One thing you should know about me is that I am a football fan first and foremost. I support Liverpool and always will. I’ve supported Liverpool since birth, consider Anfield sacred ground and I am now bringing my children up in the same way I was. But I appreciate good football and good footballing stories. Although I am a Liverpool supporter I consider myself a fan of a few teams. Confused yet? Let me clear things up. Liverpool are my family. No matter what happens between us, I have an unconditional love for them. Other teams are like friends. We could fall out and I’d miss them, maybe even keep track of what they’re doing, but family comes first. Among those teams is Borussia Dortmund.
I would say my long distance love affair with BVB came around the 2010/11 season. Liverpool were floundering around that time under Roy Hodgson. There was a bitter battle between the clubs owners and the bank over who should have control over the club and have the final say on the club’s eventual sale. There were days where you would get up of a morning and turn on Sky Sports News, wondering if the club was still in existence or if RBS had finally had enough of Hicks and Gillett’s shenanigans. It was a horrific time to be a red. I needed a reason to love football again. I need to find something, someone, somewhere, to remind me that there was good in the game. It wasn’t a soulless, vacuous, heartless business where capitalists ruled and fatcat businessmen could kill a family member at the drop of a hat for the sake of ego and profit.
I started watching the Bundesliga review show on what was then ESPN in Britain. I’d record it and watch it after uni whilst playing Football Manager. Every week it was usually Dortmund who would be first on. I was blown away by this swashbuckling side who weren’t just beating teams, they were demolishing them. Watching them, to me, was like watching an F-5 hurricane tear through a dilapidated barn. The opposition just could not cope with this force of nature they were taking on.
This maverick team was led by a maniac on the touchline. I’d never seen anyone like Jurgen Klopp in a dugout. He was animated and intense. I remember thinking to myself, how can this guy put together a team like this? He looks as though he can barely think straight! But it was clearly a team built in his image. Here was this absolute barnpot on the touchline, shouting, cheering and gesticulating continuously for 90 minutes, and there was his team playing with the exact same intensity. He famously said that his Dortmund side played heavy metal football. It’s probably the most appropriate description.
I quickly became familiar with the players. I was aware of Roman Weidenfeller, but he had now looked like a solid ‘keeper. Schmelzer and Piszczek at full back were relentless. They basically recovered possession and attacked. They did it with such simplicity and to such great effect that you couldn’t help but be impressed. Subotic and Hummels balanced each other out perfectly. Subotic was aggressive and took no prisoners. Hummels was calm and positionally astute but was also an excellent leader. They needed each other. Nuri Sahin partnered Sven Bender in midfield. Bender won the ball, Sahin sprayed the passes. It was like watching Mascherano and Alonso but younger.
Going forward Dortmund had an array of attacking talent. In tougher games, Kuba Blasczykowski and Kevin Grosskreutz would play for their work rate. I always considered Grosskreutz one of the most underrated players in Europe. Nobody worked harder or was more versatile, yet had the ability to win games for his team. Those two were always interchangeable with Shinji Kagawa and Mohammed Zidan though, who were absolute goal machines. At first, Lucas Barrios was the lone striker and he was extremely good at it. But soon Robert Lewandowski came in and would go on to be one of the greatest strikers in world football. Everyone is aware of Lewandowski now but he hasn’t changed at all. Behind him was a player who was simply a magician. Mario Gotze’s career isn’t all that today. However there was a time when he pulled the strings like no other player in the Bundesliga. He was simply a cut above.
That team went on to win the Bundesliga that season and I remember willing them on all season to do so. In my opinion, they had revolutionised the modern game. Klopp had built this team on simplicity, pragmatism and good old fashioned hard work. He is widely seen in Britain as the inventor of Gegenpressing, which, from our understanding, is countering the counter attack. He had built a team where the pressure came from the wings, but the spine was disciplined and solid. Bill Shankly said that football was a simple game that had become over complicated. BVB were proving him right. But the following season I worried for Dortmund. After all, the 2009/10 season was not successful with them finishing 5th and that was the trend for them for a few years before that. What if last seasons’ title win was a one-off?
