BVB fan and psychologist @nessa1909 offers a view of last week’s events, the public response, and the issues faced by the team after the attack on their bus.
At 8:53 pm this past Wednesday BVB conceded the first goal in Monaco, three minutes after their fight to overcome the loss at home a week earlier had begun.
It was the third game the team played within eight days of, as we now know, narrowly escaping death or severe injuries after someone thought their lives weren’t worth anything. Or certainly not worth more than the money the suspected attacker thought he might be winning.
Roman Bürki couldn’t keep out a shot, letting it bounce off his palms back into the box where Kylian Mbappé calmly finished. A few days earlier, Bürki had given us a chilling look into his soul in the aftermath of the attack. He described trouble with sleeping, startling at some point every night to then realise he’s safe, home in his bed, close to his family.
When BVB conceded the third goal on Wednesday night it was reminiscent of a situation in the first leg which had Lukasz Piszczek at the heart of it. The defender lost the ball in an open position in Dortmund’s half after a risky pass. Thomas Tuchel would later stress that Piszczek is a father (a very empathetic and proud one), adding that the last week did something to him.
On the way to the stadium on Wednesday the team bus was held up. It was motionless for about 20 minutes, with no one providing a satisfying answer bar ‘security reasons’. In an interview before kick-off Tuchel outlined how sitting on the bus, not moving, not knowing what was going on, gave them an uneasy feeling and harmed their focus.
There are many more examples, individual stories, statements from the players and manager to illustrate just how affected the team is, but these three should be enough.
Yet, journalists and fans online before and during the game, and media outlets after the match, deemed it appropriate to criticise everyone on and off the pitch in exactly the same manner they would any other day of the week. This includes calling a manager a moron and much worse because you don’t like his line-up or singling out players, calling them failures and, again, much worse.
Sure, you can tweet “circumstances aside” and add your sporting analysis, except it’s invalid. The circumstances won’t go away. They exist. They matter.
That’s not an excuse as many will argue, nor is it an attempt at diagnosing people from afar, it’s part of a realistic assessment of a situation. And sure, you can ask how long you have to hold all of this in. How long do you have to carry the burden of not insulting people who were the target of a murder attempt. I don’t know, but maybe you can do better than a week.
If your understanding of normality involves calling people a failure and trying to humiliate them as much as possible, maybe it’s time to take a longer look at yourself – a situation where circumstances actually are irrelevant.
If you as a fan or a journalist long for normality after a shocking event you weren’t directly involved in that’s perfectly fine and understandable. Forcing it onto the actual victims because it makes you feel better, and because you think it might help ‘them’, is self-centered.
Routines, taking their minds off the attack, being forced to focus on football might help some, definitely. Reading about how someone single-handedly ruined a game? Not so much.
We could all do a little better if we refrained from making statements about what is best, as a fact, in general, for everyone. The only ones to decide what’s best is every single person on the bus, individually, aided by the ones they choose to help them deal with it. These are the only opinions that matter.
Unfortunately, they haven’t been given a lot of control of their lives recently, to say the least. Without delving in too deep, perceived control of events is an important psychological factor, influencing how we deal with stress or trauma (among other things).
Here we have people who experienced the biggest loss of control imaginable a bit over a week ago: someone else trying to take their lives. An hour later, without being consulted, someone decided they should be able to play football not even a day later. Giving them the option to say they didn’t feel ready to play is window dressing.
Opting for normalcy on your own because it helps you cope is very different from opting against it when it’s (publicly) assigned to you, very different from actively asking for a break, even more so when you witness your friends who experienced the same as you NOT ask for it.
This last week and a half has taught me a lot (more) about how we, as a society, deal with mental health, emotions, empathy. Going by decisions and reactions there is still a lot of work to be done.
It feels like we have lost the ability to pause, take a break, deal with the unknown. Minutes after reports of the bombing last week pundits on Sky were discussing the impact of ‘those people’ who ‘now attack football teams’, a ‘new dimension of terrorism’ and that ‘we can’t let them win’. Watzke and Rauball underlined and reinforced that last part as they informed the public the game would take place the following day.
About an hour after the attack.
As we now know, no one consulted the players or Tuchel before the decision was made. It’s difficult to blame Watzke or Rauball for agreeing to the new date as it’s completely understandable that they don’t have a manual on how to handle a situation like this, especially under immense pressure and probably in a state of shock themselves.
However, it does illustrate a broader point which is that we seem struggle to recognise when we’re unfit to decide, that we struggle to live with ambiguity. There is nothing wrong with stating that you don’t know what to do when you don’t know what to do. Not when it’s a decision possibly this meaningful. It’s okay to realise that you lack the information needed to reach a certain decision and act accordingly.
The same principle could be seen throughout the week. Everybody seems to have strong opinions on what’s right, wrong, what should or shouldn’t be done, me included.
A week ago, in the middle of a hasty decision-making process, playing the game not even 22 hours after the attack, was repeatedly justified by saying it was important to set a sign, make a statement. A burden on the shoulders of the victims, forced upon them by UEFA, their bosses, media outlets, society, without them having a say.
As Lars Pollmann fittingly summarised: ‘Continuing as normal never refers to the victims but society in general. In this case, normality is provided by Bayern.‘ Or should have been.
I would be very interested in hearing now what exactly the victims made a statement for by playing not even 24 hours after someone tried to take their lives out of greed.
Hindsight is bliss, you might say, but the background of the attack is actually irrelevant. It might have an even bigger sense of absurdity to it now. That could have been avoided had we paused, given the players a break, waited for investigative progress and by all means refrained from politically and socially laden statements based on next to nothing.
If we didn’t pause then I wish we’d at least do it now. Why would anyone, and I mean anyone, know what to do, how to react?
We don’t. We are learning. We are learning about something we wish we would never have had to but here we are.
There have been sports journalists on Twitter saying that they don’t know what’s best or how to do their jobs in this situation. Exactly. Rightly so. Own that. I wish I could read just one article after the game today that essentially states this: I don’t know what to write, I have no idea what’s appropriate. Just doing what I normally do doesn’t feel right. I can’t go back to normal when nothing actually is normal. So here’s what happened: there was a goal, someone misplaced a pass, there was a penalty incident involving *this player*. No blame, no fault, just facts.
I don’t know what’s best. But there has to be a way to not stop living, to keep going about certain routines while ensuring your human decency.