On the 22nd of January 2023, I was lucky enough to experience a Borussia Dortmund game at Signal Iduna Park. FC Augsburg were visiting for the re-opening of the Bundesliga after the mid-season World Cup break, and I managed to secure myself a ticket for 50 Euros.
I wanted to reach the stadium a good two hours before kick-off so I could explore the area. However, I underestimated the matchday rush and I ended up reaching the stadium just thirty minutes before kick-off. While on the train to Signal Iduna Park, I decided to go ahead initiate a conversation with some Dortmund fans in English. I ended up talking to a father and son (about mid 60s and late 20s respectively) who lived in Köln but were Dortmund season ticket holders. Turns out the father was born and brought up in Dortmund and he has had season tickets for over forty years. He had been going to games since when they played at Stadion Rote Erde (now the home of Borussia Dortmund II) and when they used to juggle between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. Our conversation continued during the walk to the Stadium, and they answered my many questions about German football culture. They said ‘proper football fans’, like what you would see in this region, hated teams like RB Leipzig due to the way they are run. They also said the number of away fans in the stadium depended on the team, and teams like Leipzig hardly brought any. They asked me about what brought me to watch Dortmund, and I explained to them that I just loved football and that the Dortmund experience was a bucket list one. Eventually, they left to enter the stadium and I went to buy a Dortmund scarf.
While waiting in line to buy a scarf, I ran into three tourist fans from Leeds. I told them how much I loved Tyler Adams and Brendan Aaronson, and they asked me if I was American. I said I was, in a way at least, and sang the one line of ‘Marching on Together’ that I knew. They immediately caught on and sang the next three lines in full voice, much to the amusement of the Dortmund fans around us. I had been craving this kind of football culture for so long and this conversation was my first real taste of it.
Anyways, I found the gate and entered the stadium with about fifteen minutes to kick-off. The Augsburg players were warming up in front of us, so I caught a little bit of that. However, from here till the end of the game I was too worried about filming the experience that I did not quite live in the moment.
A few minutes before kick-off, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ began playing and I was able to join in because I knew the language. Unfortunately, I was not able to sing any of the songs that followed because they were all in German. A minute of silence was held in the memory of the late Pelé, before the game finally kicked off.
In the first half, Dortmund was attacking towards our end (opposite the Yellow Wall). They were dominating possession from the get-go, and it was a pleasure to watch Jude Bellingham play in person. He was the focal point of every Dortmund build up and he led every one of their counter attacks as well. Just the way he moved in and out of space, checked his shoulder, received the ball, turned, and released it into the space on the flanks was quite the spectacle. The Augsburg keeper, Rafał Gikiewicz, made a great double save to deny Dortmund the opening goal early in the first half. For that second save on Raphaël Guerreiro, he took the shot full force to the face from point blank range. With how cold it was, I empathized with his pain, but I am sure the adrenaline created by the atmosphere in the stadium was enough to get him back on his feet. Just before the half hour mark, Jude Bellingham opened the scoring with a spectacular goal. He made himself an inch of space and struck the ball so clean. Watching it all happen from five rows behind the goal was truly incredible.
Something that I kept getting frustrated with was the number of times Dortmund tried to build out of the back and failed. In fact, this is what led to Augsburg’s first goal in the 40th minute, when Arne Maier capitalized on Nico Schlotterbeck’s giveaway outside his own box. To his credit, the Dortmund center half made amends by nodding in a whipped free kick from Julian Brandt, to put his side back up by one. Dortmund almost scored a carbon copy of the Schlotterbeck goal when Mats Hummels got on the end of another Brandt free kick, but this time Gikiewicz held his line and made a crucial save. With seconds to go before the break, Augsburg’s Arne Engels played a brilliant through ball to Ermedin Demirović , who finished past the Dortmund backline to once again equalize for Augsburg. Despite Dortmund controlling much of the first half, the two teams went into the break level at two.
Augsburg nearly took the lead at the start of the second half, but Demirović put his opportunity wide of the far post. It was a huge let off for Dortmund, who were the better side in every other department. Soon, Sébastien Haller, Gio Reyna, Thorgan Hazard, Niklas Süle and the other Dortmund substitutes began warming up behind the goal in front of us. With Dortmund needing a breakthrough, the substitutions were imminent. In the 62nd minute, Haller was subbed on, to the applause of 81,000 people, as he made his return after being diagnosed with testicular cancer six months ago. In the 75th minute, Dortmund took the lead again for the third time in the game when substitute Jamie Bynoe-Gittens scored a spectacular solo goal in front of The Yellow Wall. However, less than a minute later, Augsburg had a fantastic exchange of passes outside the Dortmund penalty area which eventually led to David Čolina scoring with his first touch in the Bundesliga. It was now 3–3, Augsburg had equalized for the third time, and the Dortmund faithful around me were losing their patience. It was an incredible back and forth game, with Augsburg matching Dortmund blow for blow.
In the 78th minute, Gio Reyna, another Dortmund substitute, struck a spectacular volley across the phase of goal and into the top corner to give Dortmund a 4–3 lead. To the relief of every home supporter, Dortmund managed to hold on to their lead as they came away with all three points.
After the game, I hung around inside the stadium to wait for the players to come around and applaud our section. Players from both teams, who did not see any playing time on the night, did box-to-box sprints to work on their fitness, which was very interesting to see. Finally, I left the stadium and took a packed train back to Dortmund HBF. During the train journey back, there were several spells of Dortmund chants that emerged from the mouths of drunk, yet elated Dortmund fans. Despite the number of goals conceded, it was yet another successful night for those in Black and Yellow.
I had just witnessed a seven-goal thriller at one of the most celebrated footballing venues in the World, but for some reason the whole experience went by like a dream. I do not know if it is because I watched it alone, or because I could not join in any of the chants, or because I was too occupied trying to film the experience. Nevertheless, I am grateful for being able to go and watch football games such as this. Sometimes travelling and watching football alone, in places that you have never been to before, opens unique opportunities and experiences that you cannot have when you bring your friends along.