Does anybody know the French for “déja vu”?
Here we are again. Same stadium, same opponents, the same tired looking visitors from France.
Borussia Dortmund vs AS Monaco: The sequel. The French fans look tired for a reason. One of them tells me of how seven of them spent the night in a German fan’s living room because they had no hotel booked for this hastily rearranged fixture. Around four thousand of them are still here.
Something has changed of course. The mood is not quite so good, the jokes not quite so sharp. The police also look tired but they have obviously gone home and had a shower and a change of clothes. I know this because yesterday they were wearing their normal uniforms and today they are wearing bullet proof vests and carrying semi-automatic rifles.
German policewomen look incredibly cute in their uniforms. Forgive the sexism here; it’s not just me that thinks like this. Visiting fans always want their photos taken with our cops, jokes are made about handcuffs and phone numbers (I’ll save you the trouble of asking a German policewoman for her phone number –the answer is always 110). I’m only telling you this because now when you see them in kevlar vests with rifles hanging at their sides it looks…strange. Beret, ponytail, full body armour is hardly a classic fashion combination and not one you see every day. They all look so young. They are here to do a job of course; I wish they didn’t have to.
Everything feels strange today. There will be no joking with the police this evening. There will be no whisky smuggled into the stadium. And it’s early. Kickoff is scheduled for 18:45 and it is still light. European games are not supposed to be played in daylight. European games are all-or-nothing encounters played in front of a wall of noise under the glare of floodlights. Strange.
Should we even be playing? The psychologists say no. Our players have experienced severe trauma; an attempt has been made on their lives. They should not be here, that is the medical view. UEFA, the European football federation, has a different opinion. They have fixture commitments and contractual obligations. They want this game out there on TV before the highlight of the evening, Atlético Madrid against Leicester City. So here we are; top of the news headlines around the world yet playing as the warm up act to Madrid’s second team and the rookies from the English provinces. Strange.
We can only hope that the players can relieve their trauma through playing. This is entirely possible. Many footballers have no hobbies other than football. It is the most autistic job I know. The truth is: God knows what they’re feeling right now. Kickoff approaches.
Few in the home end expect us to win. Monaco were favourites before the bomb scare and they will not go easy on us after it. Nor do we expect them to. We would be offended if they did. All that we can hope for is that our players do their best. We mustn’t roll over, we mustn’t let them win.
We start well. It’s a cold and wet and the men from the Mediterranean are slow to adapt. We are passing the ball well. Petty arguments start: “Our ball!”, “he fouled me referee!”, “number nine has stolen my lunch money!” It’s kids’ stuff. Footballers are kids. It’s almost like a normal football game.
Football sounds complicated when the experts discuss it on the TV but actually it’s pretty simple. Victory is achieved by not letting the opposition win. Ideally you do this by running through their defence like a hot knife through butter and hitting the ball into the net, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Top teams are so evenly matched that you have to try every little cheap trick to gain an advantage. We mustn’t let them win.
I mention this only because the next argument has started. Kylian Mbappé falls like a dying swan in the Dortmund penalty box. Penalty for the visitors. Anger among the Dortmund fans just a few metres away. Fabinho will take the kick, Roman Bürki will face him in the Dortmund goal. We are directly behind the goal. Fans are whistling, flicking fingers, shouting abuse. I take my hat off and wave it. The trick works. Fabihno shoots low to Bürki’s right –and into his hands. We mustn’t let them win.
The rain is falling heavily now but the men from the principality have found their rhythm. They are a great side to watch, the Monegasques. You cannot help but admire Dying Swan. Only eighteen but how his body moves with the ball, beautiful and graceful in full flight. Unfortunately Dortmund admire him too much. His teammate runs the length of the pitch then makes the easy pass. Dortmund 0 Monaco 1.
We are struggling now. We have more of the ball but Monaco do more with it. Luck is on their side. A crossed ball hits a Dortmund defender on the head and he powers it into his own net. We are out of this one. Half time score: 0-2
Dortmund have been brave but they have not been effective. They have also been embarrassed. They come out in the second half fighting. We mustn’t let them win. The ball slides across an open goal, Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé gets a foot to it. 1-2. Game on. We mustn’t let them win.
It is dark now. The floodlights are on full power and so are the fans. There is no more beautiful sight in football than a ball zipping across wet grass, water spraying up from all sides. Both sides play long passes along the ground. This is the game we love. This is why we came here tonight.
Dortmund are still in this. The ball slides across an open goal once more. Soon it must go in, we think. It does. Dying Swan again. Dortmund 1 Monaco 3.
Ten minutes to go and Dortmund push forward. We are the comeback kids of European football. We’ve turned around deficits like this before and we’ll do it again. Shinji Kagawa gets the ball for Dortmund. When he gets it, you don’t often get it back. He’s not always elegant but he’s brave and footballs somehow cling to his body. This time it leaves him at the last possible moment and finds the back of the net. Dortmund 2 Monaco 3.
The last few minutes are filled with petty arguments and abusing the referee. He blows his whistle and the game is over. He too has worked overtime this week. Dortmund have lost, Monaco were the better side but…we didn’t let them win. Dortmund’s players did themselves proud and can now look forward to a well-earned two-day break before they meet Frankfurt in the middle of their Easter weekend. Who’d be a professional footballer? Not me.
After the game it’s beers and autism. We almost forget that two suspicious devices have been found by the north gate of the stadium and that we have to take a different route out. The talk is of offsides, the games against Motherwell in 1994, the life and times of Hans Tilkowski and whether “that” goal really crossed the line. If you think that players are autistic you should try talking to the fans.
“Good night then.”
“See you Saturday?”
Because we mustn’t let them win.