Paris, London, Amsterdam, Dortmund. When I decided to study abroad in Brussels this fall, these four cities within hours of where I would be staying were a major factor in my choice. Select a person at random and show them this list, eyebrows will be raised and questions will need to be answered. “Dortmund? What is that?” But on this site, no answers necessary. The Yellow Wall, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, the top of the list of cities I needed to visit.
Before describing the experience of seeing that home crowd in person, I want to go back to what led me to the team in the first place. I was entering my first year of college, two and a half years ago. I watched football and basketball obsessively. I followed baseball and even some hockey. I had never been interested in following soccer though, and I look back at myself now wondering what took me so long. I played some soccer growing up and loved watching the World Cup, but I never got past that point.
Within the first few weeks of college, I realized something, and it wasn’t that I should start following Dortmund. I realized I better get good at FIFA quick otherwise I would not enjoy living on this hall. It was the only thing on the TV in our lounge for months on end when FIFA 17 was released. I remember looking at the case and wondering who the player on the cover was. “That’s Marco Reus,” was the answer. I hadn’t played FIFA extensively, but I can attribute my introduction to that game and the guys on my hall my first year to my love for soccer today.
I refused to get left behind and slowly worked my way up in the FIFA rankings on my hall, which meant I eventually figured out how to score goals and manage to win thirty percent of the time. I found this fast guy I could score with on this German team I had never heard of before. Turns out he was the fastest in the game. I ended up getting pretty good with Aubameyang and Dortmund and it was my first introduction to the black and yellow.
A new world of sports had been introduced to me and I was hooked. I didn’t want to just play a video game, I wanted to invest in what this world was in real life. But then came the hardest part. Who do I follow? Who do I root for?
My choice was difficult. I have never had to make a choice in fandom, it felt so artificial. Choosing a Premier League team seemed the obvious choice. Everyone I knew supported one. But I couldn’t bring myself to rooting for any of the top six teams, it felt too default and fair-weather, and I didn’t feel a connection to them. I tried my best to root for mid table Premier League teams, but it was just depressing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to invest in the sport if I made it painful for myself to watch.
I looked outside the Premier League. I loved Juventus in FIFA and the black and white stripes, but again where’s the joy in rooting for a team that couldn’t lose their league if they tried. At the end of the day everything led back to one team. That team with Aubameyang and Reus that I loved to play with on FIFA. That team with the yellow and black jerseys that could compete at a high level. That team with those fans I had heard so much about. Everything about BVB I admired and I had finally found who to follow.
Fast forward to the first few weeks in Belgium. Time to get settled, start classes, but more importantly find people with that same list of cities as me. Within days I found company. They knew Dortmund, they knew the Yellow Wall, and they were in. Tickets were bought and bus rides were booked, and all we had to do was wait.
Three months later and it was finally game day. We woke up early, got on the bus, and in five hours we were in Dortmund, where the presence of the team could be felt immediately in the train station. Yellow everywhere. We packed into the train with all the other Dortmund fans and traveled across the city.
Walking into that stadium was unlike any other sporting event I have been to. We were running late and walked in directly across from the Yellow Wall as “You Will Never Walk Alone” was blaring. A moment that will give you chills. We filtered into our standing room only section and the game was underway.
With fan protests in the first half, it was pretty quiet, but no one could help themselves when Sancho was brought down in the box, and Marco Reus put in the penalty to go up 1-0. It was a great moment to witness, but we couldn’t help but think, with the protest and the near guarantee of a goal off a penalty, we need to see a goal in the second half to get the full Dortmund experience. “Put Paco in please”.
Alcacer granted our wish with hardly any time to spare. The build up to that final goal was beautiful, as everyone in the stadium could tell they were about to score. With each extra pass the anticipation built before Paco finally put it in the back of the net. Everyone went crazy, there was pushing and shoving, and there was beer flying everywhere. It was the perfect moment to end the trip and it was the moment I felt completed my connection as a fan with the team.
My path to a city in Germany most people probably haven’t heard of was a relatively short one that began less than three year ago. I certainly can’t claim to be a lifelong, diehard fan and I definitely have more to learn, but that game was a moment that confirmed for me my choice that was born simply from a video game, and I certainly won’t be going back on that choice. It was the best sporting event I have ever attended, and I won’t soon forget it.