“These are the nights for which the game was created”
So read a message from the official Borussia Dortmund account, posted at around 2am local time following their quarter-final with Malaga. Every so often a moment comes around to remind us all why we love football. Why we put up with players earning more than a small country, endless tabloid stories about Wayne Rooney’s hair and the latest exploits of the various fame crazed WAGS. Because when it wants to be, football really can be the beautiful game. On a simply magical night in Dortmund, I was lucky enough to witness a moment of football history. A game which will be spoken about for as long as football is played, and one which the grandchildren of 70,000 people should expect to hear endless stories about in the future. The miracle of Dortmund.
This was my second visit to what I firmly believe to be the best football stadium in the world, having previously travelled to see a 3 – 2 defeat to Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. Even at this early stage of the season, Bayern Munich were already running away with the title, making the result fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Not so this time around, with Dortmund preparing for one of their biggest games in decades. I had watched the first leg on television, Dortmund spurning several good chances in Spain and having to settle for a goalless draw. A place in the last four of Europe’s elite competition was right in the balance, and the excitement was noticeable from the moment I arrived in Germany.
Dortmund have won many friends around Europe this season, and it was obvious that the fans saw this game as a real chance to cement themselves as one of the world elite. BVB came through the ‘group of death’ featuring Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City, playing some stunning football along the way. While Borussia Dortmund are wonderful to watch on the pitch, the main reason they have found so many new admirers is due to the incredible supporters they boast off of it. These fans were in fine voice in the main square of Dortmund several hours before the game, with a large travelling support from Malaga adding to the atmosphere.
Malaga is home to a large number of English ex-pats, with many of these included in the away fans. A large St. George’s Cross was hung in the centre of both sets of fans, while several of the songs sung by Malaga had an English influence. The Great Escape theme tune was belted out from the confident (and fairly intoxicated) Malaga supporters. Little did they know that in a few hours time they would witness one of the greatest escapes of all.
After enjoying the build up with the German essentials of an oversized beer and a currywurst, I headed to the stadium with a couple of hours to spare. While in English football many fans are still finding their seats ten minutes into the game, the stadium was filling up by 7pm, almost two hours before kickoff. I was standing in the block directly next to the world-famous Sudtribune, offering the best seat in the house for the fanatical support shown by Dortmund’s most hardcore fans. From the pattern on the seats it was clear that another display (known as a choreo in Germany) was planned, with what looked like a giant yellow love heart.
Kick off approached, and a rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ in perfect English caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. This was followed by the now extremely familiar Champions League theme music, and the unveiling of the Sudtribune’s latest work of art.
The Sudtribune builds from this…
The atmosphere which was created is difficult to do justice with words alone, this was noise far above anything I have ever experienced. It was so loud that a UEFA steward was offering out earplugs, an offer which was perhaps unsurprisingly universally rejected. Westfalenstadion at it’s best is football heaven, who in their right mind would want to block that noise out? This is a little taster of the pre-match atmosphere, I strongly recommend you turn the volume down if using headphones, as I will not be held accountable for any resulting deafness.
Despite the sensational backing from the fans, Dortmund were slow to get going on the field. The last time the club had reached the last four of the Champions League was 1998, and the enormity of the occasion seemed to be getting to a couple of the players. Passes were misplaced that would normally have had pinpoint accuracy, and despite Lewandowski going close with a lobbed attempt, he probably would have been better off going for power. Despite the slow start, Malaga did not seem to be taking advantage of the opportunity Dortmund were offering them. Until, out of nowhere, they scored.
A clever move from Joaquin gave him enough space to have Malaga’s first shot on goal, and he did not wait for a second invitation. His shot from just outside the area beat Roman Weidenfeller, and he was engulfed in a pile of blue and white shirted bodies. The players of Malaga celebrated right in front of the Sudtribune, with a number of fist pumps and celebratory gestures directed at the home supporters. It kept the Dortmund fans quiet for all of five seconds, before they began to roar their team on again. Not to be outdone, the Malaga away end was busy going absolutely berserk, with fans clearly tumbling to the ground as they celebrated wildly. The away goals rule meant that the game would now definitely be decided within 90 minutes, and Dortmund needed at least two goals to progress.
It seemed as if BVB had needed to fall behind to really start playing, and they showed the first signs of the magical football they are capable of in the following minutes. A succession of corners were forced, with Mario Gotze and Marco Reus showing why the future of German football is so bright. These chances came to nothing, but Dortmund and Reus were not to be denied for long. A breathtaking assist from Reus set Lewandowski free, and the Polish marksman made no mistake. He has found the net in his last ten Bundesliga games, and will surely spark a bidding war should he follow through with his intentions to leave the club.
If an element of doubt had begun to creep into the mind of the Dortmund supporters, this was soon erased by Lewandowki’s equaliser. The ground erupted in joy and relief, with the Sudtribune bouncing up and down in unison as scarves were twirled in the air. The goal came just five minutes before half time, helping to lift both the team and the supporters before the interval. It also lead to an extended version of ‘Auf Gehts Dortmund’, which is certainly one of the greatest football chants I have ever heard live. Perhaps my favourite thing about the attitude of German football supporters is how seriously they take their role as the ‘twelfth man’. If the side are losing or not performing well, they take it upon themselves to improve their own performance. There is none of the booing or hurling abuse for a misplaced pass, just pure, unquestioning love for the team.
