Even the most ardent supporter would admit there are things in life which are more important than football. For all the talk of the sport being more than a matter of life or death, the vast majority of fans are far more reasonable than that. Football can engulf us, but fundamentally it is a form of distraction, a way of escaping day-to-day life. Footballers are not demigods and ultimately the game is just that – a game.
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin gave an extremely eloquent interview in the aftermath of his side’s 3-2 loss against Monaco in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal in which he said much the same thing.
“I know football is very important. We love football, we suffer with football and I know we earn a lot of money and have a privileged life – but we are human beings and there is so much more than football in this world.”
Of course, this was not just any Champions League quarterfinal. The match was supposed to be played on Tuesday night, but half an hour before kick-off Dortmund’s team bus was hit by three explosions as it pulled out of a hotel en route to the Westfalenstadion. A window shattered, players ducked, and some dived to the floor. Sitting in the back row, centre-back Marc Bartra was injured by shards of glass, breaking a bone in his wrist.
The incident could have been a lot worse, but football was probably the last thing on the players’ minds that night. The game was duly postponed – but only until 6:45 local time on Wednesday night.
And so, less than 24 hours after a serious attempt on their lives, Dortmund walked out onto the turf to face Monaco. Both sets of fans sung a rousing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the 25,000-strong yellow wall donned black and yellow ponchos to create a huge replica of the club’s BVB crest, and at the centre of it all were eleven men on the pitch, still struggling to take in what had happened.
Given the backdrop to this game, Thomas Tuchel’s side put in an incredible performance. They may have been outplayed by the Ligue 1 team for most of the match, but they still managed two goals which will at least give them some hope for the second leg of the tie.
The fact they were able to string together more than two passes, let alone score twice, is testament to Dortmund’s spirit. And yet, it was clear from the opening exchanges that the home side were completely out of sorts. Roman Bürki, who had sat next to Bartra on the bus, was shaky in goal. Sokratis Papastathopoulos conceded a penalty within sixteen minutes and Sven Bender bundled a header into his own net as Monaco ran riot in the first period.
In fairness, Dortmund’s second-half display was much improved, but overcoming their mental block was an impossible task. They were never going to be in the right frame of mind for this match, and it is astonishing that UEFA thought it was a good idea to reschedule it so soon. Tuchel claimed the club were informed of the decision via text message and that they felt “powerless” to challenge it. “From our side, no one wanted to play today,” said Matthias Ginter.
Dortmund fans had shown sympathy by taking in travelling Monaco supporters for the night when the match was delayed but this, by contrast, was an incredibly unsympathetic decision. Perhaps UEFA intended to minimise disruption for away fans, but that does not excuse how they seemingly coaxed this group of shell-shocked players onto the pitch for a game they were far from prepared for. Like Sahin said, there is more to life than football.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons