The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Falling for the Westfalen

Posted by steigs on April 24, 2008

This weekend I was disappointed to see that Bayern Munich won the German Cup, with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund.  The Dortmunders have had a rough few years, due largely to financial problems, and could have used a cup win to cheer up their massive fanbase. 

Dortmund is in the industrial Ruhr region, a center of…brewing (mmm), among other industries.  I’d never heard of the place before I started paying attention to the Bundesliga and certainly wouldn’t have spent a day there if it weren’t for soccer.  But I’m glad I did and I’d like to get back to the Westfalen for another game one of these days — it’s one of the biggest and most enjoyable stadiums in European soccer.  I was there during better days for Borussia Dortmund, as you will see if you read on after the jump, and also got to see two Czech stars who would later torment the US at the 2006 World Cup.

Dortmund — August 2001


An industrial city, Dortmund is an important and extensive part of the Ruhgebeit.  I study the city map at the train station and whole chunks read “Opelwerks” and “Kruppwerks.”  Yet downtown is upscale shopping with plenty of cafes and inviting streets to wander. 


I am staying in — I swear — a Holiday Inn just outside the downtown.  It sits on the edge of the immense Westfalenpark, which includes a botanical garden.  Of course as I stroll through the park the most obvious landmark is a rusting factory.  You can only escape your industrial heritage so much.  I find a café to enjoy some ice cream on this summer afternoon.


The Holiday Inn is also on the edge of the Westfalen complex — convention center, conference center and…soccer stadium.  I swing by the stadium early in the day to pick up a ticket for the evening’s game, another Champions League qualifier, Borussia Dortmund and Shaktar Donestk.  This is the second leg, with Dortmund having won the first 2-0 in the Ukraine.


I spend the rest of the day exploring Dortmund.  Much to my disappointment, the Brewing Museum is closed.  Depending on the guidebook, Dortmund is either the second or third largest beer producer in the world (behind Milwaukee and Munich, perhaps).  So I hop between cafes to sample various local beers, which prove to be, of course, of high quality and flavor.


Before the game, the Westfalen Stadium is surrounded by hordes of cheerful black and yellow-clad Dortmund fans, munching on immense sausages.  There’s reason for cheer.  Besides the earlier victory over Shaktar, Dortmund have won their first four league games without allowing a single goal, bolting from the starting gate of the Bundesliga season.  Dortmund has previously had its turn taking on Bayern Munich — winning not just the league but the European Championship in 1997 — and maybe it will be their turn again this season.  (In the wake of that 1997 season their coach was snapped up by — who else? — Bayern Munich, a rather Yankee-style approach to dealing with rivals that may be one reason for their on-going success.)


A number of the Dortmund fans are wearing replicas of the team’s jersey from last year, a vibrant florescent yellow-green that is probably the single ugliest I have seen outside of some of the initial MLS jerseys.  It almost glows in the dark, which I suppose is handy at night games.


The Westfalen is huge, one of the largest in Europe, holding close to 70,000, with plans underway to expand it further.  Dortmund often leads the Bundesliga in attendance.  There are four separate stands, three of which have two tiers.  The Dortmund ultras occupy the fourth, behind one goal, rising up in a single long array of rows.  You can barely see their banners.  The prime display space, the area between the tiers in the other stands, goes to ads.  My seat is down quite low, about the 20 yard line on one end, among a mixed crowd of loud critics and quiet appreciators.


Near me, tucked into a corner of the stands behind the goal opposite the Dortmund fan clubs, are about 100 Ukrainian fans of Shaktar.  They have only a single banner but do manage to generate a bit of noise, enough to remind people they are here.  They probably have a lot on their minds.  Like Gelsenkirchen, Donestk is a coal mining area, one of the biggest in Europe.  Just a few days before, nearly 30 miners in Donestk had died in an industrial accident.  I imagine safety standards are rather lax in the Wild East of the post-Soviet world.  We observe a moment of silence before the game in memory of those who perished.  Meanwhile, a blimp circles lazily overhead.


Dortmund is in yellow, Shaktar in white with black shorts.  Road teams traditionally play defensively.  Down two goals from the first leg, the Ukrainians don’t have that luxury and go for it from the start, going forward with purpose.  For all their confidence, Dortmund needs to be careful.  While Shaktar isn’t the traditional Ukrainian powerhouse — that’s Dynamo Kiev — they did win through to the group stages of the Champions League last season.  While there they almost upset Arsenal in London.  They even have a couple of African players in their line-up, a sign there’s at least a bit of money behind them.


Not seven minutes into the game, the Dortmund keeper is forced to deflect a tough shot instead of catching it.  The ball falls to a Shaktar player who nicely puts the ball in the goal.  The perfect start for the Ukrainians, who are right back in it.  Their 100 fans make a lot of noise.  The Dortmund crowd, startled awake, is awash in grumbling.


The game comes to life now.  Both sides have deft quick passing approaches with skilled ball movement.  Tomas Rosicky, a slight Czech midfielder for Dortmund, looks especially dangerous, making quick jittering runs and creative tricky passes which almost break players free.  He also takes free kicks for Dortmund, invariably curling them over the wall and right on goal, forcing late saves from the Shaktar keeper.


Dortmund’s other Czech, Jan Koller, looks entirely different from Rosicky.  He is very tall — at least 6-6 — and balding, resembling the lead singer of Australia’s Midnight Oil.  He is a forward and a regular Dortmund play is to cross the ball high into the box in the hopes his height will let him win the header.


It goes to half-time 1-0 for Shaktar, 2-1 to Dortmund overall.  Maybe Shaktar can find another goal and take the tie to overtime, or even to penalty kicks.  The crowd is buzzing.  I get a beer.  When in Germany…


The second half is an entirely different game.  Just five minutes in and the “let’s cross it to the tall guy” play works for Dortmund as Koller heads in a goal.  The flags at the far end wave in relief.  Shaktar almost cuts the celebrations short with a brisk counter-attack but it is B just barely B unsuccessful. 


Around the 70th minute, Koller’s partner at forward, the Brazilian Amoroso shows his flair with a winding run around the 18 yard box before putting a shot past the keeper.  It’s 4-1 now, overall, and it’s all but over, though you wouldn’t know it from the game’s fast pace.


Five minutes later and Amoroso is making another dribbling run.  Given how he had just scored on a similar move it is no surprise when a Shaktar defender tackles him hard, getting called for a foul.  Rosicky lines up the free kick and bends in another.  The Shaktar keeper stops it but ends up deflecting the ball right to Koller, who taps it in.  3-1 to Dortmund on the night, 5-1 overall.


They sub out Koller soon thereafter.  A recent addition, he gets a warm wave of applause.  Yet when I look around at the Dortmund jerseys the fans are wearing they tend to be Rosicky’s.  People never like rooting for the big guy, do they?  Not even when he scores the goals.


It ends that way, 3-1 Dortmund.  As we disperse and I walk through the darkness to my Holiday Inn, a neon Mercedes symbol atop an office building shines high in the sky, almost as if the moon had been sold for ad space too.  The Dortmund fans are too busy lining up for a final round of sausages to notice it.  Yeah, maybe this is the year we can take Bayern Munich again…


One Response to “Falling for the Westfalen”

  1. […] Ali wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThis weekend I was disappointed to see that Bayern Munich won the German Cup, with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund. The Dortmunders have had a rough few years, due largely to financial problems, and could have used a … […]

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