At the beginning of the second half, there is a banner that emerges at the foot of the famous Sudtribune at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund. It reads “You don’t care about sport” in big black letters against a yellow background. “All you care about is money.” The protest is directed at European football’s decision-makers who have signed off on Champions League reform. But Newcastle United feel like appropriate visitors. The juxtaposition is irresistible for Dortmund fans who revel in their own club’s authenticity.
As fake notes and gold bars rain down from the vast terrace, dutifully retrieved by goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, the message is clear. Souls are being sold in this modern game. Lines are being crossed. And Dortmund are a club that do not want to cross them.
Winning is the target but not at any cost. That will have only made the identity of the beaten opposition sweeter. In a group that includes Saudi-owned Newcastle and Qatari plaything Paris Saint-Germain, Dortmund sit top of the table with two games to play.
The banner was the work of the supporters on the Sudtribune but the executives are not so far removed from that ethos. Speaking to managing director Carsten Cramer at the weekend, he was eager to point out exactly what makes Dortmund different.
“We are still a football club. We are not a marketing entity. We belong to the people not a government or a fund. We have no Arabian owner spending money. We belong to 190,000 members. We have 55,000 season ticket holders. That is the strength of our club.”
There are moments when that strength can be felt. The so-called Yellow Wall can be overwhelming. Even the stand’s roof is angled downwards on advice from Dortmund’s philharmonic orchestra so that 130 decibels of noise can be funnelled towards the pitch. “That is the unique selling point of Dortmund,” says Cramer.
Dortmund still pursue commercial opportunities. This is a club with offices in New York and Singapore. They toured the United States in the summer. Representatives from the Seattle Seahawks visited the stadium on Saturday in what is being called an exchange of ideas.
But unlike elsewhere in Germany, there will be no NFL game hosted in Dortmund. “We concentrate on football. We would never host any other sport. We never would host a music concert. It is an approach that fits Frankfurt and Munich. It does not fit Dortmund.”
“We have to win games. We love to win games. But we are definitely not obligated to win games. That is not Dortmund. Compare the salary budgets. Bayern is spending more than double. It is a challenge to remain competitive.”