Over the years, Borussia Dortmund have forged an identity of their own. Their scintillating attacking football, a knack for upsetting European giants on the biggest stage and a repertoire of exciting talents in their ranks, have made fans from all over the world fall for them.
However, there is an aspect that truly sets them apart from the rest of the pack and makes them world class – their fans. The Signal Iduna Park is a vociferous cauldron of noise that often tends to unsettle the opponent. And many a point has been won with the crowd getting behind the team, as they give their all to overturn a deficit.
In the 2011-12 season, during a Bundesliga match against Stuttgart, the hosts went into the half-time break with a comfortable 2-0 lead with goals from Shinji Kagawa and Jakub Blaszczykowski. But with just 11 minutes to go, they found themselves trailing 3-2, courtesy of a brace from Julian Schieber.
“When we went 3-2 down the fans went crazy – in a positive sense. It didn’t go quiet. We went 3-2 down and they really started to get behind us. We immediately hit the post, had another shot and a corner. The whole stadium was shaking for 10 to 15 minutes,” reminisced star defender Matts Hummels.
It was Hummels who equalised in the 82nd minute and the constant chants from the famed Yellow Wall, a standing section of 25000 fans behind the goal, spurred them to get a fourth from another corner.
“The celebration that followed our fourth goal is one I’ll never forget! Ivan Perisic got the goal from a corner. Those are moments that don’t just happen in any stadium. These are the moments that stay with you forever and I’ll always feel…if not goosebumps then certainly a tingle when I think or talk about it.”
The club ethos has always been to make you feel one of them even if you do not hail from the city of Dortmund or even Germany. And the fans are the linchpin in this endeavour.
Dede is one such player who likes to call Dortmund his home, even though he is a Brazilian. He joined the club in 1998 and stayed true to black and yellow for 13 long years until an anterior cruciate ligament injury curtailed his career.
“Dede – I’ve never seen a player like that! It’s incredible how good he is. Unbelievable! I don’t know how we were meant to structure our game when he wasn’t on the pitch. At first we just gave Dede the ball, he made six or seven right calls and then we were through on the opponents’ goal. That was the general idea, but that plan went up in smoke when he tore his cruciate ligament in Leverkusen on Matchday 1 or 2. That was a complete catastrophe,” reflected Jurgen Klopp, the former BVB manager who led the team to the Bundesliga title in the 2011-12 season.
While spending more than a decade at the club, the left-back has witnessed the difficult times when BVB were going through a rough patch. In fact, in 2006-07, BVB finished just one point above the relegation zone and in the next season, they finished 13th. Yet, the manner in which the fans rallied behind the club still overwhelms him.
“We often lost at home but the stadium was still always full. In Brazil, you can’t even make it out of the stadium when you’re on a run like that. I said to Tinga, ‘The club was doing badly, but everyone played their part in helping it recover.’
“The fans made their contribution in the stadium, the players gave everything on the pitch and the BVB staff played their part. Then you start afresh, and look where the club is today. That’s what makes BVB so special. I played here for 13 years. People just need to come to BVB and experience this feeling,” expressed Dede in awe of the fans and the culture of BVB.
If Dede was the blue-eyed boy of the fans for his loyalty to the club, Klopp became the godfather for shaping an era that would go down the annals of history. During his time, they not only won two successive Bundesliga titles and the UEFA Champions League runners-up medal, but the manager also instilled a belief that they have the potential to look Bayern Munich in the eye and challenge for silverware after a significant period of lull.
“On open days where we sat inside the stadium, handed out autographs and so on…The close proximity on those days – which became increasingly impossible as the years went on – was something I really enjoyed. Because you could see in people’s eyes how much this club meant to them. And I think that’s a very important point,” said Klopp.
The manager believes that the team was successful because the players loved the club and would give their all for the crest in front of the shirt.
“If Mario (Gotze) and Nuri (Sahin) had stayed and we’d added Ilkay (Gundogan). And then if Lewy (Robert Lewandowski) had stayed. Echte Liebe could have become total dominance. It really was an incredible group and everyone in the team was head over heels in love with this club. That also has something to do with the atmosphere in the stadium.”
It is not only the fans and their affection that make the players teary-eyed while bidding farewell, but it is also due to humane club management that aims to strike a chord with every player on a personal level, beyond the professional nitty-gritty of contracts and wages.
David Scuderi is a former player whose career was cut short after he dislocated his knee, double torn cruciate ligaments, injured meniscus and torn exterior ligaments while playing for BVB in a Youth League match at Legia Warsaw. To further worsen matters he fell from the wheelchair at the airport while going for surgery.
“I was lying in front of the nurse and she told me, ‘Mr Scuderi, I can’t promise you you’ll wake up and still have your leg. It’s a 50-50 chance. We need to take a look inside to see what’s broken and what happened on the flight.
“When I woke up, I just saw that my blanket was covered in blood. I immediately pulled the blanket up and when I saw my leg was still there, nothing else mattered to me at that moment.”
The club was a constant support to him during these testing times. Edwin Boekamp, Head of Sports at BVB’s Youth Academy, and Lars Ricken, Youth Co-Ordinator, were in touch with him throughout and the message was clear, “Don’t worry. We’ll get through this.”
These were not hollow assurances. Scuderi was offered a three-year contract and was kept on board as he recovered from his injury. He is currently working as a youth coach in BVB’s academy.
“It’s definitely a dream job. For eight to 10 hours a day, depending on how long I’m working, your sole focus is football, tactical shapes and training preparation. I also talk to the players and pass on the experiences I had as a player under (Thomas) Tuchel and Hannes Wolf,” he said with a smile on his face.
Echte Liebe is about being unconditional. The love from the fans is unconditional, the love the players bear for the crest is unconditional, and finally, the affection and respect that the club shows towards its players and staff is unconditional.
“It’s indescribable. Even when you’re unhappy, it’s impossible to fight the feeling. That’s what Echte Liebe is,” defined Klopp.
Who else can encapsulate the emotion better than the man who brought in a renaissance at the club, building from its ruins?