Klopp made subtle changes. Ivan Perisic was bought to replace the outgoing Mohammed Zidan. He was an resounding upgrade. Nuri Sahin had seen the bright lights of the Bernabeu and took the opportunity of a move to Real Madrid. His replacement, Ilkay Gundogan, moved Dortmund up a notch. No longer were they static in midfield. Gundogan was much more dynamic and offensive than Sahin. He wouldn’t play a ball and anticipate an opposition counter attack the way Sahin did. He would play a pass, follow it and join the teams press. He helped Dortmund to a second successive Bundesliga title and the DFB Pokal. They won the league by 8 points and beat Bayern Munich 5-2 in the DFB Pokal final. A clear sign of their dominance that season.
The 2011/12 season had been a steep learning curve in the Champions League for Klopp’s Dortmund, going out in the group stage bottom of their group. But 2012/13 was a defining season in Europe for BVB. That summer, they lost Kagawa to Manchester United which particularly disappointed me personally. But again, Klopp replaced a key cog in his black and yellow machine with a much more efficient part. Marco Reus was brought in from Borussia Monchengladbach for £16.5 million. Reus gave Dortmund a new dimension out wide. Kagawa scored goals, but he preferred to play centrally. He was never going to shift Gotze from the number 10 role though. Reus provided the team with width and goals in abundance. He wasn’t interested in assists, he left that to Gotze and Gundogan. He pulled teams around on his own and made space for Lewandowski.
Dortmund got to the Champions League final that season and I saw it as a personal vindication. For 3 years I had been telling everyone that they had to see this team that played and looked like a swarm of bees. Now the whole of Europe was listening and were giving this crazy manager the credit he deserved. Bayern were too strong for Dortmund that season though. Jupp Heynckes was an exceptionally shrewd manager who had assembled an efficiently devastating team and would go on to win the treble.
Apart from this unrivaled success, the fans also resonated with me. They were so similar to Liverpool. They were raucous. Even on television, the noise was deafening. They were committed. They consistently filled an 81,000 seater stadium and the yellow wall was a yellow replica of the Kop. Their pass and move football was a mainstay at Anfield until Rafa Benitez brought in more disciplined style of play. Borussia Dortmund were everything I wanted Liverpool to be.
When Klopp left in 2015, I was disappointed to say the least. He had done so much for the club but they looked to be going backward, so I accepted a change was needed. The way the whole situation was handled though gave me another level of respect for the club. The departure was announced before the end of the season, a season where Dortmund finished 7th. In England, that would be unacceptable for a club like Dortmund and the manager would be hounded out. But not Klopp. He was given a hero’s send-off. The ultimate sign of a classy club. I worried for Dortmund and who their replacement would be. It was the right time for Klopp to leave but he is such a character that replacing him would surely be a tricky task. Klopp, to my delight, would go on to take over at Liverpool. I always saw Klopp as the ideal replacement for Brendan Rodgers given his preference for playing academy talent and the amount of talent we have in our academy. But I still kept an eye on Dortmund and their progress under Klopp’s replacement, Thomas Tuchel. It looked like the change had worked. Dortmund were playing a similar style of football but with a manager who was much less intense on the touchline. Maybe that’s all that was needed.
That same season, my family and my best friend were on a collision course in the Europa League. Whilst I was happy to finally see Dortmund live in the home leg of the quarter-final, I knew there would be a temporary falling out. For a while in that game, it looked like it would be a feud that would take me a while to get over. But Dejan Lovren’s last minute winner was a fitting end for me. A game deserving of the occasion. Certainly the best, and favourite, that I have been to.
For me, Dortmund have always been a team that has done things the right way. The club never seem to take part in underhand business in transfers. The fans always show respect to the opposition, outgoing players and managers. They support their team no matter what. They have also provided unwavering support to Liverpool’s fight for justice regarding the Hillsborough disaster. A team from abroad doesn’t even owe it to us to educate themselves on such a huge subject, never mind champion our cause at every opportunity. They are so much like Liverpool that it was inevitable that I’d become a fan once I was aware of exactly who BVB were. Liverpool will always be family, but Dortmund is an adopted family member.
YNWA Echte Liebe.