So with the score level at half time, it was Malaga who were 45 minutes away from reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League. An accomplishment which would be made all the more incredible by the fact it was their first time in the competition. Their fans were certainly relishing the prospect of a European giant killing, helping to ensure that the entire stadium was alive with noise. The singing continued throughout the break, with the fact that the players weren’t actually on the pitch not having any impact on the atmosphere.
BVB ran out for the second half attacking the towering Sudtribune, as if the inspiration of reaching the semi-finals was not enough, they were now faced by 20,000 devoted fans bouncing up and down, waving flags and singing non stop. Whether it was the motivation of the Sudtribune or the words of coach Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund looked like a different side in the second half. The fluid passing, tracking back and retaining possession which has made them much of Europe’s second team was back, and they threatened to tear Malaga apart with this new-found confidence. However, it took a simply stupendous save from Weidenfeller just seconds in to the half to allow this transformation to take place.
It was that man again Joaquin, and he must surely have thought he had doubled his tally. Somehow, the Dortmund stopper was able to keep the ball out, with the save celebrated like a goal by the yellow shirted masses. It was unquestionably the best save I have witnessed live, and deserves to be recognised in the history books alongside what would take place in injury time. It would also prove to be Malaga’s last real chance for a long spell, as Dortmund took control. The black and yellows came closer and closer to beating the La Liga sides’ goalkeeper as Willy (yes, that is his real name) faced a barrage of Borussia attacks. Two saves in particular left Westfalenstadion stunned, as he denied both Reus and Gotze with his legs in the space of a few minutes. Both efforts seemed certain to end up in the back of the net, with the fans ready to go wild on both occasions, only for the ball to somehow stay out. Gotze’s effort with ten minutes to go looked as if it was going to creep into the corner, eventually inching wide much to the disbelief of the home crowd.
At this stage at a game in England, many home fans would have made an early exit. Old Trafford the night before had seen many Manchester United fans head for the car parks in the aftermath of Sergio Aguero’s strike, not waiting to see if their side could force a late goal as they have done so many times before. This was not the case with Dortmund, as the fans somehow managed to increase the volume further still. The corner from Gotze’s chance came to nothing, and there were just nine minutes left for Dortmund to find the goal to send them through and save the tie. This still seemed manageable with BVB in control of the tie, but then came the moment which would surely send Malaga to the last four.
Such was the desperation of Dortmund’s attacks it was inevitable they would be susceptible to a sucker punch, and so it came. Former Arsenal man Julio Baptista rolled the ball past the helpless Dortmund keeper, with the ball appearing to be heading wide until Eliseu made sure. The Portuguese winger looked suspiciously offside, but the protests were to no avail. The goal stood, and Malaga celebrated as if they had won the trophy itself. The players ran to the away end and began scaling the fence to celebrate, as the large traveling section celebrated their moment of glory. For many Borussia Dortmund fans, it was too much to take. The girl stood in the row in front of me collapsed to the ground in tears the moment the ball reached the feet of Eliseu, and hers were not the only tears to fall from the eyes of heartbroken home crowd. They had played so well, won so many friends, beaten some true giants of Europe, and now the dream was over.
All belief seemed to be gone, until an inspirational moment from the Dortmund goalkeeper. He ran to the halfway line to lift his teammates, urging them on and waving his arms to inspire the crowd to give them one last push. The fans responded, with the BORUSSIA BORUSSIA chants still extremely loud, but lacking in real belief that a comeback was possible.
Two goals were needed in eight minutes, with Malaga looking to run out the clock however possible. Goal kicks took an eternity to be taken, while several players threw themselves dramatically to the ground at the slightest hint of contact. As upsetting as it is when it takes place against your team, time-wasting in this fashion is a part of football and the delirious visitors played the tactic perfectly. Hummels came off the bench for Dortmund, with Gundogan the man to give way. There was no need for defending at this stage of the game, but Hummels had the role of playing long balls in to the box. Lewandowski had a header pushed onto the bar, but Malaga stood firm and the game moved into injury time.
Four minutes to go. Four minutes for BVB to somehow pull off something astonishing and make history. As far as the away fans were concerned it was already over, a tremendous party was going on in the far corner of the stadium, with thousands of Malaga fans bouncing up and down and waving their shirts in the air. They had supported their club magnificently, and were just a few short minutes away from the greatest moment in the history of their club. But, just as football can be beautiful, in the same moment it can be incredibly cruel. One mans finest moment is the darkest hour for his rival, and Malaga’s party was about to come to an abrupt end with a series of events I still can’t believe took place.
