There are good reasons why the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke is known as 'the mother of all derbies'. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH
There are good reasons why the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke is known as 'the mother of all derbies'. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH

The Revierderby: the history between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke

The Revierderby is known as 'the mother of all derbies'. Clashes between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke have developed into one of the fiercest rivalries in world football as two of the game’s most passionate sets of fans vie for for local bragging rights in Germany’s industrial heartland. takes you through the history of the Revierderby

How did it come about?

The cities of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen are separated by less than 20 miles within the Ruhr region, which for generations was the centre for coal and steel production in Germany. Both clubs arose from similar backgrounds with a working-class fan base, standing for heart and passion in football.

It makes it different from some of the other famous derbies around the world that are built on religious, economic and political differences. However, it doesn’t mean the rivalry is any less intense. For locals, you are either Black-and-Yellow or Royal Blue – there is no middle ground.

Watch: Tifo football looks at the history of the Revierderby

Some supporters have vowed never to even step foot in the opposition’s stadium. One Schalke fan even explained that he refuses to travel from Dortmund station and that he holds his breath when passing through. Some of the most fervent fans even refuse to utter the name of the other club, instead referring to them by their relative location from neighbouring towns. Schalke are termed 'Herne-West', while Dortmund are 'Lüdenscheid-Nord'.

Despite its reputation now, however, it took the 'mother of all derbies' some time to develop into a fully fledged rivalry ready to galvanise local football fans. Its beginnings were extremely one-sided from the first competitive encounter in 1924/25 – a 4-2 win for Schalke in the then regional second division.

It was 18 years and 18 competitive meetings before Borussia finally managed to win a game against one of the nation’s most dominant clubs. With legend Ernst Kuzorra in a side famed for its style of play called 'Schalker Kreisel' – an early form of one-touch football or tiki-taka – Schalke claimed six out of nine German Championships between 1934 and 1942.

Few sides could match the Gelsenkirchen club on a regional or national level at that time, including Dortmund, who were beaten 7-0 at home on three occasions, as well as suffering 9-0 and 10-0 defeats. Perhaps unthinkable now, the Schalke train was in fact celebrated at Dortmund station on the way back from winning their maiden title against Nuremberg in Berlin, and they were escorted to the town hall to sign the golden visitors’ book.

Schalke’s Veltins Arena is situated on Ernst-Kuzorra-Weg as a memorial to the club legend. Fans above were celebrating 100 years since his birth in 2005. - imago images / Sven Simon

However, things began to change following World War II as BVB developed into a serious, long-term competitor for their Gelsenkirchen neighbours. A 3-2 win over Schalke in the final of the 1946/47 Westfalenliga is seen as the turning point in the battle for supremacy.

Dortmund became the dominant force in western Germany’s top division before going on to claim their first three national titles in the 1950s and early 1960s. With the battle for supremacy in the Ruhr region finely balanced, the Revierderby as we know it today was born.

Bundesliga era begins with a bite and a roar

Dortmund and Schalke were both founding members of the Bundesliga from its inception in 1963, exchanging home wins in the opening season. BVB would quickly begin to dominate the derby on the national stage with a team spearheaded by legendary strikers Timo Konietzka and Lothar Emmerich. The latter remains the Revierderby’s all-time top scorer with 10 goals and the only player in history to score a hat-trick in the fixture in the Bundesliga era.

As has traditionally been the case in the Revierderby, before long the balance began to swing the other way again, and Schalke would go 12 competitive meetings without defeat between 1968 and 1977.

With the rivalry intensifying there came perhaps the first legendary encounter in September 1969. The Royal Blues took the lead in front of 40,000 fans at Dortmund’s Rote Erde Stadium through Hans Pirkner’s first-half strike, resulting in fans storming the pitch. The police released their dogs to try to regain control, but one named Rex instead bit Schalke defender Friedel Rausch on the behind. Teammate Gerd Neuser was also bitten on the thigh.

Schalke’s Friedel Rausch (c.) was bitten by a police dog during a goal celebration at Dortmund’s Rote Erde Stadium. - imago/Horstmüller

Several years later Rausch told Die Welt that he still has a scar from the bite and had to sleep on his stomach for two nights, but remarkably he carried on and completed the 90 minutes of a 1-1 draw – but only after receiving a tetanus jab from the team doctor. You can imagine the delight on Rausch’s face when he one day received 500 Deutsche Mark (around $290) and a bouquet of flowers as an apology from Dortmund.

