It?s not always the games that count: The ?week of truth? in review
As Borussia Dortmund supporters, we all have personal memories and stories that form a deep, emotional connection with our club. Whether it’s a thrilling victory of a national or international title or a devastating loss, let alone the near-death experience in the late ‘90s. More importantly, there are the small things, like the the smell of a “Schnitzelbrötchen”, the sound of the subway leaving for the “Westfalenstadion” or one of the countless rituals we go through before every game. For me, and I’m sure for countless others, the so-called “week of truth” was such a memorable experience. And it was so much more than just three very important games. It combined the Thrill of an unlikely victory in Munich, the bitter-sweet loss during a fantastic trip to the Arsenal and the exhilarating win over our rival in the Derby with a very personal but yet familiar homecoming story.
Saturday, the day of the game against Bayern München. It’s almost like any other game-day Saturday. Ever since I moved from Dortmund across the Atlantic to New York, my Borussia routine has changed dramatically. The pre-game beer at the “Reitstall” or “Strobels” has made way for a morning coffee and some cereal. Necessary changes when the regular 15:30 Saturday games start at 9:30 in the morning. Chanting, yelling and otherwise behaving like a member of the “Gelbe Wand” on my traditional Block 14 has turned into a decidedly less exciting Borussia jersey and the mandatory yelling that sometimes confuses and upsets my neighbors while I watch every game from the comfort of my sofa.
This game-day, however, is different. Not just because at a 12:30 starting time, I can justify one or two (light) beers during the game. There is this nagging feeling inside me. This knowledge that, before the week is over, we could either be on top of the world or devastated and humiliated by our biggest rivals. The game against Munich then holds what it promised as for the last 20 minutes I nervously pace up and down my living room hoping for the 1-0 lead to hold. In hindsight it was probably one of our best performances of the season and an always so refreshing upset for all those football experts that were busy giving more “quality points” to Bayern before the game.
Monday. The high from the Saturday victory over Munich is still vividly present but it is now time to prepare for the first leg of my journey home. My evening flight from New Jersey’s Newark airport would bring me to London for my very first international away game before my trip would lead me home to Dortmund for the Derby.
London – a city that I had the pleasure visiting many times over – was as polite, reserved and decidedly British as ever. It greeted me with the foggy-overcast sky on Tuesday morning that has become as well-known as the Buckingham Palace and the London Eye. One of the most fascinating experiences outside of football was witnessing the beautifully efficient, silently choreographed flow of thousands and thousands of people – especially during rush-hour – through the tunnels, staircases and escalators of the London Underground. A sight to see and one we Germans – despite our best efforts – cannot match.
Wednesday, game-day. On the way to the meeting point in Finsbury Park, I cannot help but notice the increasing frequency of black and yellow colors. Excitement starts to build. Before we get to the park, I meet the first Arsenal supporter on his way to the stadium. He is middle-aged and in neutral clothing, showing no signs of the “The Gunners” colors. He very politely introduces himself and offers to show me the quickest way to the stadium. Very British indeed, just not very much like a football supporter.
At and around Finsbury Park, things start to get more exciting. The large number of Dortmund supporters even early in the afternoon foreshadows the things to come. For someone who hasn’t left the tourist-centric, polished streets of central London, the area around the park gives a glimpse into where Londoners go about their daily lives. Very cosmopolitan, “Seven Sisters Road”, right next to the train station and park, offered a diverse selection of shops and places to eat. A few beers and some tasty Caribbean food later, we were on our way to the stadium.
Before the game, there was a lot of concern as to how Arsenal would treat their away supporters. In one short sentence – none of that was true. Whether the club decided to not enforce the rules given the large number of Dortmund supporters or whether the fears were exaggerated, the whole experience with both the police and the Arsenal stewards was about as pleasant as it could be. While the trip to the stadium took about 90 minutes, carefully avoiding even the slightest contact with Arsenal supporters, it was a great way to get excited and warmed-up for the game.
Much has been said about the game itself. Dominating the Emirates in voice and color was an out-of-world experience and many local news-outlets confirmed that both Arsenal supporters and the greater football public in England were thoroughly impressed. While a city the size of London didn’t notice our numbers, I am certain they took notice of our voices and colors.
Thursday morning, Düsseldorf airport: I’m home at last. Well, not quite. After a traffic-laden drive down the Ruhrschnellweg towards Dortmund, I finally arrive. Only a stone-throw away from the hollowed grounds of the “Westfalenstadion”, I can see the yellow steel-beams that identify this landmark from the windows of my childhood home. This is where I grew up and where countless memories of Saturday walks to the stadium are burned so deep into my brain, they will be with me forever. While not everyone will understand, for me coming home is always as much about Borussia as it is about seeing my family and friends again.
Saturday. Derby time. Suddenly everything else becomes pale, irrelevant in comparison. This is it. This game will make or break the “week of truth”. Around noon, the ceremony begins. Everything feels just right. Getting dressed in black and yellow, the familiar walk through the residential streets to the stadium, the first beer at the “Reitstall” - things that had become a distant memory since I left Germany come back as if they were never gone.
The atmosphere is full of tension, expectations. The supporters of our rival are certainly more formidable than anything Arsenal could throw at us, but no one beats the “Gelbe Wand”. Ever. As we score the first goal, tension gives way to uncontrollable relieve and joy. And lots of beer. Not in the familiar form of a cup but splashing down from above to drench my clothing in the trademark smell of everyone who frequents the Südtribüne – stale beer and cigarettes. Some things thankfully never change. After the first goal, our blue and white visitors never quite recover. The victory was as certain as it hadn’t been in a long time. A welcome relieve after the nerve-wrecking games earlier in the week against Arsenal and Bayern.
If this was the “week of truth”, what “truth” did we learn from it? I think that – for the better or worse – not much changed. We can dominate the Bundesliga at will even if troubled by injuries and traumatic losses. On the international stage, however we are still trying to find our place. An inexplicable nervousness seems to strike the team every time we’re playing European teams. This performance not so different from last year and if I recall that ended on quite a positive note. I, for one, would quite fine with that kind of outcome again.
As for my personal journey, coming home with a “Derbysieg” and leading the Bundesliga for the first time this year is much more than I could have hoped for. The next few weeks will see as many live games as I can possibly handle before my return across the pond the now familiar routines. And come next May, I may just be back to celebrate a fantastic season once again.