Groningen to Dortmund
Before you get on to reading the article, I will like to thank Nik, Steff, Atanas, Damien, Harish and Majd. Without them, this whole trip wouldn’t have been a possibility and I am lucky to call each and everyone of them my friend.
What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love – Sir Bobby Robson
It is 3 a.m. in Groningen. I have been tossing and turning and tossing and turning since 11 p.m., wishing I could finally go to sleep but every time I close my eyes, every time I finally think I will fall asleep, a new thought springs into my head and a new wave of adrenaline rushes through my body. You might be wondering why (or you may not) this keeps happening to me. Was it something I ate? Was I having an existential crisis? Was I yearning to do something stupid because it was Friday night and I was in bed?
No. It was the fact that in 12 hours, I was going to be in the Signal Iduna Park with my friend Nikolay Varamezov, my Bulgarian partner in all things football. Thanks to him, and all the others previously mentioned, I received a birthday gift that matched one of my life-long dreams. To watch Borussia Dortmund play at home.
I finally fell asleep around 4:30 only to wake up at 6:30 to get on a bus to Dortmund. I have never jumped out of my bed as quickly as I did. I could’ve slept for 10 minutes and I still would not have felt tired. The image of the Yellow Wall was keeping me awake and fully focused. After a shower, I slipped into my yellow hoodie and black jeans because if I was going to watch BVB, I was going to do it right.
Nik and I met, both matching of course, and that’s when everyone else that was about to board the same 5 hour bus to Dortmund realised it was going to be a looooooooooong ride. We would talk for 5 minutes and break out into a laugh or a goofy smile. We couldn’t contain our excitement any longer and we wanted to make sure everyone around us knew.
2 hours of sleep really make you sleepy (Who knew?) so I passed out and woke up at 12:30pm. Only an hour to go and at this point, our faces hurt from how much we had been smiling. We finally arrived at Dortmund and immediately set out to find how to get to the Westfalenstadion. Although Nik would tell you otherwise, we were very lucky that his German is as good as it is because it took him no time to approach 2 fans who were fully kitted-out with BVB merchandise. This is where the trip truly began.
The 2 men, unfortunately and stupidly I did not get their names, told us to follow them and even offered us some beer. We talked about the team, the songs we would sing, the best games they watched and our expectations for the game against Freiburg. We hopped onto the subway heading towards the stadium and this is when I saw the fans for the first time. The whole train was packed with people sporting yellow and black, and of course, drinking beer. After what was an uncomfortable but, nevertheless, enjoyable ride, we had arrived.
At first glance, it all seemed surreal. The stadium, the people, the fan-shop. It hadn’t hit me yet that we were really there, about to watch Borussia Dortmund, play in the Bundesliga. As we inched closer and closer to the stadium, our 2 tour-guides decided that the trip wouldn’t be complete without the team scarf. Nik and I expected them to take us to the shop and wait for us as we picked one out. But then they did something that showed me that football truly is an expression of love and companionship, a universal language of the two.
“I have watched over 50 games with this scarf,” said one of them. “I want you to have it.” Nik’s eyes opened to a point that I thought we were going to be collecting them from the floor. He couldn’t accept it but our friendly guide insisted. A mere 30 seconds passed when our other friend handed me his scarf. A scarf with history and stories that would be interesting to listen even for the casual fan. We had arrived less than an hour ago and BVB had embraced us like we were one of their own.
We split up from our tour guides as we had different seats and began the slow climb up into the stadium. Once we had gotten past security, up the stairs we went, and every little glimpse we would catch of the pitch would leave us breathless. We bought a beer each, which comes in a customised BVB cup that you get to keep, and finally, saw the pitch.
The warm-ups was littered with world-class talent. Thorgan Hazard, Emre Can, Matt Hummels, Axel Witsel, and of course, Jaden Sancho. I have been reading, watching and learning all my life about players that reach the summit of world football and I could finally say, I saw them live and right in front of me. As starstruck as I was, the Yellow Wall was doing its best to keep my attention on them. Fans were already singing, cheering and jumping and the whistle was not even close to being blown for the start of the game.
Eventually, the players left and that is when the show started. To this day, I still get goosebumps thinking about what happened next. The whole stadium, which was full at 81,365 fans, stood up, scarves in hand, and began singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” This is by far, the greatest football memory I have to this date and will be hard to top. I kid you not when I say my voice was quivering and my legs were shaking from the emotion as everyone raised their voices in unison for the chorus. The best part was that the game hadn’t even kicked-off. We were in for a treat.
The players left the tunnel and the arena erupted. It was finally time to watch some football. 15 minutes in, the stadium shouted “SANCHO” as the England international put his team 1–0 ahead. Little did we know that would be the final scoreline however, the game was entertaining from start to finish, with both teams going all in for it. It started to rain hard and the quality of play diminished slightly, but it made it just that more entertaining to watch as passes were misplaced and counter-attacks came and went and came and went.
The first-half ended with joyous fans heading straight to the bathroom (that is what 3.6 euro a pint does to you), and soon, the second-half began. Nothing much was going on until the stadium, once again, was filled with cheers and excitement. Nik and I had no idea why, BVB was enjoying possession but not making much of it, and then, we saw him. 19-year-old Erling Håland was warming up. The amount of people wearing his jersey on that day was incredible and the reception the Norwegian got simply by stretching was contagious, as Nik and I too began looking dreamy-eyed at the striker.
Unfortunately for Håland and us, he would not score but his power, speed and aura showed all 81,000 people there that he can be a Ballon D’Or winner. The match, as explained before, ended 1–0, and you’re probably wondering if I was disappointed. Not in the slightest.
I could go to the Signal Iduna Park and watch paint dry for 5 hours and still enjoy myself. The experience of being a fan in that stadium is like nothing I have ever experienced before. Every song, every cheer, every boo, every drink, every bite was the best because Nik and I, a Bulgarian and an Argentinian, were made to feel like one of them, a Borusse. Like one of the people that goes every weekend, wearing a yellow top or a jersey, to support their team. We weren’t outsiders or tourists that only go to one game. We were 2 of the 81,365 people that cheered for 90 minutes and that tie has now been built and will be held in my heart forever. Never has a fan-base been so welcoming and if you have the chance, even if you don’t enjoy football, do yourself the favour and go. You will bleed yellow and black until you die after.
Danke BVB, bis zum nächsten mal