THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

The former European champions spent heavily throughout the 1990s and ultimately suffered after floating on the stock market. A similar financial fate is unlikely to befall the cash-rich visitors. Uli Hesse reports

Somehow I knew they were English the moment I spotted them. They were selling so-called friendship scarves – half yellow for hosts Borussia Dortmund, half sky-blue for visitors Manchester City – like so many other people have done along this paved passageway that leads from the station to the stadium. And they looked like any of the other guys here who hope to make a few euros when Dortmund have a home game, even if it’s a meaningless pre-season friendly, by selling canned beer or fan gear. One was holding a scarf aloft, the other stood with a huge nondescript sports bag slung over his shoulder. Still, I would have bet a fiver they were English.

And sure enough, the moment I passed them the man with the scarf said something in English to his partner, addressing him as “Paddy”, I think. Whereupon I turned around and walked over to the man with the bag. He looked at me with a hint of apprehension, as if he feared I was one of those foreign bullies who lecture honest folks doing an honest job about things like trading licences. So I quickly asked him how many City fans would be coming to the game.

“Oh, about a thousand,” the man possibly called Paddy replied. “Is there going to be a good crowd?” “They’re expecting some 30,000 people,” I said. “That’s good for a friendly.” “Yes and no,” I told him. “A year ago we played Real Madrid and 60,000 came out.” “Ah, well, Real...” he said waving his hand, which I took to mean that this was a different league.

“True. Also, that game was part of the festivities for the club’s 100th birthday, so you can’t compare it,” I agreed. “Still, it’s a huge ground, so 30,000 almost seems like nothing.” I was interested to hear Paddy’s take on things we know a bit about in Dortmund, for instance a sudden influx of money, a once well-liked club’s rapidly dwindling popularity or silly spending sprees that come back to haunt you.

But at that moment, a Dortmund fan stopped in front of Paddy’s partner, stared at the scarf and the price tag, let out a derisive laugh and informed the two that the exact same scarf was on sale for only half the money they asked for a mere 50 yards down the footpath. “Sorry, mate,” Paddy said in my direction and bustled off, in all likelihood to check if this information was correct. I presume he and his friend hadn’t expected the price level to be this different in Germany.

Thanks to the English press and the internet I was aware of the Abu Dhabi connection and preposterous wages and how self-respecting fans appeared to hate City the way they used to hate United and then Chelsea. But that was just second-hand stuff. As far as I was concerned, we were first and foremost playing a team wearing the shirt Bernd (Bert) Trautmann used to wear and a club just as tradition-laden as we are. And this attitude was apparently shared by Dortmund, as before the game our announcer interviewed Mike Summerbee, who spoke about his memories of a pre-season friendly 43 years ago, when City met Dortmund at Maine Road. Summerbee even remembered the names of a few Dortmund players and, no, none of it seemed rehearsed.

And yet there was a part of me that quickly made a mental note when heavy rain set in at 7.45, while the two teams were warming up, and most of the City players ran for the dressing rooms while all the Dortmund players remained on the pitch and braved the elements. This same part was irrationally disappointed when City then came out again wearing not the sky-blue shirts I associate with the Trautmann era but a white kit with a sash that reminded me of South American sides. (I was told it’s a new take on an old design, but I wouldn’t know.) Finally, this part noted that only Craig Bellamy ran over to the away stand immediately after the final whistle had sounded to give his shirt to the City fans who’d made the long trek.

 But these were considerations nobody else burdened himself with. Dortmund’s coach, Jürgen Klopp, had made a few irreverent jokes concerning City’s finances on the day before the game (“I wouldn’t be surprised if they present five new players an hour before kick-off”), but to the vast majority of the fans on the terraces none of this meant a thing and City were just a team from abroad whose name sounded vaguely familiar, full of players from abroad whose names sounded vaguely familiar. For those fans, this game – supposedly for an obscure trophy named after an even equally obscure sponsor, Ferrostaal – was all about seeing our new players such as the Japanese Shinji Kagawa (21, signed for €350,000 (£290,000) from Cerezo Osaka) and the Pole Robert Lewandowski (also 21, signed for €4.5 million from Lech Poznan).

Yes, these are the sorts of transfers Dortmund make these days. Actually, Lewandowski was even a tad too expensive for us, which is why the club were hoping to sell the Paraguayan forward Nelson Valdez before the transfer window closed. I guess most WSC readers will remember the days when Dortmund won the Bundesliga three times in seven years, were among the top dogs in Europe, lifted the Champions League and the World Club Cup and fielded famous players. That’s when we became the first (and so far only) German club to float shares and when we enlarged our ground to its current capacity of 80,552 in search of ever more money to compete with Bayern Munich. But – guess what – we overspent and eventually our debts were so crippling that the club would have immediately filed for bankruptcy if a group of creditors hadn’t voted for a long-term remedial plan in March 2005.

