It was 1996, I think, when the secret love affair first began. I was on holiday with my parents and brother and, after begging and being on my best behaviour for the whole two weeks, I was allowed to go the the shop in the main town that sold ‘replica’ kits. To my 8 year-old eye, they were perfect. I didn’t care that the Nike tick on them was the wrong way round or that there were only two Adidas stripes. As long as they had a shirt, shorts and socks resembling what my heroes wore, I was happy.
My brother, if I remember rightly, opted for a Barcelona kit with Ronaldo and the number 9 on the back. O Fenomeno had just been unveiled at Barca that summer following his record-breaking $19.5 million move from PSV for what would be a short but magnificent stay at the Nou Camp. I, however, couldn’t take my eyes off of the bright luminous yellow kit sitting on the shelf. Something about it make me want it and to this day I don’t know what it was. I didn’t know who ‘Möller’ was, but I knew I wanted his name and his number 10 on my back. It was only after I took the kit back to the hotel and showed my older brother that it was made clear – I had bought a Borussia Dortmund kit. What followed when I got home from my holiday was a summer full of football in the back garden with my brother where we would play 14-legged European Cup finals between Barca and Dortmund.
In the days before the internet, it was hard to find information about the club whilst living in the UK. That changed somewhat, however, when Motherwell midfielder Paul Lambert signed for the German giants in autumn of 1996. The Scotsman had come to the attention of manager Ottmar Hitzfeld when the clubs met in a two-legged UEFA Cup tie two years earlier in September 1994. Motherwell had lost the first leg 1-0 in Dortmund thanks to a goal from my man Andreas Möller and were killed off by a brace from striker Karl Heinz Riedle at Fir Park in the return leg.
In Lambert, I had a compatriot I could follow and his transfer had made it easier to follow Dortmund themselves, with the club receiving more regular and widespread UK coverage than they previously had. I read everything I could find, soaking up whatever scraps of information I could piece together from reports on Lambert and more general reports on German football and the Bundesliga when it came. He would go on to become a hero of mine, not only for his feats at Dortmund, but for what would become a very successful spell captaining Celtic back in his homeland.
Unfortunately, in the days before football was more widely available on terrestrial television, my chances to watch Dortmund live were limited to the rare occasions when they drew UK opposition in Europe. I would get the chance to watch such an occasion, however, when they came up against Manchester United in the Champions League semi finals in the spring of 1997. Grinding out two 1-0 wins over two legs to dump Sir Alex Ferguson’s side out of the competition, they would go on to face Juventus in what is now regarded as one of the Champions League’s classic finals.
Despite having somewhat of a home advantage playing the final in Munich that year, Dortmund were up against an iconic Juventus side led by Marcelo Lippi and featuring greats such as Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Christian Vieri. Dortmund cemented their place in my heart that night, combining cliched German doggedness and efficiency with some truly exciting counter-attacking football against a Juventus side that, for all their attacking talent, were equally as tough to break down. A centre-back pairing of Ciro Ferrara and Paolo Montero rarely conceded, letting in only 4 goals in the lead up to the final but Dortmund managed to break the seal with two goals from Riedle in the opening half hour. With help from Lambert, who is widely regarded as having quietened Zidane that night and also provided the cross for the first goal, Dortmund dominated for the majority of the first hour. A goal from Alessandro Del Piero in the 65th minute would induce nerves in the Dortmund faithful but a now-iconic moment from 20-year old Lars Ricken would change all that.
Latching on to a pass from Möller, Ricken would go on to chip Italian keeper Angelo Peruzzi with his first touch of the ball to seal the win for the German side. And with that chip, my love for the club was crystallised.
Following the final, my information gathering returned to columns here and there relating to Paul Lambert and, in later years, compatriot Scott Booth who had a brief and significantly less successful stint in Germany. Players like the mercurial sweeper Matthias Sammer, the stalwart centre back Jurgen Kohler and others took on an almost mythical status for me. In later years, I would spend hours watching back highlights of this particular team and its’ later incarnations on YouTube, wishing I could’ve seen it all for myself.
A strange and yet somehow perfect way in which my obsession with the club grew was thanks to my equally-unhealthy addiction to the computer simulation game Championship Manager around that time. Though not able to take charge of clubs outside the UK in those days, I would spend a majority of my transfer kitty buying the most valuable assets of Die Borussen and, if I couldn’t afford them, Martin Kree instead.
I’ve followed them since then, through all the ups and downs. The title win under Sammer as manager in the early 2000s, the dark days of financial trouble in the mid-2000s that saw them rename the Westfalenstadion the Signal Iduna Park and borrow money to stay afloat. And yet, through all that, the love that began in that shop somewhere in southern Europe is as bright today as the luminous yellow kit that sparked it. Jurgen Klopp brought glory back to Die Schwarzgelben winning two Bundesliga titles and reaching another Champions League final in the process.
Thomas Tuchel continues to build on that, with an exciting young team that features the talents of Batman and Robin duo Marco Reus and Patrick Aubameyang. Class acts such as Mats Hummels and Nuri Sahin providing a solid foundation on which attacking football can take precedence. A dangerous package for any side facing them, they have only recently dumped Tottenham out of the UEFA Cup and will look to do the same against a relatively weak Liverpool side led by former hero Klopp later this week. I, for one, can’t wait.
Why a relatively random German club captured my imagination I’ll never know. But they’ve kept it to this day and, while I’m not always able to tune in and watch them play, I’m always keeping an eye out for their scores and league position each season. It’s a genuine dream of mine to travel to Germany one day and take in a match. The idea of seeing the famous Yellow Wall is something I relish, a dream only further intensified following the rousing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sung by the fans there following the death of a supporter at a match earlier this season.
I tried to find a quote that perfectly sums up what Dortmund are about – and I couldn’t. Instead, I took one from the myriad of unfogettbale quotes Klopp gave during his time in charge, which I think says a lot about exactly why they are so loved;
“We have a bow and arrow and if we aim well, we can hit the target. The problem is that Bayern has a bazooka. But then apparently Robin Hood was quite successful.”