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How Borussia Dortmund Became Everyone's Favourite Second Team

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How Borussia Dortmund Became Everyone's Favourite Second Team
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The city of Dortmund is not a huge destination for tourism. It does not rank among the 16 most popular German cities for visitors, while its 13th century churches and castles, and other cultural buildings, tend to entice only on a domestic scale.

There is one cultural building, however, that is drawing a steady stream of visitors from abroad. It is the church of Borussia Dortmund, the Westfalenstadion, which attracts over 80,000 worshippers for every home game.

According to Ian Chadband of the Telegraph, who spoke to BvB chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, 800 to 1,000 football fans from Britain make the trip to Dortmund for every single home match. This figure is astounding, but upon reflection, not entirely surprising.

Clearly, Jurgen Klopp's side have become the second-favourite team of many fans outside Germany. Why?

Firstly, the price is right. According to the Guardian, the cheapest ticket at the Westfalenstadion is the equivalent of just £13 and the most expensive is just £50. Arsenal fans, by contrast, can pay up to £126 for a ticket and £1,955 for a season ticket. Furthermore, research by the Daily Mail found that the "cheapest day out" (a ticket, programme, pie and cup of tea) at Liverpool was £46.50.

When cheap air travel is factored in—and local public transport is included in the ticket price—a day out at Dortmund can actually work out cheaper than a trip to a Premier League side in London.

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But of course, if it was cheap football everyone was after, people would be flocking to non-league games or trekking to Albania or Lithuania to see their respective top flights.

BvB are a huge draw because they are among the most exciting teams in Europe right now.

Jurgen Klopp's side play fast, attacking football with an incredibly high defensive line. Their work rate and flair does not come down to the fact that they can afford to buy the world's best players—Watzke told Telegraph that his modest €67 million budget is on par with Stoke—rather, it is all down to the philosophy of Jurgen Klopp, and a side who triumph through team spirit and bold tactics, rather than "box office" signings.

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One of the biggest draws for non-Dortmund fans is the matchday stadium experience. Germany's biggest stadium holds a little over 80,700 fans, 25,000 of whom are in the raucous standing room of the famous Südtribüne behind the south goal. It is the largest free-standing single-tier stand in Europe, and it is nicknamed Die gelbe Wand ("The Yellow Wall").

While jumping around among the flag-waving merry BvB fans, you can drink cheap beer, eat currywurst and soak in the electric atmosphere. At the end of the game, the players will line up at the wall and give Wayne's World-style "we're not worthy" bows to the fans. 

To experience the stadium on a matchday is considered an absolute must for any fan. Former Wolfsburg manager Steve McLaren once said that every game there "feels like a cup final," as per The Independent.

The biggest appeal for neutrals is that Dortmund appear to do things "the right way." Thanks to the Bundesliga's "50-plus-one" rule, most German top-tier sides are majority-owned by the fans, not an oligarch semi-interested sportswear mogul. 

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Watzke notes that The Emirates brings in 45 times more revenue on matchdays, but their cheapest season ticket is twice as expensive as Dortmund's dearest. Fans are treated as part of the club, rather than customers who are simply expected to fund the inflated wages of players (Robert Lewandowski earns just €1.5 million a year—he and his colleagues could earn significantly more elsewhere).

When Dortmund's caterers asked to increase the price of beer by 10 cents, the club refused, with marketing director Carsten Cramer insisting that "it doesn’t satisfy our people," as per The Telegraph.

BvB's reticence to exploit their fans and maximise revenue is born out of a cautiousness caused by their near-implosion in the early-to-mid 2000s. The club racked up huge debts in the years following their cash-fuelled 1997 Champions League win, and they resolved to be fiscally responsible as they recovered.

They have trodden the road that most big clubs find themselves on currently, and they have rediscovered the more virtuous path.

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In an age where football has become a grotesque circus of money and business concerns, BvB give fans from the UK and beyond a feel for pre-Premier League nostalgia. It is still possible to watch world-class football while standing on a terrace with a beer. It is still possible to be treated as something other than a revenue stream by the club you love.

Above all, it is BvB's old-fashioned values and place within the enviable German financial model that endear them to fans of other trams. 

I attended this year's Champions League final in London and interviewed dozens of Dortmund fans for B/R. They were utterly joyous, and they outnumbered their Bayern counterparts significantly—hundreds had travelled over just to watch the game in local pubs.

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Most fans I spoke to outright refused to criticise Mario Goetze (who had caused much pain to Jurgen Klopp by defecting to Bavaria), instead choosing to credit him for his contributions. Inside the stadium, they were phenomenal and extremely gracious in defeat.

What football supporter in the world wouldn't find BvB fans charming and their club an idyllic vision of what it really means to support a club?

This writer is not a big believer in the concept of having a second team, and many of my family are fans of their Ruhr neighbours Schalke. Despite this, a trip to the Westfalenstadion is definitely on my bucket list, and I hope it comes sooner rather than later.

 

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