For many fans, the Revierderby is the most meaningful match there is. But does that notion reciprocate with Dortmund fans from across the big pond?
It was a typical, hot July day in Manhattan, Kansas as I momentarily escaped the scorching sun for the blissful blast of industrial air conditioning at the Jimmy Johns sandwich shop on Moro Street. Aggieville, the Kansas State University’s student district, with its collection of bars, fast food, occasional tattoo parlor, and wanna-be hipster foodie start-up is about the closest one can get to ‘cultured’ in the heart of Wheat-land, USA. I was wearing my Dortmund Marco Reus jersey as I stepped in to order an Italian Classic with no mayo or tomato.
I was wearing my Dortmund Marco Reus jersey as I stepped in to order an Italian Classic with no mayo or tomato. “Hey! Nice jersey! Did you lose a bet or something?” the voice half joked, half sneered at me from behind the pick-up counter. Genuinely confused, I muttered an incoherent “Huh?” and wandered toward his general direction.
“Did you lose a bet or something?” he repeated, now acting as confused as I was. As I approached him, he pulled out his smart phone in an attempt to explain his failed attempt to do … whatever it was he had tried. As he unlocked the phone and turned it toward me, I quickly saw the unwelcome but familiar blue-white checkered and red crest of FC Bayern München, obviously the ONLY team in the German Bundesliga worth caring about to a US soccer fan.
Instantly I recognized the situation. A fellow soccer fan, here in the most Philistine of soccer cultures had recognized my jersey (incidentally for only the second time in over 18 months in that cultural wasteland) either not as a sign of genuine fandom, merely as the consequence of a lost bet; or to bait me in an all-too-familiar condescending and arrogant fashion.
I left the restaurant with mixed emotions: happy that my love of the game was recognized by another footballing prisoner of Big12-land but perturbed by the pervasiveness of Bayern’s perfidious stranglehold of all things Bundesliga on the international scene.
Why the long preamble? Well, it is Derbywoche in the Ruhrpott. Borussia Dortmund take on their hated rivals Herne-West in the 151st edition of the Revierderby. In Germany, this most historic and bitterest of rivalries is a biannual highlight as well as a sporting spectacle above all others simply due to the fact that the respective rabid fan bases in the Ruhr region live and work amongst each other.
At least twice a year rival work colleagues get a chance to have comeuppance on their office mates for the months between meetings. To the American fan, this is the Michigan-Ohio State or Alabama-Auburn of the Bundesliga. And, as most rivalries go, current form and league position go right out the window.
You will, however, note that this article is being written in English, by an American fan. Due to the expansion of marketing, international TV rights, and a rapidly-expanding Dortmund international fan base precipitated by the success and charisma of the Klopp era, there are many Borussia Dortmund fans in the rest of the world that though trying to join in on the fun emotion of Derby week cannot do so in a meaningful way simply due to their lack of geographic proximity to Smurf fans.
Not to slight the noisy neighbors from Herne-West, but the stature-challenged boys in blue do not have the international following as Dortmund let alone Bayern. The upshot is that no matter how much passion this one American Dortmund fan feigns for this rivalry, the moments that make rivalries poignant and emotional are not associated with a Blue club still living in the 1930s, but with a smug, condescending, and entitled international fan culture of that Evil Empire, der Todesstern des Südens, FC Bayern München. And while this writer has frequently scoffed at the marketing of Der Klassiker as manufactured, there is nothing manufactured about a rivalry based on the mutual loathing of fans in close contact.
While it is important to recognize the history of the Bundesliga and the types of rivalries that have shaped the league over the past fifty plus years, as the league moves into the international scene even more, these kind of natural rivalries will develop more meaning and more impact than the great Revierderby … at least for those outside the Ruhrpott.
So enjoy the Revierderby my Borussen brothers and sisters from Nordrhein-Westfalen! We cheer and sing alongside you. But as fun as the Revierderby may be, for this Borussia Dortmund fan in particular, the upcoming two matches against Bayern hold a lot more meaning.