Anyone who has even remotely followed the Bundesliga over the last couple of years has seen the phrase Der Klassiker casually flung about in press releases and sports articles. Because this casual follower has payed periphery attention to the Bundesliga over the last six or so years, who may watch a Dortmund team play in the Champions League against their favorite Premiership side, they are familiar with Bayern Munich as being the crème de la crème and Borussia Dortmund as the plucky almost there, but not quite, perennial challengers to the title. And, though this casual follower is annoyed by the crass, clichéd moniker ripping off other leagues’ genuine historic marque events, this follower accepts Der Klassiker as dogma.
Well, my well intentioned friend: You’ve been conned. Es gibt keinen Klassiker. There is NO Klassiker. It is a marketing tool by the Bundesliga for its international audiences. The sad fact is, though Borussia Dortmund is one of the better sides historically in the Bundesliga, they have not been quite the perennial challengers to Bayern for the past fifty years. Let’s have a short history lesson shall we? FC Bayern München was not even part of the original Bundesliga when it was founded in 1963. Neither, for that matter was Borussia Mönchengladbach, who were promoted to the Bundesliga in the 1965/66 season along with Bayern. In fact, if any sides could have a strong case to lay claim to Der Klassiker, it would be these two, for between 1969 and 1977, the title was swapped between these two (Gladbach with 5, Bayern with 4). Die Fohlenelf, under iconic trainers Hennes Weisweiler and Udo Lattek, ended up winning eight titles in those years to include the 1975 and 1979 UEFA Cup, in addition to appearing in a European Cup final (losing to Liverpool in 1977), and runners up at two additional UEFA Cup Finals (1973, 1980).
Though Bayern have managed to maintain their dominance of the league through shrewd business decisions (and sometimes unethical and probing the limits of legality), they came to financial prominence when the city of Munich essentially gifted them the 70,000 seat Olympiastadion in the 1970s. As Fussball Vorvort reported, “Suddenly, after the move from the Grünwalder [Bayern’s old ground] to the Olympiastadion, the Reds had a home for around 70,000 spectators – twice the size of Bökelberg [Gladbach’s former ground]. And this at a time when ticket sales accounted for more than half the revenue of the clubs.”[i] Gladbach fell into financial hard times as Bayern cemented their position of hegemony in the league, but for those 10 years, the Foals against the Reds was the signature matchup in the Bundesliga.
Hamburger SV took Gladbach’s place as challenger to Bayern in the early 1980s. The Dino’s rise was bolstered by the 1977 signing of English great Kevin Keegan who went on to win two Ballon d’Or titles at Hamburg. From 1979 to 1983, die Meisterschale was traded between Hamburg (Three times) and Bayern (Two times). And, although Hamburg’s prowess was never as dynastic as Gladbach’s previously, it was nonetheless, the marquee matchup in the Bundesliga.
Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund’s success in the Bundesliga is only relatively recent. Their five titles all occurred in the last twenty years, and lest another Bayern fan fails to point out, BVB were close to bankrupt only a short eleven years ago.
So English-speaking Borussen, there is your brief history lesson. Great rivalries are great not because the English language social media accounts of a foreign league looking to bolster its international ratings (although I cannot fathom Fox doing a decent job capitalizing on that) tags a game with a cheesy, opportunistic play-of-words-capitalizing-on-the-TRUE-El-Classico. Ask a Dortmunder what makes a true rivalry. Ask them why the Revierderby means so much to them? I guarantee you the answers will have no roots in media hype. This matchup against Bayern does not need media hype. There is a reason why many BVB fans overseas, this writer included, despise Bayern FAR more than the noisy blue Smurfs down the road in Herne West. And, like that great Ruhr rivalry, it has nothing to do with the English language Bundesliga twitter account. It does have everything to do with the smug, condescension we have to put up with every time a Bayern fan jumps into conversations amongst this group, offering unsolicited advice on how to “fix” our club. It has everything to do with this writer walking into a Jimmy Johns in Manhattan, Kansas proudly wearing his 2014/15 Marco Reus jersey and the sandwich dude asks in seriousness if I had lost a bet or something, genuinely perplexed as to why an American fan of German football was not a Bayern supporter.It has everything to do with Frank Ribery’s crimes against humanity on the pitch. It has everything to do with Mario Götze’s 2013 announcement. It has everything to do with Mats Hummels hypocrisy. It has to do with the Evil Empire and der Todes Stern des Südens. It has everything to do with how you already feel right now. Rivalries are not created from a title. Titles are formed FROM rivalries.
[i] “Wie Bayern den Ex-Rivalen Gladbach Abhängte,” Fussball Vorort, Undated, Retrieved November 18, 2016 from http://www.fussball-vorort.de/verein/fc-bayern-muenchen/mannschaft/herren/artikel/wie-bayern-den-ex-rivalen-gladbach-abhaengte/327/4506/11896.