Zooming in as football fans watch Bundesliga’s return

“Boring”, “eerie”, “weird”, “clinical and not attractive at all” is how a Borussia Dortmund fan described one of his club’s biggest games this season as the Bundesliga emerged from its coronavirus hibernation at the weekend.

A TV crew member has his temperature checked before entering the stadium for the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 in Dortmund, Germany. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 16, 2020. Erling Haaland carried on where he left off before the coronavirus suspension as the teenager kicked off Borussia Dortmund’s thumping victory against rivals Schalke 04 in an entertaining, if surreal, return to Bundesliga action.

But supporters know the 90 minutes is only part of it.

“The feeling is such a positive, such a high, that football is back, the Bundesliga is back and so are Dortmund,” adds Ben McFadyean, president of the London branch of his team’s fan club.

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English-based players, managers, doctors and administrators will have watched the first major European football since the coronavirus became a pandemic for lessons if and when the likes of Sheffield United, Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers get back out, but it was about more than just the game.

Bundesliga fans use Zoom to watch the match.

“Would I want to sit alone just watching on BT? Not really,” says McFadyean. “It would be more isolating and dispiriting.”

In German football, fans are much more than the customers too many English clubs seem to view them as, and a sense of community inspired McFadyean as he watched Dortmund beat their derby rivals, David Wagner’s Schalke, 4-0 at an echoey Westfalenstadion.

“We had a Zoom meeting where club members could watch it together,” he explains. “The pictures of everybody went across the top and underneath the match was running. We were able to celebrate the goals together and that was really fun.

“The chat and the banter was almost as important as the game. There was something so eerie about the atmosphere I was kind of watching it out of the corner of my eye.

“I don’t think we’ve realised how important community is in so many aspects of life.”

Even though he says “The first priority is winning the title, then winning the derby, then getting into Europe,” and despite being starved of live football since early March, the game itself did little for McFadyean.

“They could easily have won by more because there was a big gulf in class but I think they held back because it would have been poor form,” he claims. “The goals were very skilful but it was clinical and not attractive at all. The one thing that made it was being on Zoom.

“That sense of togetherness is really missing in 21st Century life but football’s problem is the commercialisation to exploit that. If people feel you’re going after their money they’re not going to feel connected. Football is so much more than a TV show.

“The derby lifted us all up. The feeling was first of all thank God it’s back, people hadn’t died and our team was still going, thank God some normality had returned and good on the Black-and-yellows for stuffing Schalke! Well done to the Bundesliga for leading by example and well done the players for the way they went about it, knocking elbows with each other after each goal.

“It just kind of worked.

“The players spontaneously went up to ‘The Yellow Wall’ (the Westfalenstadion’s famous kop) at the end. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was on the advertising hoardings at the start and they played all the songs.

“It’s brought us together. We were anticipating the game and I felt we’d overcome it together.

“We fans have got to make sacrifices by staying at home. It’s as eerie and weird for us as the people taking part on matchday. If it means watching boring games, we have to do that. We have to be disciplined.”

He hopes the surreal images hammer home to English football the importance of fans and community.

“The glory of Borussia Dortmund is it’s a living, breathing community and when you take all that away and you’ve got a sterile spectacle, you don’t have anything,” he argues. “They might as well be on the training ground kicking a ball around.

“I watched Wolves versus Olympiacos (behind closed doors in the Europa League) in February and it was totally dead. I had to put some music on.”

Meetings continue today to try to resume top English football, and McFadyean hopes it returns with a more human touch.

“I would say, ‘Put your heart into it,’ remember you’re dealing with human beings,” he urges. “Give the fans a chance to participate in your fundraising, be very frank about the challenges the club is having. Fans will want to help however they can, so it’s important to let your guard down.

“Dortmund had been incredibly open about how they and the local community were affected. They were saying they wanted to help but they wanted us to help them too. In a kind and subtle way, they showed their vulnerability and it created an even greater sense of community.

“That’s when football is at its absolute best.”

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