This Is Anfield’s Matt Ladson reports from Dortmund, where he was in with the home fans for the Reds’ Europa League quarter-final on Thursday night.
Ever since the 2001 UEFA Cup final, Liverpool fans have held the Westfalenstadion in their hearts. The home of Borussia Dortmund is, along with the Millennium Stadium, the stadium most would like the club to take inspiration from as they expand Anfield.
That 2000/01 season saw Liverpool re-emerge on the European scene after years in the wilderness. Gerard Houllier’s workmanlike team upset the odds against Roma, Porto and Barcelona to reach the final that year.
Perhaps history is repeating, with Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds doing what the manager had spoke of prior to the match by upsetting the odds somewhat to claim a vital draw, and an away goal, on the German’s return to BVB.
I had the pleasure to be at the Westfalenstadion on Thursday night, however due to the sheer amount of media requests Dortmund had – over 100 journalists were in attendance – I was allocated a regular seat right among the home end.
It offered an opportunity to take in the match among the Dortmund fans and sample the German fan experience. Pre-match, with the media room rammed and the food on offer questionable, I headed out to take in the game as a fan.
Attending matches as media has its positives and negatives; you’re not in with the travelling support, but you do usually get a good view of the away end. From where I was sat it I had the Yellow Wall to the left and travelling Kop in the top corner to the right.
I wasn’t alone in being a Red in the home end – as is often the case for big European away games. I remember being in Madrid, when Benayoun hit the winner, and the number of Reds sat among the home fans only became clear once the stadium had emptied and the travelling Kop were enjoying their post-match lock-in and serenading Rafa Benitez’s team.
It was hard to tell how many Reds were in the home end here, but it was a significant amount.
I, like plenty of other Reds in the home end, got caught out when queuing to get a bockwurst or a beer – Dortmund use a system where the fan has a card which they load with money then use that to make their purchases. What it ensures, along with actually having plenty of staff, is that it’s really fast to get served.
Bockwurst consumed, it was time to enjoy the sight of the Yellow Wall and the pre-match You’ll Never Walk Alone. It didn’t disappoint, with all four sides of the stadium singing in unison.
Those around me clearly knew I wasn’t German, especially the bloke who had asked me to take a picture for him and his wife but I had no idea what he was saying.
When Origi put the Reds ahead 10 minutes before half-time, I apologised to the Dortmund fan next to me for my (muted) celebration – they smiled, laughed, and said ‘No, no, you enjoy it’ (yes, in English!).
It was that kind of atmosphere throughout the game and in the city itself – Dortmund fans are friendly, they want you to enjoy football. It’s as though they have had a manager like Klopp for years engraining this into their psyche…With all the fume and faux anger that comes with football, especially online, it was a refreshing change. Isn’t this why we follow football – to enjoy it?
The Germans around me were clearly passionate and there were clearly more than a few German profanities thrown around – the referee and left-back Marcel Schmelzer seemingly the subject of the ire of those behind me.
From my seat, right on the halfway line, I had a great view of the technical areas and Klopp was as animated as ever. He celebrated the goal and celebrated challenges like they were goals themselves. One from Clyne in particular in the second half produced the trademark Klopp fist pump to show his appreciation to the defender.
On the pitch, the manager got his tactics spot on, being brave in his selection of Origi instead of Sturridge. It was a decision that paid dividends, Origi was far more physically capable to lead the line in such a match.
Sakho and Lovren blocked everything with committed performances in defence; Milner put in possibly his best performance since arriving at the club last summer – another tactical tweak that Klopp deployed perfectly, playing Milner centrally in a midfield three.
Jurgen’s Reds produced a European display we’ve become unaccustomed to in recent years – showing tactical nous on the big occasion to take a slim advantage back to Anfield.
It was a far cry from that selection and performance in the must-win Champions League game against Basel in December 2014 – the one where Rodgers deployed 34-year-old Steven Gerrard behind 33-year-old Rickie Lambert up front, had Jordan Henderson on the left of midfield and Jose Enrique at left-back.
In the second half, Allen was fantastic. He, Can and Milner rotated which of them pressed while the other two sat to protect the back four. Often it was Allen using his fresh legs to do so but the trio rotated effectively, blocking gaps and showing tactical discipline.
After Hummels’ header I feared Dortmund going on to get a winner, but we responded brilliantly and had some good pressure. After that short spell it was all about tactical work to deny Dortmund’s free-flowing attack.
Up in the away section the Reds were clearly enjoying themselves, with Origi’s name getting an airing and Poetry in Motion echoing around the stadium. The away fans out-sang the Yellow Wall in the second half.
At full-time there was no lock-in for the travelling Reds up in the north-east corner of the stadium, instead they headed straight outside to mingle with the home fans, enjoy the bars around the stadium and drink in more German ale.
Reflecting on the experience of attending a match at a German stadium, I find myself thinking back to Chris Wiliams’ piece on his experience at Mainz and Hoffenheim. With 55,000 season-ticket holders, there was no apathy among the home supporters, instead they were all fully involved. Germans are renowned for their efficiency and attending a football match shows this in all its glory.
Dortmund fans will arrive at Anfield next week anticipating an impressive atmosphere. The Kop won’t disappoint – and hopefully help carry Klopp’s side to the final four.