When I moved to Munich in March 2013, no one could have predicted the first ever all-German Champions League final. After Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund won back-to-back Bundesliga titles, with a DFB Pokal to boot, the Big Red Empire that is Bayern Munich struck back with a vengeance, winning the league by 25 points.
But Klopp’s side, buoyed by couple of decent Champions League draws (Shahktar Donetsk and Malaga), and an infectious, energetic playing style, persisted. Die Schwarzgelben captured the imaginations of football fans everywhere—including mine, sitting in the shadow of Bayern’s home, Allianz Arena—especially with their late and decisive dramatics against Malaga and Real Madrid en route to the final.
Before the final, speaking to a friend and a life-long Bayern Munich supporter, he summed up the showdown thusly, “Dortmund play beautifully. Bayern play perfectly.”
I went to the public showing at Allianz Arena, along with 45,000 red-clad fans, to watch the final. I tried rooting for Bayern. “This is now my home,” I told myself. “Just pretend you’re rooting for Liverpool,” I said, trying to trick my brain. And yet there was something about this Dortmund side, and Klopp in particular, that I adored. There was something about rooting for the massive favorites that I just couldn’t get my head or heart around. There was something in my DNA, instilled from years living in “flyover country” that just needed the little guy to prevail. When Dortmund equalized in the 68th minute, I did a silent fist-pump in my head, rooting for these plucky underdogs to win the biggest trophy in World football.
Of course, we know what happened.
In the 89th minute, Arjen Robben found the back of the net, winning #5 for Bayern.
In sports, as in life, the underdog usually comes up short.
A few months later with a new season underway, Klopp’s Dortmund side came to Munich, not as underdogs, but favorites. Of course, they weren’t playing Bayern, mind you, but the increasingly-overlooked Munich 1860.
Now, I had become accustomed to dealing with rowdy mid-week Bayern fans. Sharing the same u-bahn line as the stadium, and dealing with screaming kids most of the day at the kindergarten where I worked, the last thing I wanted was to deal with screaming adults on the commute home. So, instead of fighting my way onto the U6, and then off again one stop before the Arena (explaining to everyone in broken German that I live there, and no, I’m not trying to go to the match), I would take the U3 and then a bus, adding a good 20 minutes (of peace and fucking quiet) to my trip.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw at Marienplatz when Dortmund came to town. For an early-round cup draw. Against a 2. Bundesliga opponent (at the time, pour one out for 1860, y’all). It was yellow and black as far as the eyes could see, engulfing the entire platform. It wasn’t so much a trip to Bavaria as much as it was an invasion.
“Fuck this,” were the only words out of my mouth.
The U3 and U6 shared a platform, so I had to fight my way through the yellow and black crowd just to get on the wrong train, all the while the speakers loudly announcing that this was not the train to the stadium! The train went one stop, up to Odensplatz, and it was more of the same. Rabid Dortmund fans demanding to be taken to the stadium, and flustered conductors explaining that this wasn’t the right train. Finally, the conductor relented, sighing in exasperation and changing the route at the behest of the mob. A cheer rang out through the station, and a sea of yellow and black packed every inch of the train. My eyes went wide in horror, but I couldn’t help but feel begrudging respect for Dortmund’s insane fans.
For the next twenty minutes, anti-Bayern songs rang out. At one point, a lonely light-blue clad Munich fan shouted from somewhere, “WE ARE NOT BAYERN, WE ARE MUNICH!”
The entire train broke out in laughter.
I didn’t even try to fight my way out when the train reached my station. There was no way. I got out with everyone else, and waited for the train heading back the other direction.
I was lucky to live in Munich for a couple of years when German football had reached a modern pinnacle. Bayern won the Champions League in 2013 after defeating German-rival Dortmund, and Germany won the World Cup the following year.
And yet, while Jürgen Klopp’s side did not prevail that day, and Dortmund had won the last of their major trophies under him, he was largely responsible for that moment in German footballing history.
He reinvigorated a long-dormant Dortmund, and spurred on Bayern to step up their game. He took an already crazy fanbase, and he gave them something real to root for, resulting in their first silverware in over a decade. He turned the doubters to believers in Germany, and he did it in a breathtaking and electrifying style that even rival fans were forced to take a step back and admire.
And when, six months after my departure from Germany, Klopp’s name was floated as a possible candidate for Liverpool, my heart fluttered. Memories of his best Dortmund sides flashed through my brain, and I thought, “Yes please. I’ll have some of that.”
Of course there was the fear. Or as Klopp correctly identified, “The Doubt.” I remember writing that if Liverpool can’t win with Kloppo at the helm, what then? Were we doomed (as our rivals openly mock) to “living in the past.” And much to our own dismay (and rivals’ delight) we haven’t won anything yet, despite the tantalizingly close calls in 2015/16.
Liverpool might not win on Saturday. As was the case five years ago: underdogs, by definition, usually do not prevail, even those managed by The Normal One.
However, the belief that we can win, and eventually will win under Klopp is inescapable. Up The Mighty Fucking Reds.