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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Andy Mitten's football diary, Part 3: Noise level at Dortmund far better than in any British ground

Our European football correspondent will be at eight games over eight days. This is the third installment of his trip diary.

Tottenham Hotspur were in good form at Dortmund. Patrik Stollarz / AFP
Tottenham Hotspur were in good form at Dortmund. Patrik Stollarz / AFP

There was a large congregation of Manchester United fans in Basel on Wednesday for the Uefa Champions League clash.

In the Kunstmuseum of modern art in the city, where a pile of bricks on a floor is one of the exhibits, an official explained that “football is art”.

She had obviously not watched much of Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United side when he was in charge between 2014 and 2016.

It was cold in Switzerland, but Basel put blankets on the seats – for some home fans.

Four large oil drums were ablaze outside the stadium, which is encased in a shopping centre. The smell of chestnuts being roasted lingered and Basel fans were in high spirits before, during and especially after they beat Manchester United.

I travelled to Basel by train alongside the mighty Rhine River from Cologne. Having seen Tottenham Hotspur beat Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night.

A Borussia fan I had met outside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in September got me a ticket on Dortmund’s famous south stand, the Sudtribune, often known as 'the yellow wall'.

A season ticket costs €295 (Dh1,284) per season and also includes three Champions League matches – €12 per match is a very cheap price to watch a team of Dortmund’s calibre.

Tim, the Borussia fan, arranged to meet by the entrance of the Stadion Rote Erde, which Borussia used as their home until the Westfalenstadion was built next door for the 1974 World Cup finals.

The old stadium, with its ageing terraces, is still in use for Dortmund’s reserve team.

Manchester United played there in 1965, winning 6-1. Dortmund was also the venue where United were defeated in the 1997 Champions League semi-final.

The Borussia fans explained how their giant terrace works.

For league games, 25,000 stand there in the 80,000 capacity arena. For Champions League games, the rail seats are activated and the capacity is almost halved. Everybody still stands up.

I hoped to watch Christian Pulisic, the 19-year-old American, but he was injured.

Rewind back four years and a friend told me of a young player he was helping bringing from America to Dortmund.

He introduced me to his father, a former player himself. I asked my friend about the progress of the player each time we met – and Pulisic had gone beyond expectations, establishing himself in Dortmund’s first team and the United States national team.

Shinji Kagawa, who had so impressed for Dortmund before joining Manchester United, did play.

He is a fading force who is not even being selected for Japan.

United fans hope Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who also shone for Dortmund, has a more successful time at Old Trafford, but he has been poor recently and dropped from the team.

Despite enjoying the highest average attendances in world football, Dortmund are a selling club, with their best players bought by richer clubs in England or Spain or rivals Bayern Munich in Germany.

It is hard to compete when this happens and the side are fifth in the Bundesliga. Dortmund intend to be more commercially savvy, while retaining their local identity.

The organisation on the South terrace was interesting. There are at least three ultra groups who stand behind giant nets.

A fan stands alongside a drummer on a platform at the front and sparks the songs with the help of loudspeakers.

He barely watches the game. Fans even comment online on the performance of this fan leader, but if you stand in front of the ultras you need to be prepared for a workout yourself because you never stop singing or jumping around. The support is very impressive.

Dortmund’s a working class football city. The home of Germany’s national football museum like Manchester is in England.

Fans handed out fliers on entrance to the vast terrace urging good behaviour since Uefa was ready to hand out fines.

Most sang You’ll Never Walk Alone before the game, though the fans with me refused since they associated it with Liverpool, not Dortmund.

Dortmund took the lead and the noise level was only reduced to a hush when the giant scoreboards reported that Real Madrid were hammering Apoel Nicosia.

Whatever Dortmund did, it would not be enough to qualify for the knockout stages.

The noise level was far better than in any British ground, though most of the songs’ tunes are borrowed from British pop music.

Dortmund fans were singing to Bananarama (from London) and Pet Shop Boys (from London) just before Tottenham equalised.

Tottenham were worth their win, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli winning praise from the fans around me high up on the terrace, especially as Tottenham came from behind to win 2-1 and top a group which included Real Madrid.

Dortmund’s focus switches to their derby at the weekend against Schalke, when the team from neighbouring Gelsenkirchen (“the ugliest city in Germany” by common consensus in Dortmund) will bring 9,000 away fans.

Dortmund fans stress how important that was to their players after the Tottenham defeat.

The players are obliged to listen to the fans at the end of each game.

On Tuesday, as fans shuffled back to get the train you could only hear Tottenham fans signing.

I have just arrived in Cologne for the Europa League match as Tottenham’s rivals Arsenal also make the visit to Germany this week.

I cannot quite see 20,000 Arsenal fans invading, as Cologne fans did in London in September, with only 3,000 having tickets.

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Read more

Andy Mitten's football diary, Part 1: Old Trafford game kickstarts a promising tour

Andy Mitten's football diary, Part 2: Missed train to Dortmund after trips in England

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