1997 was a memorable year for football fans in the Ruhr Region, the industrial heartland of Germany. Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League while neighbours and rivals Schalke 04 lifted the Uefa Cup.
This was tough for Schalke because their first European title should have been their hour of glory but they were overshadowed by their arch rivals from 24 kilometres down the road.
This unusual feat of two teams from the same area winning the two prestigious European trophies has not happened since.
As the two sides prepare for the 141st Revier Derby this Saturday, it’s fascinating to see how the Bundesliga’s hottest rivalry has developed in those 15 years.
The balance of power has shifted back and forth in the battle for local supremacy and bragging rights.
In the noughties, Schalke agonisingly finished runners-up 4 times, a run made worse by the fact they have never won the Bundesliga Title ! Schalke’s brightest recent moment was reaching the semi finals of the Champions League in 2011 but even then Dortmund stole their thunder by winning the Bundesliga Title for the first time since 2002. And “die schwarzgelben” the black and yellows have consolidated their supremacy by retaining the title in 2012.
The turning point in Dortmund’s fortunes can be traced back to four seasons ago. At the end of the 2008 campaign, Dortmund finished a massive 24 points behind Schalke.
“Never again” said the Club’s C.E.O Hans-Joachim Watzke.
Jurgen Klopp was brought in from Mainz to replace Thomas Doll and usher in a new era. But after losing both matches to Schalke in the 2009/10 season making it four derby matches for Klopp without a win, Watzke decided that a desperate situation needed a desperate remedy. So when the two teams met in September 2010 , Watzke promised to double the players’ bonus if they beat Schalke away in Gelsenkirchen. The extra incentive worked as Klopp’s young side gave Schalke the Blues in a bruising 3-1 win. The goals came from 2 derby newcomers, Shinji Kagawa with a double and Robert Lewandowski. Their first win in 3 seasons. Since then Dortmund haven’ t lost to Schalke !
Schalke are still a work in progress, Dutch coach Huub Stevens is in his second spell at the club having guided them to Uefa cup success in 1997. This is his second season back and Schalke have the makings of a very good team. Their fans are passionate and they boast a beautiful stadium in what’s considered a very ugly city. Schalke fans are defiant. They don’t care if outsiders think their town is ugly but what they do care about is their football, their club and the Revier Derby.
Both have been talking up the healthy rivalry by releasing a photo of two derby debutants Dortmund’s Marco Reus and Roman Neustaedter of Schalke in their respective kits
Teammates last season, rivals this campaign but still great friends off the pitch. You get the picture !
After flares were released at the Dortmund game last season Schalke fans have been banned from bringing banners to the game. Dortmund offered to open talks with Schalke’s ultra fans to reach a compromise but the ultras rejected the offer.
If the low key approach manages to avoid violence then that can only be a good thing as long as it doesn’t affect the long standing tradition of ingenious one-upmanship between the fans.
In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of Schalke’s last German title, some Dortmund fans rented a private airplane to fly over the Schalke stadium parading a banner reminding the home fans of their barren half century.
In turn, Schalke fans broke into the Westfalen Stadion and stole a permanent banner from the famous “Sudtribune” south stand which they then showed off at the next Schalke home game.
Not to be outdone, in 2010 when the Schalke stadium roof was being repaired after damage from a heavy snowfall, a worker planted Dortmund’s flag on top of the roof. One Dortmund hotel was so impressed that they offered the enterprising fan one year of free beer if he came forward. To this day he never has which suggests he either doesn’ t enjoy beer or that he has a highly developed self-preservation instinct.
Schalke are two points and one place above the champions.
What better way to get rid of an inferiority complex than by beating Dortmund and cause their arch rivals to fall further behind runway leaders Bayern Munich.
Schalke may not win their first Bundesliga title this season but denying Dortmund the chance of retaining their title would be sweet consolation.
Both should beware. Even if they cancel each other out in a draw, there could still be one winner, Bayern Munich.
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
We kick off our Bundesliga action on Friday when Hoffenheim host Greuther Fuerth.
The Revier Derby, Dortmund against Schalke looks like the match of the day but when Bayern Munch visit promoted Fortuna Duesseldorf, they will seek to set a Bundesliga record for the best start to the season with their eighth straight victory.
On Sunday, Hamburg look to continue their rise up the Bundesliga when they entertain struggling Stuttgart