17 Lessons in Supportership: Sometimes all you need is football

Two weeks have passed since Dortmund played in Mainz. I of course travelled there on the day of my birthday in hope of three points as a personal present from the team to me. I got my points but the reason why it took me two weeks to grab the keyboard is not the celebration that followed.

16th of October is no longer only my birthday in BVB context. It is the day when the supporterscene lost a prominent figurehead and Schwarzgelb one of its founders, Arne Steding.

A silent minute was held for his and another supporter’s, Rüdiger Raguse’s honour at the stadium last weekend before the Augsburg game. An honour demonstrating the meaning of these two people for the football scene in Dortmund. The first one best known as an active opinion builder and critical voice within the supporters’ scene. The second a founder of anti-racistist supporter group Heinrich Czerkus fanclub and the father of the antiracist annual Heinrich Czerkus run. Both people devoting their time and energy on what they believed in through their engagement in BVB.

In the early public announcements many stated that in moments like this football was secondary. I have personally laughed several times at Bill Shankly’s quote ”Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” I have found the quote both absurd and detached from reality. Until I faced death close by.

It is true that the amount of goals, or who wins or loses has little bearing in moments of deep personal sorrow but the act of football can prove to be ever more meaningful. As it was said in Arne’s memorial service ”Football is real for us”, it is the world we are living in and that world reaches much furter than to individual players, results, championships or even our deeply beloved clubs. Football is a continuum in the ever changing world and circumstances around us. The game on the field still consists of 22 men and a ball, beoynd sponsor deals, stadium bans or lost dear ones.

When I, for the first time in my life, was confronted with the question whether to skip a planned trip to Dortmund because of the passing of a close friend or not I opted, in the end, for travelling anyway. I was not dead, I had to keep living. When my father suddenly passed away this summer my immediate reaction was to make sure I could travel to Norway to watch BVB play.

I am not saying that this is an universal answer to dealing with loss. But if we take a look at statistics we can see that suicide rates go down during big football tournaments. Sociologists believe that it is a result of the feeling of belonging that surrounds the big tournaments. People experience being included regardless of their socio-economical status in a way not possible in the everyday hierarchies of human cooperation. Sometimes I joke that BVB is my dog. Cheap love with low expectation from the club’s side, perfect for someone struggling with social pressure.

For me football has become the window to reality, to the world outside, especially in the moments of deep sorrow. It has become the force that reminds me that life still goes on. I might stand in the terrace with tears in my eyes withdrawn from the people around me but nevertheless I am there. Lonely but not alone. For 90 minutes being a part of something just with my physical presence as stake. There are days when that is the most I am capable of. But also the bare minimum needed to keep me going.

Lesson #5: The lessons you learn while mourning will become clear only with time.

Suvi, 29.10.2015