Once again, it’s derby-time this weekend in Germany, but it’s much more than that. For the Ruhr District, a large urban area in Northwestern Germany, matches between Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund have been among the most polarizing, emotional, and sensational soccer games out there. Much of this has gone unnoticed outside of Germany, so if you’re not familiar, let’s introduce you to one of the fiercest derbies in the game of Soccer.
The Makings of a Derby
Although there are countless clubs in the Ruhr area, Schalke v Dortmund has become known as the so-called “Revierderby” (Derby of the Area) over all other regional games as these are historically the most successful Ruhr-clubs, while only lying 30 kilometers apart. Media outlets often refer to it as the “Mother of all Derbys”.
Even though the first Revierderby was played back in May 1925, with Schalke winning 4:2, one could hardly call it a derby until after World War 2. Schalke was one of the dominant soccer teams in Germany before the war, without any comparable contender in the Ruhr District. Wins of 6:0 or higher for Schalke over Dortmund were no rarity in the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. In fact, the latter had to wait until November 1943 to celebrate their first victory over their later rivals. While not necessarily a rivalry back then, as many as 30,000 fans still showed up to these matches to support their local heroes in the 1930s.
The first Revierderby following the second World War foreshadowed what was to come: the rise of Borussia Dortmund. And with it a derby as passionate as Old Firm. In 1947, Dortmund beat Schalke 3:2 to win the regional championship. In the years that followed, Dortmund overtook Schalke as the dominant team in the Ruhr District, winning several regional titles. Hence, these years are said to be the true start of the Revierderby, as Dortmund firmly established themselves as a tough competitor for the former Ruhr-giants, Schalke.
In the decades that followed, the Revierderby became a special highlight for the locals, while Dortmund held the upper hand more often than not. However, often times the said “Underdog” at the time won games, which made the derby even more thrilling.
Historically, games have not come without much drama either. One of the most memorable moments in Revierderby history saw legendary goalkeeper Jens Lehmann score an injury time equalizer in a tightly-contested and cold battle in late December of 1997. It marked the first time a goalkeeper had ever scored from open play in the Bundesliga. Dortmund fans raged as they believed the corner that led to Lehmann’s goal was wrongfully awarded to Schalke by the linesman. Protests were so fierce that the linesman had to be accompanied off the pitch under an umbrella as lighters and beers were hurled at him. While Schalke fans broke out in festive cheer, Dortmund fans felt robbed of an early Christmas present, a Revierderby-win and the chance to mock their local rivals. Ironically, Jens Lehmann transferred to Dortmund 2 seasons later.
The Derby Now
The upcoming match on Sunday, 9:30am EST, will mark the 175th Revierderby (including friendlies), and the 91st in the Bundesliga. In the top flight, Dortmund holds the upper hand by a thin margin, with 32 wins, 29 draws, and 30 losses, having scored 13 more goals in total. The BVB will be looking to reward their fans with a victory away from home after squandering a 4:0 halftime lead during their first meeting this season. After a horrific 6:0 debacle in “Der Klassiker” against Bayern two weeks ago, Dortmund bounced back with a 3:0 win over Stuttgart.
On the other hand, prior to losing to Hamburg last weekend, Schalke was on a 6-game win streak, while their last home defeat dates back to early February.
The loss to Hamburg, however, was crucial as it allowed Dortmund (51 points) to inch within 1 point of 2nd-place Schalke (52 points) in the Bundesliga table. The battle for the Champions League spots, behind Champions Bayern, is extremely close as 6 points separate 2nd place Schalke from 6th place Leipzig (46 points).
The stage is, thus, set for another thrilling Revierderby this coming weekend, as whoever wins will take a major stride toward securing a Champions League spot for next season. Whether that has priority for the fans is open to conjecture. It's safe to bet that supporters care far more about beating their fierce rivals.
Author: Felix Dalstein