One of my greatest memories as a Dortmund fan came not in the Westfalenstadion, not at the end of a Pokal win, but in the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. My dad was working in Charlotte at the time, and I convinced him to bring me and a friend, a Liverpool fan, down with him for an International Champions Cup summer match between the two teams. The day before the match, my friend and I decided to walk down to the stadium to see how preparations were going. I grabbed my first ever Dortmund jersey, a 2015/16 Marco Reus kit, and a Sharpie, just in case.
The two teams were completing training sessions inside when we arrived, and to gain access you had to be affiliated with a fan club or have another inside connection. We tooled around the stadium for a while, asking if anyone wanted to sell their tickets until finally we found a taker and hustled our way in.
We caught the tail end of the Liverpool training session, and even got some high fives from Kloppo and Mohammed Salah. Dortmund came out a few minutes later, beginning a training session in the sweltering summer sun. I watched my favorite team in-person for about an hour, eyeing up new signings and speculating about what they would bring to the coming season. Jadon Sancho had been settling himself in the black and yellow for a year, and though he was tipped for big things, it was still unclear what he had to offer.
Following the session, all of the players came over to the stands for a photo with the fans, who crowded against the front rail.
That’s me in the red circle!
Before the photo was taken, I saw Jadon Sancho coming over toward where I was standing and I yelled “Sancho! Sancho!” and pointed to my shirt, gesturing for a signature. Dan Zagadou and a few on the other players around him called back “ooo San-cho, San-cho,” ridiculing a player who was, at the time, still a very little fish in the big leagues. The photographer was organizing the players for the photo, but Jadon spun around and shot me a huge smile, mouthing “I got you” before turning back for the photo. Immediately after, he spun back around, looked right up to me and grabbed the Sharpie.
I know Jadon does not remember this moment, all he did was sign a shirt like at any other training session. I wish I could tell him how much this memory has stuck with me. For me, before he became a star, before the €100 million transfer fees, Jadon Sancho already knew the true meaning of Echte Liebe. What has made him such a wonderful member of the Dortmund squad over the last four years is that he never forgot it. Sean mentioned in his announcement article how Jadon has stood out from other departures in Dortmund’s recent history for his maturity and respect to the club. We have been treated to four years to top tier talent housed in a top tier individual, who few if any Dortmund fans will begrudge for moving on. One needs only to think back to the game against Schalke in February to remember how committed Sancho has been to the club who gave him the chance and the faith to shine. Sancho opened the scoring for Dortmund and ran to the camera, slapping the badge of his jersey for everyone to see. Despite all the “Welcome to Manchester” Youtube videos and “come to United” comments on social media, Sancho ran over to tell us all that he was here to play for Dortmund, every minute of the games he had left. He picked up the captain’s armband when it fell to the turf and slid it on his arm, barking orders across the field and screaming in delight at the final whistle.
One of the reasons we as fans love to support Dortmund is because we form a connection with the beating heart of this team. When the players on the field feel that connection, be it through the roar of the fans or through their own admiration for the club, we as fans take notice and are only drawn in further. It is the reason why so many of us cannot let go of past transfers where players have taken that connection for granted. It is the reason we shed tears for the retirement of a player like Piszczek or throw punches in the name of Marco Reus. Jadon Sancho gave himself over to the beating heart of Borussia Dortmund, and gave his all every time he stepped on the pitch. He put himself in the shadow of Reus, learning how to respect the team and the club and after stepping out into the light himself, made sure there was space in his own shadow to help Jude Bellingham find his feet. As a prospect, a star, and eventually a leader, Jadon has always done right by the BVB badge.
I wish you all the best in red, Jadon Sancho, and I thank you tremendously for all the incredible memories you have created for the black and yellow faithful, and for an extra -special one for me. Even with a different crest on your kit, I will always see the one you pointed to that day against Schalke, and hope that the time you spent wearing it will lead you to a career of great success.