War Minus Bullets: Clash in the Carbon Pot

We move from the streets of Cairo to one of the most industrially developed regions of the world, the Ruhr region of Germany – between FC Schalke 04 and BVB Dortmund. Continuing the series on great football derbies, Kinshuk Biswas visits the match often before known as the ‘mother of all derbies’ in Germany

Amid a sea of yellow flags and smoke, a single young man sits with blue in his heart. The people around him are vociferous in their support. He is scared but his loyalty is true, he will support his club come what may. A situation often faced by a Schalke 04 fan at the Westfalenstadion, now renamed as Signal Iduna Park, during the Ruhr derby.

The Germans love their football and their support of their club teams is unprecedented. Bundesliga has the maximum number of live non-televised spectators amongst all European domestic leagues. After the all-German Champions League final this year, it is the perfect time to look at possibly the biggest derby in Germany- the Ruhr derby/Revierderby or the Kohlenpott derby. The Ruhr area is popularly known as the Revier by the locals. The term Kohlenpott means ‘carbon pot’ when translated from German, referring to the large deposits of coal which are found in this area.

Action during the derby

In order to understand the rivalry we have to understand the physical and social conditions of the region. The entire region is a conglomeration of industrial cities and towns which have merged together to form larger urban area. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these towns had a competitive outlook towards each other with respect to amount of coal mined or steel produced. This sense of competition spilled onto the field of sports. Dortmund is the largest city in this area and Gelsenkirchen, the home of Schalke 04 is a much smaller town. Schalke 04 is the older of the two teams founded in 1904 as Westfalia Schalke, who wore red and yellow coloured jerseys. Ballspielverein Borussia (BVB) Dortmund was founded in 1909 by a group of young men in a local pub named Zum Wildschütz, who were unhappy playing football under the autocratic local parish club controlled by a priest named Father Dewald. BVB originally played with blue and white striped jerseys. It is an interesting fact that the teams originally used the colours of their bitter opponents when they started. Another aspect of the rivalry was that Schalke 04 was considered primarily a club of miners and BVB, a club of industrial workers.

Schalke 04 fans rip a BVB banner

The first match between the teams was played on May 3, 1925, which was won 4-2 by Schalke 04. There were a total of three matches between the teams till 1927 which were all won by Schalke 04. The teams did not meet again till the creation of the Gauliga system by the Nazis in 1933. The next meeting of the clubs was in 1936 under the Gauliga Westfalia. Schalke 04 was the most dominant team in Germany during this period when they won six national titles from 1933 to 1945. Schalke 04 was dominant in the derby as well winning 14 out of the 16 matches played between the teams. The only victory by BVB was on November 14, 1943, through a goal by August Lenz who became a club legend because of this match. The all-club football in Germany was suspended by the war and the subsequent occupation and division of the country. In 1947, in West Germany, the Oberliga was founded. This was the period of BVB domination in the derby with only seven losses out of 32 matches played till the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963.

BVB Dortmund fans

In the early Bundesliga years, the BVB dominance continued with eight wins out of 10 matches. Then from 1968 to 1972, Schalke 04 was the better team while BVB declined and got relegated. The derby was not played till 1976, when BVB was promoted back into the top flight of German league football in 1977. Dortmund was the better team till 1988 when Schalke 04 was relegated. The rivalry resumed in 1991. In recent years, the rivalry has new social repercussions. With a large influx of immigrants in the Ruhr region, the supporters of the clubs have evolved. Gelsenkirchen has nearly a 25% immigrant population with nearly all of them supporting Schalke 04. Dortmund has also a sizable immigrant population but BVB is generally perceived as a German origin club. Although both clubs employ many players from the immigrant community, the mixture of ethnicity, especially the large number of Turkish inhabitants of Gelsenkirchen has brought a new variety in the supporters. In recent years, the 2005 and 2007 derbies have been memorable. In 2005, Dortmund won after 12 matches and seven years. In 2007, Schalke 04 led the Bundesliga for three months leading to the derby. On penultimate day of the season, the BVB victory robbed them the title which they have never won since the inception of the current league in 1963. Last season, Schalke 04 completed a league double over BVB. To these teams, winning the league does not mean much. It is the result of the derby which is more important. The constantly moving yellow wall or the blue mass, as the supporters of the clubs are identified as, will continue to clash. The matches draw huge crowds and have been in the news for fans destroying property and clashing with riot police. The main background to this rivalry is really the sense of being one up between two neighbours. As the new Germany moves ahead with its conglomeration of different people which reflect in the national team, we can hope that these two clubs will fight hard on the field and at the end the supporters will enjoy a gargantuan glass of German lager together.

Kinshuk Biswas

About Kinshuk Biswas

Kinshuk Biswas is an architect by education, a consultant by profession, a quizzer, writer and an absolute football fanatic by choice. Follow him at http://confessionsofastonedmind.blogspot.com