Just like the reported 800 to 1000 British football fans who travel to Dortmund every home game, I couldn’t tell you why or even what I expected, but ever since I witnessed in person the magical allure of the very special fans of “one of Europe’s last great romantic football clubs”, I was already hooked.
It was back in the autumn of 2011 that I first encountered this truly inspiring set of supporters, when 9000 of them, each wearing a beanie hat and decked out in jerseys, scarves and flags in the distinctive schwarzgelben colours, arrived en masse at the Emirates and treated us all to a two hour display of pure unadulterated fandom, that provoked nothing but envy from those of us that follow the money-above-all-else Premier League. From that day forward I knew I simply had to go and witness one of their home games in person.
Unfortunately the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany doesn’t offer the same temperate climate as that of Spain, Italy or Portugal where we have previously focused our football weekend trips, so the first and most significant challenge was to convince Mrs. Football Nerd. After years of incessant nagging and pleading by yours truly, a good mate’s 50th birthday coincided with the March weekend on which we would normally head off on one of our football watching trips and so for no other reason than to shut me up, the flights were booked to Düsseldorf, less than an hour on the train away from the focus of our latest pilgrimage.
Arsenal’s involvement in the Europa League quarter final on the evening before our flight meant that the 5:30 am departure was a tad more painful than I had hoped, but nothing was going to quell my enthusiasm for a trip I had been relishing for such a long time. As we waited for our taxi, it was all I could do to prevent myself ‘treating’ our neighbours to a rousing burst of “Ole Ole hier kommt der BVB”, which given the ludicrousness of the hour and the fact we would still quite like to live where we do on our return, was probably a good thing!
After the short trip to London City airport and a relatively efficient path through security we had enough time to adhere to that traditional custom of travelling football fans by having a quick breakfast pint or two before boarding the plane.
Such is the proximity of the western parts of the continent to London that we were in Dusseldorf, checked into our hotel and wandering our way down to explore the Altstadt (old town) before it have even reached lunchtime.
After a brief look at the sights, read: wandering round lost, cold and cursing Google Maps; we decided that it was time to sample a proportion of the pubs that make up the self-proclaimed: “longest bar in the world,” given the 260+ hostelries all serving the local ‘altbier’ (basically a beer produced with an older method of top-fermentation which looks like bitter but tastes like crisp lager – thanks Wikipedia!); crammed into a square kilometre down towards the river. Many of these establishments, much to the delight of your author, were blaring out classic hard rock and heavy metal tunes, just to ramp up the cultural ambience a notch or two higher!
It seems we were not alone in our exploration, as groups of predominantly male Brits of varying numbers and ages mooched from bar to bar; the attraction of German football weekends all too apparent!
After a quick stop for currywurst (bratwurst topped with ketchup and currypowder) a veritable taste sensation for everyone except the missus who once had an unsavoury encounter with it in Berlin accompanied by a New Year’s Day hangover; it was back to the hotel for a nap and to get ready for a night on the tiles.
It has to be said that a Friday night out in Düsseldorf should in no way be anticipated to be in any way quiet, with cocktails served in toilet bowls (we kid you not!) and shared by stag nights, groups of football tourists and locals unwinding after a week at work, there is a real raucous, but in no way intimidating, atmosphere as you wander from bar to bar, each one free of charge to enter and not stupidly over-priced for drinks. The experience is something akin to Amsterdam with a focus purely on drinking and without the seedier side.
Despite experiences to the contrary at the Isle of Dogs’ very own Oktoberfest, we were highly relieved to discover on waking up and heading down to breakfast on the Saturday morning, that there must be some logic to the wide-held belief that German beer, because of the purity laws, doesn’t give you (at least as much of) a hangover, as we felt nowhere near as bad as we should!
After the twenty minute walk down to the station the appeal of this globally renowned club became apparent as most of the people milling about on the platform were obviously football fans on their way to Dortmund even a full 7 hours before kick-off. Even better news came in the confirmation that our match tickets entitled us to free transport providing we took the regional train and not the inter-city, not exactly a major hardship for a 50 minute journey and a saving of about 70 quid each!
We had been warned by numerous people that there wasn’t much to see or do in Dortmund other than the trip to the football itself, however being the resourceful types that we are, extensive research in the form of a quick search on Google revealed the German National Football Museum immediately across the road from the station.
Even for two non-German fans there was plenty to keep us entertained for an hour and a half or so, while we killed time before heading to the pub; although as Mrs Football Nerd remarked if we didn’t know before, we certainly did by the end, that Germany might have won the World Cup more than once!
