Football is back, but not back, back

Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Schalke

Brian Jeeves reporting from Signal Iduna Park, via the telly in the lounge 

March 14, 2020 – Concord Rangers 3-3 Tonbridge Angels – Little did those of us at the Aspect Arena know, life was about to change in a way the UK’s modern generation had never witnessed before!

Of course, I know there are plenty of people out there who could comfortably negotiate the 64 days without a football match that has followed. However, I’m not one of them.

A week previously, ahead of covering Arsenal’s Premier League derby with West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, we were required to complete a questionnaire asking where we had travelled during the previous fourteen days, had we been in contact with anyone who was being investigated or, known to have contracted coronavirus and did we show signs of a cough, cold, flu-like symptoms, elevated temperature or shortness of breath?

As we stood scribbling our answers outside the Emirates Stadium – clearly unaware of the seriousness of the situation – jokes aplenty, albeit perhaps told nervously, bounced back and forth. After all, this would all blow over and be forgotten shortly, right?

Sadly, that analysis of the situation has proved to be very wrong. A dangerous global pandemic swiftly took hold, fingers were pointed, people suffered, everyday life changed drastically. Things we take for granted such as a night at the pub, heading to the shops, going to work or in my case, watching a football match were swiftly put on the backburner with those entrusted with the wellbeing of the nation seemingly unable to answer where the pandemic had come from and more importantly when it would go away?

Sensibly, the vast majority of the public have stuck to the guidelines, which has gradually allowed us, carefully, to reestablish fragments of everyday life. But with question marks still hanging high over our heads, any thoughts of English footballs return remains largely as speculation.

So what does a footballaholic (is that even a real word?) do when his first love (apologies to my wife) is taken from us. Usually, I’d fill the summer months covering Essex County Cricket Club, but with the sound of leather against willow also on lockdown, cold turkey has kicked in for those of us who love the beautiful game.

Bizarrely, football has continued in Belarus and Nicaragua, while league matches in South Korea and the Faroe Islands have recently resumed. However, the news that Germany’s Bundesliga would not only return, but be broadcasted around the world offered solace to those of us reaching the point of no return.

Nevertheless, for those of us still unable to watch our particular favourites, the Bundesliga threw up several conundrums. Would it be the same? What had we missed the most? And who would we be adopting during this unusual period?

Anyway, first up a Revierderby – Borussia Dortmund versus Schalke – usually a bitter rivalry with tensions running high amongst the 80,000 in attendance. But with social distancing ensuring only players, officials and essential workers were allowed inside Borussia’s Signal Iduna Park, something resembling the eerie atmosphere of a reserve fixture was the best case scenario facing a worldwide television audience watching on with interest.

For me, a football fix from Germany offered little concern. Of sorts, I could relate to the two clubs. I’d covered Tottenham in Dortmund several years ago, while my tedious link to Schalke, a drunken encounter with their fanatical fans whilst on a train to Monchengladbach. All very friendly, but hardly the basis for a firm relationship in footballing terms.

But having played amateur football in the country, I’d made plenty of friends. Notably, Bernd Pauly and Herbert Schoos, both residents of the beautiful village of Faid in the Cochem-Zell district of Rhineland-Palatinate, and huge fans of Koln and Borussia Monchengladbach. I’ll be spending the next few weeks following their fortunes, even though as huge rivals that might raise a few eyebrows amidst their respective fanatical supporters.

Anyway, I’m waffling – Borussia v Schalke – second against sixth and an opportunity for the hosts to close the gap on leaders, Bayern Munich, to a single point.

Elsewhere, people looked on in interest. Yellow Sport reader and Spurs fan, Mike Taylor, told me he was super excited about watching some live football, was intrigued to see a game without a crowd and wondered how Dortmund would perform without the backing of the impressive ‘yellow wall’ who usually provided a raucous backing from the huge slope behind the goal. As it panned out, Die Schwarzgelben was to supply an emphatic answer.

Borussia comfortably negotiated the opening period. Erling Braut Haaland probed menacingly early on – Schalke stopper, Schubert, reading the situation perfectly. However, the home side continued to look the more likely and it came as little surprise when Haaland arrived unmarked to meet Thorgan Hazard’s delicious low centre – the ghostly swish of the rigging a further shot in the arm to those of us who hold the game so dearly.

And on the stroke of the interval, it was 2-0. Raphael Guerreiro rifling a crisp left-footed angled strike beyond Schubert. It was already looking a long way back for Die Königsblauen.

Southend United fan and all-round football enthusiast, Kerry Fairless, contacted me during the interval. As ever, we chewed the fat over the Shrimpers misfortunes, while touching on the game in hand.

“I just need a football fix really,” he explained. 

I’d managed sixty-six games until the season was curtailed, so Saturday’s have become a bit difficult. I am watching the derby between Dortmund and Schalke. Usually, it’d have a banging crowd but today – nothing – It’s odd. 

“I expect to get used to this as I can’t see any of us physically watching a game again until next year. I don’t particularly have any time for Bayern, or most recently RB Leipzig, but I have a soft spot for the Borussia’s – Dortmund and Monchengladbach.”

Meanwhile, West Ham fan, Ricky Stevenson, told me he’d be offering his support to Koln and Fortuna Dusseldorf over the coming weeks, seeing them as Germany’s answer to the frustratingly inconsistent east Londoners.

With the half-time cuppa consumed it was back to the action. Dortmund swiftly put the game beyond reasonable doubt when Hazard rifled home two minutes after the restart. Question marks were raised over the goalkeeper, Schubert – celebration, usually of a wild proportion – oddly muted.

The game was over as a contest. Raphael Guerreiro played a neat one-two with Haaland before dispatching a four with the outside of his boot – Schalke were punchdrunk – Dortmund ruthless. 

Arsenal fan, Gareth Stevens, buzzed in: “I miss the banter, something to talk about, tough injustice when it’s your team and laughing a little when it’s your rivals. Football brings people together and it’s great that we all have different opinions.” he explained.

And Gareth’s views were shared by former Leyton Orient striker and Yellow Sport columnist, Peter Kitchen, who added: “As someone who has lived with, played and watched football for as long as I can remember, Saturday afternoon’s have never been the same since I hung up my boots. 

“It doesn’t matter what level of football it is, there is always a unique camaraderie and banter that goes on between players, fans and mates, in the pubs. We all weigh in with our opinions and dissect every aspect of the game. Two months has been like two years for people missing their football fix.”

Dortmund had wooed the world with a marvellous performance, appreciated by everyone, perhaps with the exception of those of a Schalke persuasion. But there was a bigger picture to this historic derby encounter – far more significant than the four goals or the resulting three points. Staging the game, and others in the Bundesliga, offered some people hope and a small sign of normality at a time when people desperately require a tonic. 

True, it wasn’t a wet Wednesday night at Roots Hall Stadium, but for the time being, it’ll do for me.

Stay safe, everyone.

Borussia Dortmund: Bürki, Piszczek, Hummels, Akanji, Hakimi, Dahoud (Götze 87), Delaney (Balerdi 68’), Guerreiro (Schmelzer 87’), Brandt, Haaland, T Hazard (Sancho 79’) Subs not used: Morey, Reyna, Führich, Hitz, Raschl

Schalke: Schubert, Todibo (Burgstaller 46’), Sané, Nastasic, Kenny (Becker 87’), Serdar (Schöpf 74’), McKennie, Oczipka, Caligiuri, Raman (Matondo 46’), Harit Subs not used: Miranda, Gregoritsch, Kutucu, Nübel, Mercan

Referee: Deniz Aytekin

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Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]