Football finally comes home – Top that Pep

“Football is a religion in Dortmund. Bayern may have won a lot of fans and a lot of trophies because of the incredible number of good decisions they have made, but now there is another story. Along has come another club that is pretty good as well.” It’s hard to disagree with the words of Jürgen Klopp, the miracle worker behind the spectacular rise from the ashes of bankruptcy of Borussia Dortmund. Despite enduring a disappointing domestic season where Bayern had simply been too good for them and the rest of German football, Dortmund arrived en masse in London knowing that all of the pain could be erased in one ninety minute game.

20130526-214507.jpgLondon awoke on Saturday morning awash with yellow and black. Whilst 478,567, to be precise, Dortmund fans had been unlucky in trying to secure one of the 24,000 official tickets for the Wembley showpiece, tens of thousands had headed to the centre of London to party like it was neunzehn neunzig neun. By mid-afternoon Trafalgar Square was a sea of Dortmund fans tucking into traditional English beer (Fosters, Stella and Carlsberg) and traditional English food (Walkers family packs of crisps) soaking up the rare English sunshine.  Lord Nelson was looking down with an approving wink, especially at the girls who made the effort to dress in the full Dortmund kit. Football for life was the motto of the day for the fans. One game, one goal, one glorious night at the venue of legends. There were fans of all shapes and sizes enjoying the sunshine, although if truth be told some looked better in their Dortmund outfits than others.

Dortmund Chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke could barely raise his voice enough over the strains of Wonderwall to explain with immense pride how special this day was. “Ten years ago every member of our club would have had a chance for a ticket.” Today fans sat on the edge of the fountains with signs around their necks pleading for a ticket for the biggest game in German club football history.  Progress.

My mission was to try to document the day through the eyes of a fan with Allianz for their Football For Life campaign. Never an easy job with half a dozen Bitburger’s sloshing around your stomach, but even worse when every time I opened my mouth the German fans broke into a chorus of Football’s Coming Home. Both sets of found laughed at the irony that here they were in the home of “Your Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottingham Hotspurs”. Bayern fans were outnumbered 20 to 1 in Central London but they knew the score. Even a performance at 75% of what they have been capable of this season would see the trophy return to Bavaria. Dortmund needed all the skill of Reus, the fire power of Lewandoski and the sulkiness of Robben to snatch a victory. But if they could, it would be the most famous win in their history, one that would give them bragging rights over their rivals for years to come.  Despite their dominance of the domestic game, Bayern had been the bridesmaid in European football for so long, runners-up five times in the last twenty-five years with just a single trophy in that time against Valencia back in 2001.

On the tube up to Wembley Park we finally found the Bayern fans.   The Bavarian traditional dress of Leiderhosen and Dirndl’s filled our carriage. Alas the wearers of the latter were of the male persuasion but soon the songs were filling our carriage – of course Football’s Coming Home….time and time again.  They didn’t share my concern that a defeat would derail an almost perfect season, in fact they didn’t see a defeat was an option at all. Earlier in the day there had been some minor dust up’s between rival fans at Wembley although you would never had noticed it now with both sets of fans mixing on the famous walk up to the stadium from the tube stadium.

8829838418_3338326725_bThe road was filled with fans without tickets, standing here with the final slivers of hope in her hearts.  Earlier in the week a German TV news outlet had expressed concern at the quality of our sausages that would be on sale at Wembley, urging fans to bring their own.  Here on Wembley Way the “Gourmet Sausage Shop” had been renamed as the German Sausage Shop” (rebranding of four letters isn’t expensive) but few fans were indulging.  The UEFA ban on alcohol around the ground didn’t seem to be bothering the police who kept a watching brief on events without being over bearing.

Fans gathered around the outer concern, respecting the reverence of England’s finest player, Bobby Moore who of course won the 1966 World Cup for West Ham United against West Germany.  Groups of Bayern fans struck up impromptu sing-songs, still thinking Football’s Coming Home was the highpoint in English-German irony.  The atmosphere was relaxed, the sun giving Wembley a holiday feel, albeit one of Blackpool-esque proportions.

