How a city and a football club have come together in mutual support in a time of crisis by Ben McFadyean, Founder and President Borussia Dortmund Fan Club London
Borussia Dortmund have presented their players with a potential model for a salary waiver to overcome the coronavirus crisis. The club’s top brass Hans-Joachim Watzke, Carsten Cramer, Sebastian Kehl, Lucien Favre and Michael Zorc are taking the lead, but it’s not just the club who are bringing about initiatives to gather support for those affected by the Covid 19 crisis in a show of the solidarity that makes this club unique.
On Monday, training in Dortmund took place, but only on an individual basis, the players working out according to individualised training plans set up by the club’s athletic trainers and fitness coaches. Borussia Dortmund are hoping in the week ahead to be able to return to the training ground, if Germany’s social-distancing rules, which currently, restrict groups to two people, are curtailed to allow for vital team practice sessions.
Dortmund’s fabled connection between the club and city, which is so visible across the shops and bars of the city and is much loved amongst UK fans, like the 300 members of our fan club which has been the official fan club of Borussia Dortmund in the UK capital since 2013, and who visit the Südtribüne, the famous ‘Yellow Wall’, has, like all communities have been tested by the concerns about the potential loss of employment and worries about the impact on health in this current Corona crisis, especially those amongst the most vulnerable fans including the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.
At a time when people are worried about losing their jobs, undoubtedly most fans focus cannot fail to be on what sacrifices are being made by the football players, as many football fans have seen player salaries rise inexorably, while many, especially those working in the public sector, have seen pay freezes in recent years which has greatly diminished purchasing power and made football that much more expensive.
Last week, in order to help reduce the overheads of the football club, Borussia Dortmund’s Managing Director Hans-Joachim Watzke, Head of Marketing Carsten Cramer and the Head of the Licensed Player Department, former club captain, Sebastian Kehl agreed to give up one-third of their salaries in a time where the club is affected by a substantial loss of revenue as a result of match cancellations, and reduced income from TV.
BVB’s sporting director Zorc and coach Favre joined them on Monday and, as the club announced in a press release on Tuesday, the players have now also agreed to a temporary cut of 20% in their income at this critical time, saving the club more than €10m, which was dubbed by Sporting director Michael Zorc a “valuable signal of solidarity to wider society as well as to our 850 employees!”
The situation could not be clearer, Borussia as a community have risen together to make sacrifices in hard times with the leadership initially showing the way forward, but the question now arises, what about the fans what can we do and how would these cost-savings impact the community?
As a long-BVB fan since season 1982-83 and a fan club president, I have followed developments at BVB through good and challenging times and again this time I cannot help but be impressed by the club management’s commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of the club we hold so dearly.
There is a special bond between Borussia Dortmund fans and the club that demonstrates itself in initiatives like the club’s annual Christmas party, where the players pull the pints behind the bar, to which all fan club organisers of Borussia’s 860 fan clubs worldwide are invited, which I have attended and enjoyed the proximity to the players and the friendliness amongst fans many times in recent years in Dortmund.
An example of this is the end of the season the six-a-side football tournament, which our fan club has been taking part in annually since 2014, the Südtribünenmeisterschaft which 50 fan clubs each year take part in at BVB’s former ground until 1973, the Stadion Rote Erde, the ground which is located next to the Westfalenstadion, nowadays home to Borussia’s U23 team who play in Germany’s fourth tier the Regionalliga.
In 2018, we as a BVB fan club came together with UK charity the magazine for the homeless ‘The Big Issue’ to collaborate with Southampton FC, to bring a model which was developed amongst fan clubs in Dortmund to the Premiership. The match-day programme at the South-coast based football club became a magazine sold only by and benefitting exclusively street sellers at the match against Swansea.
The sales of the matchday ‘The Big Issue’ magazine programmes enabled all of the sellers to raise sufficient funds to secure accommodation and two of them to be taken on to an employment training scheme at Southampton FC in the process. This strong model for cooperation between football and good causes was based on a similar project developed by BVB fans with a homelessness magazine ‘Bodo’ in Dortmund. For my part as a fan club organiser, the match experience being invited to attend the match against Swansea sitting alongside the street sellers and Southampton directors in a directors box for the match is a day I will never forget and the opportunity to help in this way to this day is a great inspiration.
These are just some of the strong building blocks that underpin the relationship between fans and Borussia and which make the club so uniquely popular amongst the wider community in the city of Dortmund, where I lived for 10 years during the 1990s, and to football fans worldwide.
Under the hashtag #BorussiaVerbindet, this weekend a fundraising campaign was set-up by BVB to support Dortmund’s restaurants and bars. An online app was set up with the bars, restaurants and also small shops that have lost almost all their revenue as a result of match days being cancelled. The app is laid out in such a way that BVB fans could in virtually stop at an icon representing the individual shops and make a purchase in the way of a donation and generate some badly-missing income for the businesses, at the same time strengthening the special bond that exists between Borussia and the people of Dortmund.
The invitation to support the business was accepted in large numbers. Just under €74,000 was raised in support of the 86 restaurants, pubs, bars and small shops taking part in the first 3 days of trading. The club’s Marketing director Carsten Cramer, in an email to all fan clubs encouraging others to support the initiative, was thrilled by the success. “We are thrilled and, to be honest, really touched by how many people took part in the campaign and supported their favourite restaurant with a few euros. This is solidarity in action, and this is an emotional bond that makes our Borussia Dortmund so strong, so valuable in these difficult times.”
Borussia, like many football clubs, also have a charity appeal called ‘Leuchte Auf’ (light up) which essentially acts as the club’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) department supporting local causes like charities and smaller football clubs across the region and through this department the club have set up a fundraising appeal for the Corona crisis in support of a local research hospital who are working on a cure for Covid 19, the WHO (World Health Organisation) and a range of local charities supporting the elderly and those most affected by the Coronavirus.
As the BVB fan club in London, our members are never left untouched by the Borussia spirit. Inspired by these community initiatives and keen to show our support for the people of Dortmund, we, in turn, made our own donation to Leuchte Auf’s Covid 19 appeal. We also went a step further in the hope of inspiring others to do likewise, by donating the refunds due to us from tickets for cancelled matches including the derby against Schalke and the Bayern Munich game, in order to raise additional funds for the appeal.
Reading this only the most hardened football the heart would fail to be inspired by the scale of community initiatives and their positive impact on the wider society between Dortmund and BVB. Borussia Dortmund are special and there is a community approach in the environs of the club which is so often missing in today’s, in particular football, world.
Borussia Dortmund’s approach as a club to support the city and its businesses in the #BorussiaVerbindet appeal for Covid-19 sufferers and affected businesses will certainly, at least in my mind, set the bar in the football world in terms of solidarity and community just that much-needed bit higher.
Although many of the London Fan Club members are in their first the season following Borussia Dortmund, once fans have attended a match at the Westfalenstadion, the energy of the Südtribüne but also the unique community spirit that initiatives like the Covid 19 crisis appeal and support for local bars, that comes with being a ‘Borusse’ embrace even the most cynical football hearts and BVB becomes a life-long habit.