My Second Team: Borussia Dortmund
On the morning of the 21st May 2015 I hung two scarves in my window. One had red and blue stripes, the other black and yellow. The former represents the colours of the club I support Crystal Palace, the other is of my second club: Borussia Dortmund.
On this particular day the stars that watch over these clubs aligned. Both were playing in their countries domestic cup finals, the FA Cup and DFB Pokal. Historically the German Cup Final happens later in the month. However, in recent years it’s been rescheduled to earlier in May to accommodate preparations for summer international tournaments.
While Palace rarely play in Cup Finals they are quite common for Dortmund. I’ve been lucky enough to go to two in recent years. Both games were defeats to Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg respectively. Both results, while dispiriting, were manageable.
My first experience of watching Borussia Dortmund was in 2004. I was at a stag weekend in Cologne but with a trip on the Saturday to see Borussia at the Westfalenstadion and on Sunday to see Schalke in Gelsenkirchen. I watched Dortmund beat Hansa Rostock 4-0. I was a grown man, a football satirist who was weary of the sterile and corporate English football which, to my mind, had more in common with the film Rollerball (the original not the remake).
The experience,not just of the Westfalen but of German club football blew me away. I may have been disenfranchised from the English game but I didn’t really know anything else. The passion of the crowd, the relative affordability of the match, the terraces, the fact that you could drink beer while watching the game: all these elements combined to reinvigorate me to the extent that the following day when I went to Gelsenkirchen and I was invigorated as a fart and the experience was somewhat flatter. Had the Schalke and Dortmund fixtures been reversed I could be writing about the other right now. But they weren’t so I’m not, thank goodness.
That being said I didn’t pin my colours to the Dortmund mast straight away. For one, I hitherto took the view that there was and should only ever be room in your heart for one club. Also my experience at BVB opened me up to the joys of the Bundesliga and German football without feeling the need to be shackled to one club.
As time passed, however, and upon repeated trips to the Westfalen my loyalty hardened. This was mainly due to the growing number of fond memories from trips to games. Like the time I watched a friend’s face drop in astonishment when he first saw the yellow wall of humanity that is the famous Sudtribune and when Nuri Shahin scored an immaculate goal against Wolfsburg which I missed because I was at the bar and (for a split second) getting mistaken for Marco Reus by a young woman in the beer garden outside the ground.
So I’m now a plastic BVB fan and proud to be so. The fact that Dortmund rapidly improved under Jurgen Klopp, won two titles and a DFP Pokal Cup in this time has nothing to do with it, No sir. Nothing.
But it is a young fandom, unburdened by nearly a lifetime of support. The highs and lows of following Borussia are nowhere near as extreme as supporting Palace. This is partly because BVB are good but I’m sure it’s also because the baggage of youthful obsession which still informs my relationship with Palace is missing from my relationship with Borussia Dortmund. By the end of Palace v Manchester United final last May I was crestfallen. As low as I think it’s possible to get about 22 men kicking a ball around.
And this is the difference between first and second clubs, I think. It’s why they are a good thing to have and also why they are a bad thing. Second clubs aren’t usually with you as long as the first. The emotions you feel when they win or lose aren’t as strong. You don’t get that extraordinary high when they win big – but you also don’t feel like your soul has been ripped from your chest like a link of sausages in a cheap stunt on Hallowe’en.
When I finally got home from Wembley I turned on the telly, called up the DFB Pokal Final on delay and started watching. It was gone midnight by the time the game finished with a penalty shoot-out which Dortmund lost to Bayern. I was largely unmoved. Partly because I was emotionally drained from earlier but also I think because I’ve allowed myself to not take defeat so hard. After all, Borussia Dortmund is my second club.