Words + Photography by "Robert".
Me, Eric and Dan meet at St. Pancras International, London, around 7am on the morning of the game to make our journey to Dortmund. It worked out cheaper to train it there and fly back, which in itself had turned out to be handy as apparently the fog had caused delays for flights. The day before, I was starting to get nervous if we were even going to make it in enough time with a four-train journey in front of us: London to Brussels to Cologne to Düsseldorf to Dortmund. And that's not even including the local metro trains to the stadium and hotel...
The plan was for us to arrive at 4pm local time, but with some of the connections being circa fifteen minutes long, we're running very tight. As if right on cue, as soon as we go through the passport control, we see that our Eurostar train is delayed. Great.
As we pull into Brussels, there’s an announcement on our train that the next one is waiting for us; allowing for the delay. My guess is they probably don’t want a mob of Chelsea fans hanging around the station annoyed that they're stuck in Belgium. There weren’t too many fans with us but you can spot them straight away, as they’re the ones all piled down the front getting ready to run across the station. We jump off and start pacing it up the platform. Eric tries to take a shortcut past a little barrier where some Belgian police are stood, so they decide to stop him for a “random customs check”. He then starts to argue with them about how he’s got a train to catch, but they couldn't care less and pull him into a room to search his bag. At this point I'm debating whether I should ditch my mate for Chelsea or wait to see his fate. I wait and thankfully he’s released a few minutes later. We run across the station and make our train—no thanks to the unnecessary exercise of power from the Belgian officials—and get to Dortmund around 4pm, on a slightly different route as planned due to the knock on effect of the delays. Ticket inspectors on German ICE trains don’t really seem to come and check your tickets, which might have got us into a bit of bother elsewhere.
We grab our tickets and then e-scooter to our hotel. Unlike our away day in Milan, we decided to go for the luxury option of a hotel bed not the airport floor. Back on the scooters and off to Wenkers Pub (what a name) where all the Chelsea fans have congregated. We meet up with some other friends there, but sadly it looks like we’ve missed most of the activities as the police have just cleared everyone out of the square where the fans had initially gathered. German police are able to do this in a much gentler and smoother fashion than other European countries, who just steam in with batons, shields and tear gas. Looking at you France.
A very rowdy Metro journey later (although, everyone behaved this time) and we’re finally outside the Westfalenstadion (or the Signal Igunda Park, whichever way you're inclined). I don’t speak any German but I’m guessing it's like St. James' Park and the Sports Direct Arena situation. We pitch up outside a beer tent to sink some pints and Bratwurst, and get the VIALLI, VIALLI, VIALLI, VIALLI, VIAAAALII chant going. The German fans are friendly and chatty which is a nice change from the wanker signs and regional-based insults from rival English fans.
We enter the ground and make our way up to the top of the upper tier. Our mates managed to get tickets down in the standing section below but as we only got ours by the skin of our teeth, probably the last ones in the Chelsea online waiting room (a horrendous no man’s land), we’re up with the Gods. Chelsea play one of their best games in months, but again, our toothless attack and lack of a striker costs us as we go another game without scoring. Félix lights up the game with some great individual moments and should really finish off an excellent move but ends up hitting the crossbar instead. Chelsea get done on the counter and lose 1-0, but it's still all to play for in the second leg.
I can't fault the stadium at all and we are allowed to take our beers to our seats: six at a time if you get their sponsored cardboard pint holder. Although, as always for some reason, a lot of half-finished beer gets lobbed about. Partly why I’m not in favour of allowing it in English football again. The concourse behind the stands where the bars and toilets are has home and away fans all mixed together which, again, was unusual for an English fan to see. It all seems to work though and we definitely didn't see any trouble. I really don’t think something like this would ever work in England. Imagine a West Ham fan separated by a few covered up seats and a line of stewards, who you’ve been pointing to and gesturing that he’s got a fat belly / shit haircut / big nose / is a wanker / all of the above, starts queuing next to you for a pint at half-time. One of you will end up missing the second half.
Due to the crowds and lack of phone signal, we call off meeting up with some of the other lads after the game and head back to our hotel. The tiny Metro station by the ground is packed, so it’s time to load up the e-Scooters again. There aren’t many knocking about, and after trying three of us on one, we find another and decide the split the self-inflicted health and safety risk. We get back via a McDonald’s pitstop and call it a night.
We have the whole of the following day to kill as we fly out of Düsseldorf at 8:30pm. Aside from their amazing stadium and general football culture, there really isn’t an awful lot to do in Dortmund. After doing a quick recce on Google we reckon it's best to head for Düsseldorf for the day. On arrival, we're stuck between a rock and a hard place as Düsseldorf hasn’t got much going on either. The entertainment on offer seems to be watching a large building being demolished. No, really.
Strangely though, we've seen various people in fancy dress this morning and it turns out today happens to be Karneval, a local tradition where everyone wears a costume and gets pissed. We try to ask people what it’s for but don’t get much more than “why not, it’s fun” which, is good enough for us. We follow the crowds around and after deciding we’ve heard enough Europop to make our ears bleed, we look for somewhere to eat and have a pint. If we can't join in the fancy dress, we can definitely join in on the drinking. There's not many options in Düsseldorf but we end up in a small bar called Pief near the Düsseldorf Zoo Metro station, where we watch various characters coming and going.
The barman speaks limited English but after spotting he's got a massive Fortuna Düsseldorf tattoo on his arm—Düsseldorf’s local team that play in the German second tier—we have a good chat about football. They are shuffling through the Karneval Europop playlist, but sneak on "Sweet Caroline", my only guess is to make us feel welcome. Piefs was actually quite a funny and interesting window into local culture, so I’m glad we stumbled across it. We get the train to the airport and fly back, and our trip is over without a hiccup on the final leg. Hopefully we can turn Dortmund over in the second leg of the tie and make some more Champions League memories this year, as it's starting to look like this will be our last season in Europe for a while.
At the time of writing this, Chelsea have lost 1-0 at home to bottom-of-the-table Southampton...
Oh well. Up the Chels...