91 minutes on the clock, and the time for beautiful football has passed. A long ball into the box missed the despairing head of a Spanish defender, winding up at the feet of Reus after a frantic scramble in the box. With the stricken goalkeeper lying helpless on the floor, Reus rolled the ball into the empty net for the equaliser on the night. 2 – 2 after 92 minutes, but Dortmund’s job was not done. The away goals rule meant that this goal was worthless without another, with almost no reaction from any of the black and yellow shirted players as they grabbed the ball and sprinted back to the halfway line. The fans celebrated the goal for a brief second, before screaming at the team to get the game underway to find another.
Surely there was no time for Dortmund to find the crucial third goal? Despite the equaliser from Reus, I never even considered the prospect that the well organised Malaga would let this slip. All they had to do was win possession, run the ball to the corner and the game was over. But this is Borussia Dortmund. And this Borussia Dortmund side has been trained to fight for every second of the game, chase every ball and work for every lost cause. They poured forward once more, every single player charging into the Malaga half with the exception of the goalkeeper. Schmelzer got the ball just outside the area, but was met with a strong tackle. He took a quick throw in to Lewandowski, who lifted the ball into the box. Time seemed to stand still as a sea of Dortmund players challenged for the ball. For the first time all night, Westfalenstadion fell silent. The ball was stabbed across the face of the goal, where substitute Schieber steered it towards goal. Dortmund prepared to erupt, but a despairing lunge kept the ball out. But wait…the rebound falls at the feet of Santana a yard out from goal. It can only have taken a second for the Brazilian defender to put the ball into the goal, but it felt like a full minute had gone by before he put the finishing touch to the miracle in Dortmund. 3 – 2. 93rd minute.
A second of silence. Had that really happened? And then, bedlam. The only way to do justice to the celebrations are to compare them to an erupting black and yellow volcano. I have never seen joy on this scale, nor do I expect to ever see anything like it again. The girl who had been crying in despair just eight minutes earlier was now weeping tears of joy, while a fan who must have been at least 80 years old hurled his walking stick to the side and jumped up and down in a way you suspected he had not done for decades. Because that’s what football can do. It can provide you with moments of such joy that for a moment you forget who you are. You are not an individual, but a collective unit. Fans tumbled to the ground over seats, fell to their knees to praise whichever spiritual being they had been praying to moments before, and strangers embraced. It’s likely that many of the people who celebrated that goal together will never see each other again, but it doesn’t matter. They were part of one of the most glorious moments in the history of the club, and the memories born in that instant will last far beyond when the 2012/13 season is just a date in the history books.
Meanwhile on the pitch, there were similarly joyous scenes. Goalscorer Santana was buried under a heaving pile of humanity, as his teammates celebrated what is surely their greatest moment so far. The substitutes and coaching staff were not to be left out, as they sprinted onto the pitch and danced wildly amongst the fallen bodies of the heartbroken Malaga players. Moments earlier they had been dreaming of Wembley, and now their fairytale European run was over. In the space of a few wild moments in Germany, their hopes and aspirations had been shattered in the cruelest of ways. They were the unwilling guests at a black and yellow party, one they wanted to escape as soon as possible.
The La Liga side were able to pick themselves off the floor to play the last few seconds of the game , but Dortmund were not to be denied now. A successful tackle was made, the ball was cleared with such force that it could well have flown back to England before I did, and the final whistle blew. The triumph confirmed, the wild celebrations started all over again. The Dortmund players charged to the Sudtribune, celebrating in the stands with the fans who just minutes earlier had not even dared to dream of such a scene. Beer flew through the air, scarves were triumphantly held aloft as a seemingly never-ending celebration took place around football’s finest arena. After a prolonged celebration with the fans in the Sudtribune, the Dortmund players saluted the rest of the stadium, performing several laps of honour and diving into the goal at the North side of the goal to celebrate.
To the eternal credit of the Malaga fans, they clapped the victorious Dortmund squad as well as doing the best to lift their beaten heroes. Due to a ban for financial misdemeanors Malaga will not be in the Champions League next season, it will be a poorer competition without them.
Perfect moments in football do not happen very often, and it is no surprise that fans want to hang on to them when they do. The celebrations in the stadium went on until almost midnight, with the party in the streets of Dortmund going on long after that. After calling it a night in the very early hours, I said goodbye to my new German friends and prepared for the journey home. They shook my hand before going back to their chosen method of celebration, drinking beer and singing out of tune football songs in a fountain.
Many things have happened in the past months to test my love of football, but this was a night to remind me of why it is the greatest sport in the world. Both the Dortmund and Malaga fans went through every possible emotion over the course of the game, ending in the most spectacular fashion. As I walked into the central station, a Malaga fan sat crying on the ground, being consoled by two Dortmund fans, taking time away from their moment of glory to console a beaten rival.
As the club themselves said so well, it is for nights like this that the game is created. Because for all the negative stuff that comes with it, every smarmy football agent that becomes a millionaire and every miserable journey home from a 0 – 0 draw 300 miles away. Football. It’s brilliant, isn’t it?
As shown in their magnificent pre-match choreo, Borussia Dortmund’s hunt for the Champions League trophy goes on. After a night like this, you wonder if there is anything on Earth which can stop them. Auf Gehts Dortmund…