Wembley stadium is an impressive well designed and planned structure. It has developed the process of gorging and disgorging tens of thousands of people to a fine art. Leaving and entering is a bit of a procedure and if you have a date after a game at Wembley, you’re going to be late. But armed with a patient mindset, it’s a pretty trouble free and ultimately safe experience. That’s the plus side of it.
The downside is that it is a rapaciously expensive, sanitised, blanched soulless bowl of a place. It is not a stadium but a place for spectators to observe events. It is too expansive and frankly too comfortable. It is a place that discourages the viscerality of a football match. And on the night of the Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund it was dry as a bone.
In all the times I’ve gone to see Borussia Dortmund, I have never been sober. I’ve never turned up sober and I’ve certainly never left sober. Beer has been a constant and loyal companion on my Dortmund adventures. It was always likely to be different for this game. It was a weeknight and I’d come straight from the office. I’m at a time of life where I’m more closely regulating my alcohol intake and I wasn’t planning on imbibing but I didn’t realise I’d have no choice. Moreover, with no neighbouring pubs the options for the less temperant were limited. This too contributed to the atmosphere, to the detriment for some but not I suspect to others
Walking up to my seat in the away end I spotted a few people I had met the night before, at the Borussia Dortmund London Fan Club pre-match party. In attendance that night were a mixture of fans from not only London and Germany but also places as far flung as Dubai, Israel. Turning up at the national stadium and to be greeted by a sense of comradeship was an unfamiliar feeling for what can be a defragmenting experience. I was sat next to a fan club member who I’d first met in Dortmund before the Hoffenheim game, last season.
It has become a cliche to say it but the Dortmund fans do not stop singing. That is most of them at any rate. International fans, unfamiliar to some of the more German songs remained enthusiastic onlookers. I was sat towards the back of the Dortmund section. At the front was the hard core who coordinated their chants and were largely unfazed by the events on the pitch as they unfolded before them. The tickets say that “persistent standing is not allowed”. Well neither the fans or the stewards seemed minded to observe that particular restriction.
To any German football watcher this level of support is of no surprise and Dortmund are by no means unique. Almost any Bundesliga club would have been just as energetic. But what was apparent was the contrast between then and the Tottenham fans who did most of their singing under the bridge on the Olympic Way while waiting to get into the tube station after the game.
But, such a catty remark is mitigated by the fact that this is an unfamiliar stadium to the home fans who are flopping at Wembley while White Hart Lane is rebuilt from the foundations. Spurs fans might also point out that this was not a talent competition but a football match and in that respect Tottenham had the better of the evening. Heung Min Son’s opener must have been a sweet moment for the former Leverkusen player to have scored against an old antagonist. Yarmolenko’s equaliser was the best of the game in my incredibly biased opinion. However, as the modern axiom decrees, Harry Kane cannot be denied after his August fast and he, along with the composure of Aurier and the incision of Eriksen exemplified Tottenham’s superiority on the day.
That said, it was not a complete superiority. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a completely onside goal ruled offside when the score was 2-1. Had the linesman been doing his job properly that would have completely altered the flow of the game. I don’t think any objective observer would had disagreed with the view that Borussia could have left London with a deserving point. Pulisic was the visitor’s best player. The young American was direct and dangerous. The fact that Spurs had two guys on him as soon as he got the ball is a testimony to his ability and growing reputation.
However, at the same time Tottenham were able to keep the tiger in its cage. Dortmund were not the better team and are missing the assurance of Weigl and as utterly futile, obvious and unhelpful as it is to point out, they really could have used Ousmane Demélé. Oh what might have been had PSG not decided to ruin football with their schoolboy like desire to fuck Barcelona.
After the whistle we were thanked by the players before being disgorged onto the Olympic Way and the joys of the Metropolitan and Jubilee Lines. The best part of 67,000 people made that way to the Tube station in an alcohol free fashion. This was a big result for the Spurs fans, concerned by the narrative of a Wembley hoodoo for their team and a vital win in a tough Champions League group. Conversely this was as big a setback for Dortmund who are at a disadvantage in this Group. They will need a big performance in the return fixture at the Westfalen and of course there is Real Madrid to come. BVB’s odds on winning the Europa League have just shortened.