On Saturday, the latest iteration of Der Klassiker — Germany’s rivalry that isn’t quite a rivalry as much as an intense staring contest — kicks off for the first time this Bundesliga season. The hype is understandable, as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have won 17 of the last 20 league titles. Problem is, so far this season, only one of the two hulking German monsters is holding up their end of the bargain.
Bayern Munich is still undefeated nine games into the season with a +19 goal difference that’s insulting to the concept of competition. Meanwhile, Dortmund find it itself in 15th place, waking up from nightmares of being chased by Der Relegation Man. Granted, we’re only flipping calendars to November, but this is not where a club expected to find itself. Dortmund was supposed to be the next big thing. The bandwagon to jump on ASAP while you could still have some credibility.
Consider how different it was less than a year ago. Across the country (or maybe just around New York), soccer hangouts got more and more yellow. Glasses frames widened, a wave of really skinny people who were always very neat and presentable in their complimentary earth tones were ordering pub snacks made out of breads and types of sausage with superfluous letters in their names. Good folks. Not in-your-face about their fandom. Often off in their own corner. They looked like they listened to lots of M. Ward.
Last year was the climax in the crescendo of new Borussia Dortmund fandom. Don’t wrinkle that crispy Ben Sherman polo in angst, new Dortmund fan, I won’t drop the “hipster” tag on you. I understand the hurt that word can cause.
Dortmund was the sweet spot for a certain type of fan: The kind of person who wants to get elbow deep in some “football” — or fußball, as it were — but also wants you to know that they’re putting in a little bit of effort. For one, BVB’s German. Claiming any club that isn’t English is good for at least three beers in the soccer bar of your choice. The team’s a popular but not massive club in a league which itself is popular but not massive. The club has never consistently won enough that anyone would accuse their supporters of “glory hunting,” while the team’s attractive play and colorful fans allowed for authenticity plays on a number of levels. And above all, Dortmund is managed by Jürgen Klopp, a man designed by Steve Jobs (probably) to fill the internet with a never-ending flow of content.
Borussia Dortmund is perfect for people who drive hybrids without talking about it all the time and think full-electric cars are too impractical. They’re left-of-center, but not so far gone that you hate them.
But that buzz-team happiness is on the verge of being forgotten. Dortmund is currently 2-1-6 in league. There’s no joy in that. What’s the fun of being a new fan when you new team is terrible? The whole point is to share in the B-plus success with like-minded people.
What’s a Dortmund fan to do? Do they double down on their fandom and wear this (probably) momentary struggle like a badge of honor?
10 5 years Next season they can look at the new class of Dortmund faithful and say “Yeah, dude … that home draw to Augsburg? I was here. It sucked. Aubameyang spent the whole first half out of position. We never got our shape back.” They can play the wise, time-worn elder role.
Or maybe they should bail now. Head to eBay and sell that custom set of club-branded Weizenbock glasses while they maintain some of their original value. Relegate all their Shinji Kagawa shirts to the bottom of the laundry food chain – gym wear. Get out now, and forget.
Difficult choices lie ahead for newish Dortmund fans. Think about all the time invested scoffing at Ciro Immobile name puns or fueling the Joe Gyau hype because he’s American. Like, American American. Not Timothy Chandler American. Hardcore, no-dad-in-the-army, bald eagle American.
How do you explain that to your new German friends that you’re just not into it anymore? That’s a lot of stress to pile on top of a losing season.