Passion, emotion, provocation and the odd borderline insult are all part of derby day. But on Saturday, elements of both Dortmund's and Schalke's supports crossed the line. DW's Matt Ford says they're better than that.
Twenty minutes before kick-off, Schalke's ultras poured into the away end to a chorus of whistles and boos from their Dortmund counterparts on the Südtribüne.
With Dortmund's hardcore ultras having been banned from games in Gelsenkirchen since 2013 and Schalke's ultras having been refused entry to last season's 4-4 draw in Dortmund, it was the first time the two groups had been in the same stadium since October 2016.
When referee Felix Zwayer got proceedings underway, a huge cloud of blue smoke rose out of the away end and billowed across the pitch towards the Yellow Wall. The rivalry between Dortmund and Schalke is one of the most intense in European football and the 175th Revierderby was no exception – on and off the pitch.
Six yellow cards for Schalke and two straight reds for Borussia Dortmund – the quality of tackling was lacking on both sides at the Westfalenstadion as tensions ran high. And no wonder! Not only was local pride at stake between these two giants separated by only 30km across the Ruhr Valley, both teams had serious sporting goals in mind too.
When Mario Götze gave Dortmund the lead, the Black and Yellows were fulfilling their part of the deal in the title race while Schalke's relegation worries intensified. Celebrating in front of the traveling Schalke fans though, Jadon Sancho, whose chipped through ball had set up the goal, was struck by an object thrown from the away end.
Fortunately, the English teenager wasn't badly hurt and, after a brief pause for treatment, was able to continue, although the incident did seem to take him out of his usual rhythm.
Crossing the line
But whoever had thrown the object had crossed a line. German football fans are rightly praised for the atmosphere inside Bundesliga stadiums and for the creativity of their support. Even the use of pyrotechnics, while technically a breach of stadium regulations, has its place as far as this writer is concerned. Throwing objects at players however is a dangerous, irresponsible no-go.
But whatever Schalke can do, so can Dortmund, and the fans at the opposite end weren't to be outdone. As Daniel Caligiuri equalized from the spot for Schalke, a lighter thrown from the Südtribüne landed in the penalty area.
Elsewhere on the Yellow Wall, a banner displayed by Dortmund's Desperados ultra group referred to Schalke as "queers" while, in the away end, another banner was held up making a distasteful reference to the bomb attack on the Dortmund team bus in April 2017.
"Still a bomb of an idea – freedom for Sergej W!" read a banner displayed by the Hugos, a more extreme group in Schalke's ultra scene which had displayed a similar message during the first meeting between the two sides in Gelsenkirchen in December. Sergej W was convicted of 28 counts of attempted murder in November 2018 and sentenced to 14 years in jail.
"Intolerable, unacceptable and sad," tweeted Marc Bartra, the former BVB defender who had been injured in the attack. "A footballing rivalry is one thing but it is another entirely to demand the freedom of someone who played with the lives of 28 people."
Week in, week out, hardcore Schalke and Dortmund supporters and ultras demonstrate the creativity, talent and intelligence within their ranks with their displays, songs, choreographies and other initiatives. They are the visual embodiment of a living, active fan culture which does so much good for German football.
There are countless things they can use to poke fun at each other without resorting to homophobic language and tasteless banners. They're better than that.