The new season is upon us, with the DfB Pokal kicking off for the Black and Yellows on Saturday. This season bring the same excitement and anticipation as always, with new players jostling for spots in the first team, while fans make eager and early predictions about who will thrive and who will just survive across the table.
In this off-season, we have had a lot of time to process the conclusion of the 22/23 season. We’ve had time to spend on our other hobbies, time to remind ourselves that sports is just sports, we follow our clubs to be entertained, and that ultimately, the forces at play in professional sports are so much larger and more powerful than just wins and losses. Despite all that, I’m still not over it.
If you have not caught on yet, this is not an optimistic article. I’m sure I will bring it all together by the end, but if you have done a healthy job processing Dortmund’s title collapse, potentially click away.
I simply have not been able to move myself completely past the feeling of disappointment, the betrayal I felt seeing such a competitive, capable squad crawl to a draw in the most meaningful game of the last five years, or even ten years.
It’s childish to use the word “betrayal” in this context. Borussia Dortmund, its players, and its staff do not owe me anything for my years of support. This relationship is not transactional. Being a sports fan is like gambling; you throw your passion and your faith into the pot, and there is absolutely no guarantee you will get anything in return. But when you do, and more, the feeling is indescribable. Sports takes it a step further. There is an investment in sports fandom of our time and our emotion, and we cannot help but feel that we are owed something in return.
May 28th was such a sucker punch for that reason; once the dust had settled, I felt like a fool.
It’s hard not to get caught up, given the nature of the modern footballing world. We have all defended our support of BVB against the fans of larger and more powerful teams. The witty lines about being Bayern’s academy or playing in a one-team league. Sometimes we retaliate, but for many, the reality is just enduring the ridicule with the knowledge that their fandom isn’t contingent on upsetting a status quo that was established long before many of us even became fans.
Don’t you want to just stick it to those bastards one of these times?
What makes it even more frustrating is that the team had earned that. Their bragging rights were waiting in the tunnel with a big, shiny bow. Their performances justified their reward, up until the last moment, when they did not. Regardless of the conditions, this will always be Bayern’s 11th straight title, and little more. No one cares about “almost”.
Now we find ourselves in August of 2023. Summer is flying by, and we are faced with the start of another long and grueling season. The BVB fanbase, including this site, has always made of point of the values that draw us to this team, the Echte Liebe that the rest of Europe, despite their new stadiums and filthy rich owners, will never have. Our strength is in our unity. Yet this offseason, where unity was needed the most, we have called it into question. An unpredictable summer transfer window has yielded criticism of the BVB staff, the players they have brought in, and the departures. Raphael Guerreiro had left for Bayern before some of us had a chance to wrap our heads around the title failure, with many fans divided on whether he had betrayed BVB or done what was best for his life and family. Jude Bellingham departed not long after, and even Sean and I had a disagreement about my coverage of Bellingham’s departure. Then came reports that Kehl and Terzic were not aligned on transfer targets, and fans began to question what direction the sporting project was heading.
It all screamed of fracture.
They say time heals all wounds. Sometimes, it’s more like “time has brought us to the start of a new season so you need to move on”. That’s where I find myself. I spent most of the summer going back and forth about writing this piece, pondering whether it really added anything to a situation we all know happened, a situation that hurt all of us. Sometimes what I love about writing for this site is that it’s like screaming into the void. It’s cathartic.
23/24 is not without its optimism. Ramy Bensebaini has looked like a quality addition and an upgrade in defensive quality. Felix Nmecha has shown flashes of serious ability on both sides of the ball, as well as a strong desire to succeed. Marcel Sabitzer is on the war trail, ready to prove to his former club that they made a mistake letting him go. As with every new season, there are new storylines, new opponents, and new reasons to get excited. Still, I have not been eagerly awaiting this season—likely owing to my lack of closure with the previous one.
Call it dramatic.
With 34 new fixtures queued up, however, it’s best time to start looking forward and prepare for another season. BVB and it’s players have certainly done so, or claim to have. The time for reflection is over, even if the feeling has not completely gone. Match-day one is right around the corner.