Finally inside the stadium and we were greeted with a wall of yellow as the far end of the stadium was full to busting with Dortmund fans.  Our seats were in the middle of the Bayern fans, who not wanting to be out-sung were turning up the volume to eleven.  Of course, Football Was Coming home (again) but we all joined in, waving our flags and joining in the backslapping.

Ten minutes to kick off and the pitch was awash with medieval knights, dress in yellow and red, ritualistic drumming music filling the stadium and confusing the hell out of everyone as to the relevance of the occasion.  All of a sudden the stadium descended into a hush and the teams arrived.  All of the hype, anticipation and speculation was now moribund.  It was showtime.

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Borussia Dortmund 1 Bayern Munich – Wembley Stadium – Saturday 25th May 2013
Major finals rarely live up to the expectations built up in the media.  Like a relationship long ago, we always remember the brief highlights but never the pain of constant disagreement.  Last year’s Champions League final was nearly two hours of uninspiring football, with the late extra-time drama and the excitement of penalties.  And who can really remember much about the finals of the previous few years apart from the winner?  On Saturday a new standard was set by these two sides who produced the best Champions League final in living memory.

Dortmund started the game like a ICE train, trying to expose Bayern down the flanks. For the opening twenty minutes Neuer had to make three or four world-class saves as the yellow and black wall seemed to be advancing down the pitch.  The Bayern fan next to me said “We want to give them a chance, before we murder them”.  And sure enough they seemed to slowly take control of the midfield, pushing the ball quickly up to Thomas Müller who seemed to be the lynch pin in the centre of the field.  Now it was time for Bayern to test Weidenfeller, making three world-class saves in the first period, including one with his chin from Robben.

The stats at half time would have been impressive for a full ninety minutes, let alone just a mere 45.  Eight shots of goal, with only seven free-kicks although Bayern’s 60% possession reflected their dominance as the half wore on. However, the game remained scoreless and that of course gave Dortmund hope.  The second period was announced by the Bayern fans in the upper tier with a fine display of flares.  Of course, those of you watching on TV wouldn’t have seen that, as the Wembley stewards panic was all to plain to see.

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Fifteen minutes into the second period and Robben danced around the Dortmund defence, got to the byline and squared the ball for Mario Mandzukic to tap home.  For all the skill and invention of both sides, it was a simple tap in from six yards that had finally broken the deadlock.  The lead lasted just eight minutes as Dortmund pushed forward, the ball finding Reus as he advanced into the area, his run being stopped by Dante’s raised leg. Penalty. Ilkay Gündogan stepped up and sent Neuer the wrong way to level the scores.

The game seemed to be heading for extra time, with both coaches refusing to make any substitutions.  Bayern were peppering the Dortmund goal, but it seemed their luck wasn’t in.  A fan in front of us offered a silent prayer and with just a minute left on the clock, Ribéry found Robben who seemed to lose the ball in his feet as he progressed towards Weidenfeller before slowly rolling the ball into an empty net.  For what seemed like the umpteenth time this season, a major game had been decided in the dying moments of a major game.

8835373974_5c8e1b56c5_b (1)The moment will live in my memory for many years as I was hugged and kissed by fans all around me.  In all of the celebrating, the 4th official held up his board saying there would be 3 minutes of added time, but it was all over for Dortmund.  They had given it their best shot but had simply fallen once again to the Munchen Machine.

At the final whistle Klopp took his team to the far end, where they stood in a line and simply looked at their fans.  I would image he was telling his side to remember this moment.  To remember the pain, the look on the faces of their fans who had followed them to London and never given up belief.  All around them Bayern celebrated but to a man they showed dignity in defeat.

The celebrations would go on long into the night.  Tears were flowing in both ends of the stadium, in the stands and on the pitch where the Bayern players took it in turns to celebrate with the famous trophy.  As the fireworks shot into the air from the Wembley Arch it was time to leave the Bayern fans to enjoy the moment.  The day had been one to remember for a long time.  Unlike a relationship there were no bad moment, no pointless trips to craft fairs or dinner parties.  This was one day that would be up there with my wedding day.  Football for life?  Absolutely.

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