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Sports

Life After Soccer? Not in Dortmund

Fans of the Dortmund soccer club BVB Borrusia are distraught. The storied team with one of the most loyal followings in the world is on the edge of a financial collapse that threatens its existence.

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Happier times: Dortmund fans celebrate their 2002 championship

A full 80,000 fans can fit into Westfalen Stadium, the cavernous temple to the Dortmund soccer club BVB Borussia 09 -- and do so every home game.

The fan bloc, which during games is a sea of black and yellow banners and flags, is made up of 27,000 people each game - all of them standing.

Dortmunder Westfalenstadion

Dortmund's Westfalen Stadium is one of the sites of the 2006 World Cup

So when Dortmund fans are mad, it's best to listen. And they have never been more upset.

The problem

"Rage, Fear and Bewilderment," read a newspaper headline in Dortmund this week.

In four years, the BVB would have celebrated its 100th anniversary. Now, there is serious doubt the club can even make it to the next season. Borussia has run up a debt of €142.1 million ($185.74 million) over the past few seasons, an equivalent of 79 percent of its capital. Just a few seasons ago, the club made headlines by winning the Bundelisga title, competing regularly in European tournaments, and being the first German club to go on the stock exchange.

Today, Borrusia and its team of highly-paid stars is struggling up the Bundesliga table. The stock has plunged more than 25 percent.

The targets

"The anger is massive and the fear is just as big," one fan told DW-RADIO. "I don't know where it will go from here. I also don't think these people will be able to get the club out of danger."

Gerd Niebaum und Manager Michael Meier, Hauptversammlung von Borussia Dortmund

Niebaum (l.) left one week ago -- but Meier will stay on, despite what fans think

"These people" are Gerd Niebaum and Michael Meier. Niebaum stepped down one week ago as president of the club. Meier remains in office and has had to face down a battery of cameras and microphones, not to mention irate fans in recent weeks as news of Dortmund's miserable economic situation spread.

On Feb. 12, 1,000 fans marched in Dortmund behind a massive banner that read "Not for Sale: Put an end to the lies and intrigue!" They accused Meier of mismanagement and spending too much money on players who didn't deliver as promised. They demanded Meier correct the club's miserable accounting and then resign.

"BVB brought a smile to my face"

The anger, and the sheer numbers taking to the streets illustrate the importance of the soccer club to the Ruhr Valley city. Once a center for steel and coal mining, Dortmund's fortunes have sunk as companies have either gone bankrupt or pulled up stakes to move eastwards, where labor is cheaper. For many of the workers, the soccer team was their weekend distraction. For the growing list of unemployed and their families, the team is nowadays their only distraction.

Borussia Fans demonstrieren

Fans protest on Feb. 12

"The BVB is the only place where I can get away from all the worries and problems of daily life," wrote one fan on a BVB fan chat room www.schwatzgelb.de.

Other fans responded with similar stories and feelings and the site was soon covered with messages.

Only thing left is hope

"I had a difficult time as a youth and I was able to get through it with the BVB," wrote another fan. "The BVB brought a smile to my face when I actually should have been crying."

Along with the sadness, there were many messages calling for support and confidence in their beloved soccer club. Dortmund's mayor said he was sure a proposed restructuring plan that includes deferring rental payments for its €17 million a year stadium and a drastically-reduced player budget would work.

The team is the "heart and soul of the city," Mayor Gerhard Langemeyer told the news agency dpa. "It's not possible to imagine this city without the BVB."

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