As we left the museum the weather had taken something of a turn for the worse so we had a quick flick round the shops to see if we could find something to protect the missus from the now very much wintry weather. Much to her chagrin I suggested that if she did insist on either the hat topped with a stuffed chicken or the child’s Batman outfit she had found she wouldn’t be standing with me at the match!
With it now having reached an acceptable time to find a suitable hostelry for pre-match refreshments we unearthed the stunningly authentic Pfefferkorn part steak-haus part bar. In strict conformation with national stereotypes all the restaurant tables were taken by Germans and the snug-style bar was filled with Brits; not wanting to disrupt the status quo we found a perch at the bar and settled in.
Upon completion of our visit we realised, just as the missus had pointed out, that it was in fact snowing, and wasn’t just the effect of the frosted glass of the bar’s windows as I had said it was! Not fancying the 3km walk in the snow we dashed back to the station and got ourselves a cab up to the ground.
As the cab dropped us off we were treated to some bright sunshine so opted for a beer and a rather tasty wurst in a picturesque biergarten from which you could actually see the ground. The weather in Germany in spring it seems is just as fickle as it is in England, for as soon as we had starting tucking into our snacks, it started snowing again.
We sheltered briefly under a stone archway and then headed into the excellent Strobel’s handily located between biergarten and stadium. A lesson could be learned here at football grounds around the world, as despite it being jam-packed it took all of two and a half minutes until we were enjoying a glass of the refreshing local pils, German efficiency indeed!
As we headed into the ground we generated some very puzzled looks as we danced around the concourse with the news that our beloved Leyton Orient had come back from being a goal down and sealed all three points at Sutton with a last minute penalty and very much kept their hope of promotion back to the promised land of the Football League alive. Alas we weren’t able to get our new German friends to join in with a chorus of: “Oh Ori Ori…Ori Ori Ori Ori Orient”!
Because we were at a German football match we of course indulged ourselves in the opportunity to arm ourselves with another beer and head out onto the terrace. I realise those words will be memory provoking for those of us of a certain generation, and mystifying to younger supporters; but indeed in Germany not only can you stand up to watch a football match but you can enjoy a beer while doing so!
We had opted to stand on the away terrace with the visiting Mainz fans as we wanted to get as good a view of the famed Yellow Wall, (for those not in the know a 25,000 capacity standing terrace in which every single person is decked out in yellow and black with huge flags and a range of tifos and displays) as possible. Their rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was enough to bring a tear to the eye and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Having been humbled 5-0 by title rivals Bayern the previous week, BVB (only naïve English tourists call them Dortmund!) started the match like a team on a mission and were 2-0 up after just 24 minutes, both goals coming from English teenage sensation Jadon Sancho who, frustrated at the lack of opportunity at Manchester City, opted to move to Germany, nice work if you can get it!
From there on the game was comfortable for the home team and we spent the rest of the match just enjoying the atmosphere and experience, until late on two women Mainz fans behind us decided that they had had enough of football tourists exploiting the opportunity to get a ticket in the away end and starting picking on Mrs Football Nerd for taking a picture.
Being from the East End of London and having previously stood with, amongst others, the Ultras of Napoli the missus gave as good as she got, but we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and opted to head back to the station. We heard Mainz pull a goal back but our newly adopted team held firm and secured the three valuable points.
The train back to Düsseldorf was just as easy as getting there and we had plenty of time for another bar or two in the Altstadt before retiring for the evening.
The next day Bayern were in town playing the local team, Fortuna Düsseldorf, and of course did what football fans the world over do and congregated around the city centre bars for some pre-match refreshment, we simply had to join them even though we had opted not to go to the match.
In a strange quirk of fate we spent the rest of Sunday catching up with a football associate of ours: Ground-hopper Henry from Bury who we had met at Bryne FK a Norwegian second division side, who just happened to be in town with a load of mates celebrating a 60th birthday, he had of course taken the opportunity to see Rot-Weiss Essen the previous day. Just another example of how small a world football fandom really is!
As we headed home on Monday we reflected on an absolutely fantastic football weekend, one which had exceeded even our expectations; if anyone reading this is contemplating a trip to Germany to either Dortmund or elsewhere, our simple advice to you is to just do it, you really won’t regret it. For us our only question is when we are coming back and where we are going to next? For now though:
Danke und auf wiedersehen Düsseldorf und Dortmund für ein fantastisches fußballwochenende! – Mr & Mrs Football Nerd.