The Gelsenkirchen club responded in the return fixture – another 1-1 draw – with a 'new mascot'. Eintracht Frankfurt have Attila the eagle who flies around the Commerzbank Arena, Cologne have Hennes the goat at their home games, but in January 1970 Schalke president Günter Siebert hired lions from the local zoo to accompany the players out at the start of the game and stand guard around the pitch alongside the stewards. The Revierderby was really beginning to show its teeth.

Friendly neighbours

The rivalry between these two Ruhr giants is immense, but there remains a mutual respect between the clubs, perhaps stemming from their common working-class roots. The teams have even helped each other out financially on a number of occasions. The most famous example came in 1974 when Borussia were struggling with debt after relegation.

Watch: The story of two brothers setting aside their Revierderby differences

Their new Westfalenstadion had just been constructed in time for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany, and Schalke were invited to inaugurate the stadium against their arch-rivals. Owing to the hosts’ financial problems, the Royal Blues agreed to the appearance without a fee and allowed Dortmund to keep all the gate receipts. Schalke would in turn invite BVB to officially open their new Arena AufSchalke (now the Veltins Arena) in 2001.

The year of the Ruhr

In another even rarer moment of unity, both sides of the Revierderby divide were celebrating in 1997 as Dortmund and Schalke brought home European glory.

It began on 21 May when Schalke beat Inter Milan on penalties at the San Siro to claim their first continental honour, and bring the UEFA Cup to Gelsenkirchen. One week later and BVB also beat Italian opposition, Juventus, this time to win their first UEFA Champions League title, in Munich. Germany and Bayern Munich legend Franz Beckenbauer famously said afterwards, "the heart of German football beats in the Ruhr."

Borussia Dortmund fans produced a stunning choreography to remember their 1997 UEFA Champions League triumph under coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. - imago/Moritz M¸ller

Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was the hero for Schalke in Milan, saving Ivan Zambrano’s penalty in the 4-1 shootout victory, and he would go on to endear himself even further to the Royal Blue faithful just a few months later.

On 19 December, Schalke were trailing Dortmund 2-1 in the final minute of their Bundesliga match at the Signal Iduna Park. What happened next made league history.

The visitors got forward one final time and Marc Wilmots looked to cross, but the ball flew out of play. Much to the dismay of the 55,000 home fans, the referee signalled a corner to Schalke. Olaf Thon took it, Thomas Linke flicked it on and there, seemingly in the wrong penalty area, was goalkeeper Lehmann to nod home an equaliser. It was the 33,325th goal in Bundesliga history, but the first by a goalkeeper from open play.

Schalke’s Jens Lehmann became the first goalkeeper to score from open play in the Bundesliga, against Borussia Dortmund. - Tobias Heyer/Bongarts/Getty Images

However, the Germany international would soon go on to break Royal Blue hearts. He left the club for AC Milan at the end of that season before returning to the Bundesliga just six months later – with Dortmund, where he would win his sole Bundesliga title in 2002.

Title heartbreak

Dortmund currently have eight German league titles to their name – one more than Schalke – but for the majority of their history they have trailed their Gelsenkirchen rivals. Only when Jürgen Klopp arrived and won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012 did BVB finally overtake the Royal Blues.

Schalke’s last league title came in 1958, meaning they are yet to be crowned champions in the Bundesliga. It’s a wound that Borussia fans particularly enjoy rubbing salt into, especially after a derby victory in 2007 denied the Royal Blues that potential maiden Bundesliga title.

The 2006/07 season saw a thrilling three-way title fight between Schalke, VfB Stuttgart and Werder Bremen, who were all separated by two points going into the final two games. Schalke, however, had to go to Dortmund on the penultimate Matchday. Borussia had little left to play for – except to ruin their arch-rivals’ title dreams.