Since then, we’ve become much more modest in terms of what we spend and what we expect in return. But the fans still come out in amazing numbers (last season, Dortmund’s average attendance exceeded 77,000 and the club has sold 52,000 season tickets for the new campaign), though perhaps not for any old friendly, even if the Ferrostaal Cup is at stake.

So there were indeed only just over 30,000 fans on hand for this game. And since almost all of them filled the large terrace, the impressive South Stand, the place looked almost empty to those who stood on the terrace itself. Like I did, as always. Actually, not quite as always, because I had failed to check the ticket when I bought it and thus found myself in a different section to where I usually stand. Coupled with the fact I could see more empty seats than I knew existed, I felt as bewildered as City’s support probably were when the home fans raised their scarves before kick off while the PA system blasted You’ll Never Walk Alone. There were not quite 1,000 away fans, as Paddy had predicted, but not 150, either, as the German media later reported. My educated guess is that about 600 City supporters defiantly sang Blue Moon in response to what they must have regarded as a Liverpool anthem but which is just a famous, ownerless football song here.

Both teams played with a lone target man, Emmanuel Adebayor for City and Lucas Barrios for Dortmund, and a central offensive midfielder behind him in the hole, Jô with that sash and Kagawa in black and yellow. The latter two were also the most conspicuous players in the first half. A late tackle from Gareth Barry in the box brought down Kagawa and Barrios converted the ensuing penalty to open the scoring after just nine minutes. But only two minutes later, Shaun Wright-Phillips sent in a low cross from the right and David Silva was unmarked at the far post to tie things.

City didn’t look at all like the haphazardly assembled group of overpaid egotists that I had expected. They sat back and gave us room we didn’t know what to do with and, as soon as they had won the ball, they looked smooth, confident and dangerous. The best move of the night came on 25 minutes, when Wright-Phillips went past three opponents with ease (for the first but not the last time in this match) and found Adebayor, who pulled the ball back for the onrushing Jô, whose close-range drive was somehow kept out by Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller. A minute before the interval, Borussia surprisingly won another penalty, this time a very soft one, but Joe Hart denied Barrios to end a decent first half, as these things go.

Being a creature of habit, I decided to get to my regular standing spot during the break. For this I had to leave Section 13, go down the stairs, walk past the beer and bratwurst stalls and go up the stairs again to Section 14. On my way, I encountered men and women in bright green vests peddling plastic cards.

 When we celebrated 100 years of Borussia Dortmund last season (when Real were here), the club published an official centenary book, and I was asked to contribute a chapter on our legendary terrace, the South Stand. My piece mainly dealt with how reassuring it was that so many aspects of my match-going experience were exactly as they had been more than a quarter of a century ago. Sure, many things had changed, but the terrace was still there and I was still walking up the very same steps I had climbed as an agitated boy to stand where I have always stood. With all those people I only ever meet here and whose names I don’t know and have never asked.

But you can’t keep out the modern world forever. Those men and women in green were selling the Stadiondeckel, a pre-paid card we will all one day pay for our beers and bratwursts with, as Dortmund were using this friendly to introduce the kind of no-cash system they now have at many continental grounds. (The -deckel bit refers to beer coasters. In German pubs, each beer you order is marked on your coaster.) It’s supposed to speed up service, but so many people were queueing for beer that I bought a card just in case and then walked to Section 14 straight away. Where I met not one of the people who stand there for every regular league game.

In the second half, City made seven changes in all and progressively lost the plot. Even the streaker from the away end who tried to make something happen didn’t get far and was stopped in his tracks – the same now went for his club. Four minutes after the restart, our 18-year-old prospect Mario Götze set up Kagawa and the Japanese scored Dortmund’s second. Moments later Adam Johnson missed a point-blank header and that was City’s last chance of the night. For the (long) remainder of this half, Dortmund were in command and should have put the match beyond doubt long before Lewandowski, again set up by Götze, slotted home nine minutes from time.

On my way to the train, I looked out for Paddy and his pal, but they were nowhere to be seen. I overheard a conversation between two fans, one of whom was complaining that the new Stadiondeckel had ripped him off. “I loaded it with €20,” he fumed, “and when I paid for the beer, the display said System Error! The fucking card had been erased!” We all have to make sacrifices in the name of progress, I thought.

From WSC 283 September 2010

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