′A rivalry founded on similarity′ - Revier rivals Schalke and Dortmund share derby day spoils | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 01.04.2017
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'A rivalry founded on similarity' - Revier rivals Schalke and Dortmund share derby day spoils

Derbies are often based on difference: different politics, different religion, different class. But as Matt Ford found out in Gelsenkirchen, Schalke and Dortmund have a lot in common.

Despite its name, the "Schalker Meile" is actually just under one mile long. Flanked on both sides by endless rows of flats and terraced housing, it would be an unremarkable street if not for the blue flags, banners and signs which adorn the pubs and shops.

The road runs north from Gelsenkirchen city center, through the working-class district of Schalke where a group of young coal miners founded a football club in 1904. Inside the Auf Schalke pub, DJ Ludi is getting the fans warmed up.

Deutschland Gelsenkirchen Auf Schalke Pub DJ Ludi (DW/M. Ford)

DJ Ludi and the fans in the 'Auf Schalke' pub get ready for the season's biggest home game

"Today is good against evil!" he screams into the microphone. "Today the plague is in town!" Many Schalke fans refuse to even mention their rivals' name here, referring to them simply as "the others." Peter, responsible for the Bratwurst crackling away on the barbecue, has another pestilence-related metaphor.

"It's the derby against the ticks," he says - tiny flies which bite and irritate. "They're like little animals, little insects which you just don't need but you can't get rid of them!"

So, does anyone have anything positive to say about Borussia Dortmund? "It's good that they're third and not first!"

'The same, though many would never admit it'

Insults and rivalry aside however, Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund are extremely similar places. Separated by a mere 30 kilometers in the heart of Germany's industrial Ruhr region, both cities grew rich from coal and steel in the last century. Young workers from both cities founded football clubs to give some organization to their passion.

"There's very little difference," explains Martin from Schalke's fan project. "We're the same, although many would never admit it. Both are workers' clubs, both sets of fans have that working-class mentality typical of the Ruhr region. We even speak the same. It's a rivalry founded on similarity."

Indeed, both cities have also suffered similar fates since the closures of their vital industries.

"Gelsenkirchen is one of the poorest cities in Germany," Martin continues. "In the last three years, our city had the highest level of child poverty in the country. We've been left stranded as a city."

Bar-owner Ralf believes Dortmund has dealt with de-industrialization better - and says its famous football club has played a vital role. "Dortmund has developed better as a city," he says. "Many banks and insurance companies and other service providers moved there on the back of Borussia Dortmund's success in the 1990s."

Kulturhaupstadt 2010 Flash-Galerie (ruhr.2010)

The sun set on the coal industry in the 'Ruhrgebiet' years ago

Dembele's impact

Dortmund have pulled ahead of their neighbors on the pitch as well and went into Saturday's 150th competitive Revierderby 13 points ahead of their rivals, looking to get a key month off to a positive start. And in a Bundesliga where the buzzword is "international" rather than "industrial," it was fitting that Dortmund's French starlet Ousmane Dembele stood out in a tight first half.

Bundesliga | 26. Spieltag | FC Schalke 04 vs Borussia Dortmund (Getty Images/Bongarts/L. Baron)

Ousmane Dembele was a bright spark for the visitors, especially early on

He set the tone early on with a skillful dribble past Schalke debutant Coke and almost set up Felix Passlack with a well-placed diagonal ball, but the German's control let him down. When Dortmund took the lead early in the second half, it was inevitable that Dembélé would be involved, playing a brilliantly timed through ball to Shinji Kagawa who laid it off to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to roll into an empty net.

The Gabonese striker celebrated his 24th Bundesliga goal by pulling on a mask in front of the jubilant travelling contingent who, without the leadership of Dortmund's boycotting ultra-groups, had otherwise been rather subdued. Schalke's hardcore supporters on the Nordkurve, on the other hand, only got louder.

Schalke's rediscovered grit

A certain stubbornness and togetherness has come to characterize Markus Weinzierl's team in the last month, twice coming from behind to beat Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Europa League before a battling victory at Mainz before the international break.

Bundesliga | 26. Spieltag | FC Schalke 04 vs Borussia Dortmund (Getty Images/Bongarts/L. Baron)

The locals seem satisfied that Schalke have found their fight again as the season's climax nears

When asked what has changed, Peter doesn't hesitate. "They're fighting now," he responds as he flips another Bratwurst on the grill. "You can see that we have more structure in our play and that the players really want it."

That spirit was on show again in the second half. Despite the ever-present threat of a Dortmund counter-attack (only the post prevented Dembele from doubling Dortmund's lead), Schalke pushed forward and were rewarded when the otherwise quiet Leon Goretzka laid the ball back for 20-year-old Thilo Kehrer to fire home the equalizer - his first goal for the Royal Blues, and what a time to get it.

"I'm really pleased for Thilo," captain Benedikt Höwedes told press afterwards. "It's great for such a young player to score such an important goal – and right in front of the Nordkurve as well."

It could have been even better in injury time, but referee Felix Zwayer waved away claims for a penalty after the ball struck Marc Bartra's arm in the box. "It's not one the referee has to give," said a diplomatic Thomas Tuchel post-match, "but he certainly could have done."

As the Schalke players remained on the pitch to thank the Nordkurve, the importance of another fighting performance was clear to see.

"There's such a strong sense of identity in Gelsenkirchen," said Martin at the fan project stand. "It sounds harsh but there aren't many other things in our city. When everything else dies, all that remains is the love for our club. That makes us strong."

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