and dancing with his new best friend to his left, “ola, ola BVB, ola, ola, BVB”, he looks us both dead in the eye shouting so he can be heard “home power!”
I’m not sure how much more of this I can take, because BVB only go and grab a third, the man of the moment, African footballer of the year pops up to put the game to bed in extra time. Both of us are now fully caught up in the moment, like the TSG defense we have crumbled, the BVB spirit has enveloped us, and we join all those around us in shouting the scorers name “Aubameyang”.
With the game over, the win confirmed, a giant bee strides around the pitch, it’s black and yellow so I guess it counts, and what is perhaps my favourite German football tradition takes places, when the team take the time to applaud the fans. Approaching the Südtribüne they take each other by the hand, and crouch in a line on the edge of the eighteen yard box . The fans serenade the players with a low rumbling song, that then drops into a much livelier number, as both players and fans jump, “sha, la, la, la, la” some supporters multi task, jumping and still managing to wave a flag or swing a scarf, the song fades out and ends with a rousing round of applause, but that’s not quite it.
“Ohhhhhhhhhh” fingers wiggle out in front of the fans anticipating what the players are about to do, who are still joined in a line “ohhhhhhhhhhh, la, la, la” the players as one raise their arms offering one last salute to what has been a ceaseless and enduring support.
On the way out, we make sure to thank Bjorn again. We also take the opportunity to explore the foot of the now empty wall, which from up high felt so far away, and now looking at it the other way round, from bottom to top, we have to take a second to try and get to grips with just how colossal it is.
Back at the swimming pool, it’s now dark and the ground is illuminated behind us. We take a seat on one of the empty wooden tables, on it a sticker reads “straight out of Dortmund”.
For anyone who has ever been to a Summer festival, the scene adjacent to the diving board, is similar to that of when the music has stopped but the party carries on. The generators of the stalls hum away, people huddle in groups around them, eating, drinking, the air is full of the sound of people chatting, discussing the match. One group chants to the tune of ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth” which at this precise moment would be just about how we are both feeling.
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