As quickly as you permit Dortmund’s central station, you see the black and yellow. Decked out within the group’s luminous colours, Borussia Dortmund’s membership store attracts the attention from throughout the sq..
In the town heart, the smiling faces of Dortmund appear to beam out from each different billboard. In the suburbs, flags and banners dangle from streetlights all year long. There are folks sporting scarves and other people sporting hats and other people sporting jerseys, whether or not it’s match day or not, binding every little thing collectively in black and yellow.
After some time, it begins to really feel much less like Dortmund is a metropolis that occurs to be dwelling to a soccer group and extra that it’s a soccer group that has one way or the other generated a metropolis round it.
Soccer is a sport, after all. But it is usually a sport, which is what a sport turns into when sufficient folks spend money on it, financially or emotionally. And it’s a enterprise, too, which is how sport metastasizes when the emotional funding generates a return on the monetary. But it is usually — possibly it’s largely — a type of identification, a way of belonging.
That is true in every single place, however it’s in locations like Dortmund the place it most simply drifts into focus: a metropolis given over to a group, the place within the hours earlier than a sport everybody appears to be speaking of the identical topic, strolling in the identical course, dreaming of the identical consequence.
Soccer didn’t return to Dortmund, and to the remainder of Germany’s Bundesliga, this weekend. Rather, a brand new type of it — a imaginative and prescient of its undesirable, unavoidable short-term future — made its debut: acoustic, pared again, stripped of the spectacle that lends it energy. The streets had been quiet. The stadiums, guarded by the police and ringed by metal, had been empty.
Many of the bars and eating places permitted to open selected to stay closed, conscious of the virus’s dangers, frightened of the results of even small gatherings. Many of the followers who may need packed them, as soon as upon a time, had tuned out. A ballot, by the German tv community ZDF, had discovered that 62 % of followers would have most popular to cancel the season completely than play out a pale imitation within the shadow of a pandemic.
There was sufficient curiosity, although, for Sky Germany’s protection of the primary spherical of video games — headlined by Dortmund’s derby with its fierce rival, Schalke — on this bleak new world to attract in six million viewers, a document, every of them watching from dwelling, atomized and all however alone, a tribe nonetheless certain by its colours however unable to assemble underneath its customary.
To some, what they watched was not soccer however mere enterprise, a transaction devoid of emotion, an occasion held merely to guard broadcasting revenues. Sport, in any case, doesn’t have an inherent objective; we imbue it with which means, with consequence, and the followers within the stands function avatars for the tens of millions extra watching at dwelling, their reactions shaping and reflecting ours.
Most of Germany’s highly effective organized fan groups had made it plain that games played in isolation, without the public, without the spectacle, could only ever mean nothing. A slim banner was displayed in the stands for Augsburg’s game with Wolfsburg. “Soccer will survive,” it read. “It’s your business that is sick.”
In those first few minutes of play on Saturday, as the players tried to shake off the rust in front of gray, still stands in six cities, and two more on Sunday, it was hard not to wonder whether it had any meaning at all. It was not a spectacle. Without the spectacle, it is hard to make a case for it as a business. Without the business, the sport — at least in its current form — cannot go on.
But then, with a little less than half an hour played, something happened. Dortmund’s Julian Brandt flicked the ball into the path of his teammate Thorgan Hazard. His cross evaded Schalke’s defense. Erling Haaland took two paces, opened his body, and steered the ball home: the first goal of soccer’s immediate future.
In that moment, you could see beyond the silence and the grayness and the sorrow, beneath the business and the sport, that soccer is just a game. But it is a good game.