Schalke’s Manuel Neuer was beaten twice as the Royal Blues blew their title chance in Dortmund. - imago sportfotodienst

Goals from Alex Frei and Ebi Smolarek gave BVB a 2-0 win to knock Schalke off top spot and leave them two points behind Stuttgart, who had twice come from behind to win at another Ruhr team, VfL Bochum. Christoph Metzelder, whose deflected shot had led to Smolarek’s strike, later described the game as "my favourite personal derby highlight".

For many Borussia fans it remains 'the mother of all derbies' and was a defining result given that a Royal Blue win would have seen Schalke crowned champions. It led to a series of jibes from the Dortmund faithful, who mocked former S04 sporting director Rudi Assauer’s famous line from a beer advert – "Look but don’t touch" – with a banner featuring him and the Meisterschale.

Back before fans hiring airplanes to fly banners had become popular, BVB fans did just that to taunt the people of Gelsenkirchen for their decades-long title drought. The banner read: "A whole life with no shield [league title] in your hands".

A history of comebacks

You are cruising to victory against your fiercest rivals and among the excitement, you decide it’s safe to send your mate who supports the other team a cheeky message ribbing him. A derby is, of course, all about bragging rights come work or school on Monday morning. But then the unthinkable happens…

Both Schalke and Dortmund have blown sizeable leads in recent Revierderby history. Never has a point tasted so sweet, never has a message to a friend come back to haunt you so much.

Back in 2008/09, Klopp was taking charge of his first derby as Borussia coach at home on Matchday 4. It was a disastrous start as BVB found themselves 3-0 down inside 54 minutes after goals from Jefferson Farfan, Rafinha and Heiko Westermann. However, the hosts fought back. Neven Subotic reduced the arrears by heading home a corner from substitute Frei shortly after the hour, before the Swiss striker took centre stage for what he called "one of the best games of my career".

He scored himself only three minutes later and suddenly the 80,000 fans inside the Signal Iduna Park began to believe. They had 20 minutes remaining to produce a miracle, and they did. Schalke had both Christian Pander and Fabian Ernst sent off in the space of three minutes as the game became frenetic, before centre-back Mladen Krstajic handled in the box and referee Lutz Wagner awarded Dortmund a penalty. Frei stepped up in the 89th minute and sent Ralf Fährmann the wrong way in front of the Yellow Wall to earn BVB the first of many memorable results under Klopp.

Alexander Frei came off the bench to provide an assist and score two goals as Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund came from 3-0 down to draw with Schalke. - imago sportfotodienst

Fährmann was in goal again a little over nine years later as third-placed Schalke arrived in Dortmund three points clear of their rivals after 12 Matchdays in 2017/18. It was looking like being a dream season for the Royal Blues, but their day at the Signal Iduna Park quickly threatened to turn into a nightmare.

The visitors found themselves 4-0 down inside just 25 minutes through strikes from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mario Götze, Raphael Guerreiro and a Benjamin Stambouli own goal. And it could have been more.

The headlines were already written, the fans back in Gelsenkirchen were hiding behind their sofas and the players looked demoralised. Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco made two changes after just 33 minutes before making a third at half-time, sending his troops out for the second 45 minutes with the task of simply winning the second half.

Two quick-fire goals just after the hour from Guido Burgstaller and substitute Amine Harit looked like achieving that aim, but Schalke sensed even more was in the offing. Aubameyang was sent off in the 72nd minute, before a curling Daniel Caligiuri effort four minutes from time set up a grandstand finish like no other.

Watch: Borussia Dortmund 4-4 Schalke

Reminiscent of 1997 when Lehmann scored from a corner in injury-time, Schalke once again threw every man forward in the hope of a remarkable equaliser. And lightning did in fact strike twice. At the same end of the ground, from the same corner, defender Naldo rose highest in the 94th minute to power home a header past Roman Weidenfeller, who, like Fährmann, had also played in Dortmund’s own comeback almost a decade earlier. It was only the second time in Bundesliga history a team had come from 4-0 down to claim a result.

It was symbolic of a match that has provided the Bundesliga with so much drama down the years. The Revierderby averages exactly three goals per game over its 95 renditions in the league, while the record between these two great local rivals is tantalisingly balanced.

Dortmund have claimed victory on 34 occasions to Schalke’s 32 – 29 matches have ended a draw. BVB are also narrowly ahead in terms of goals scored (149-137). It’s the mother of all derbies for a reason and a fixture never to be missed.