With the exception of fans of their long-standing rivals Schalke, Borussia Dortmund are one of a select few club worldwide that are seemingly universally liked and respected. But how and why has that happened?
Start with the fundamentals: in Germany, there are around 45 million people interested in football, which is only natural given they have the Bundesliga to drool over. Of this colossal collection of fans, a study by the Hamburg-based Statista institute in 2018 discovered that 52 per cent of them – so just over half – had a soft spot for Dortmund.
Watch: Borussia Dortmund - All you need to know
Okay, so they may not be diehard BVB fanatics, but they do like to see the Westphalians doing well. By comparison, the second club to rouse interest on that poll were Bayern Munich, who appeal to 41 per cent of the population. Why, then, do so many people like Dortmund? Here is where facts are open to interpretation, and a bit of fantasy can help to explain their allure.
First off, there is their Signal Iduna Park. Who would not feel proud being able to call that imperious venue 'home'? With the largest standing terrace in world football – just imagine one huge, welcoming living room with like-minded people keen on exchanging hugs and a sing-song, and there you have the Sudtribüne – and consistently the highest average attendance of any ground in the world, at over 80,000 per shot, it's hard not to fall in love with BVB.
"This place was built for football and for fans to express themselves," wrote The Times. "Every European Cup final should be held here."
Dortmund fans take such delight in welcoming guests into their home that if circumstances dictate – as they did on one fateful night in April 2017 when their UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Monaco was called off at the last minute – they simply offer their guests a bed in their own homes, just to underline the extent of their hospitality. No surprise, then, that there are approximately 1.36 million visitors to the Signal Iduna Park each season, and that is only for Bundesliga fixtures.
What can already be garnered from that fact filters through into other inherent characteristics of Dortmund fans. Sure, they have not seen their team win the Bundesliga in seven seasons, each time witnessing their arch-rivals Bayern pop the champagne corks in May, but that does not dampen their enthusiasm for their club. In fact, Dortmund's fans were still chanting that they would love their club no matter what as, on the final day of last season, the title again slipped southwards.
BVB is more of a religion than a club to them.
"The best thing that can happen to us is a sold out Signal Iduna Park," Carsten Cramer, Dortmund's director of sales and marketing, told ESPN. "That is Borussia Dortmund. That is our unique selling point. That is what makes us so attractive abroad and at home."
Watch: Dortmund's iconic Signal Iduna Park
At least over the past decade, there has been an added attraction in the brand of football Dortmund have been playing, ever since Jürgen Klopp arrived with his high intensity, attacking philosophy. Once the fans had seen that, there was no going back to the more tactical and combative foundations the club's earlier successes had been built on. Now, visitors to Signal Iduna Park expect to be entertained, and more often than not, they are.
Dortmund scored a league-high 52 goals at home last season – an average of just over three per game and they have not scored fewer than 40 on home soil since the 2014/15 campaign, Klopp's last and the most anomalous season of his and arguably the club's decorated history.
It was a blip because Dortmund are rather accustomed to success. In fact, with eight domestic league titles and four domestic cups, in addition to the Champions League, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, they are Germany's second most successful club behind Bayern and ahead of local rivals Schalke.
It's love, real love, or 'Echte Liebe' – the club's new motto – and all the success in the world could not hold a candle to the club's beating heart, its fans and their affinity with a club they feel they can identify with. "We neither have the resources nor does our brand shine as bright as that of Barcelona or Real Madrid," added Cramer. "We are from Dortmund. And our history with its starting conditions, away from the big European metropolitan areas, is what people also like."
Indeed, Dortmund have been close enough to insolvency to know how they must not bite off more than they can chew. While they regularly stand shoulder to shoulder with Europe's elite, they do so stood on tip-toes, bidding to outjump and outfox their illustrious rivals with their own means.
"What we also stand for in a global perspective, what makes us interesting also for other clubs is the way we develop young players," Cramer says. "It fascinates others why players like [Christian] Pulisic, like Jadon Sancho or Sergio Gomez believe they can make a big step here at Dortmund."
It is because they too identified the fun factor of being part of the Dortmund family, a family which looks after its own and feeds individual and collective prosperity, all the while seeking continuity in results. "We must not define ourselves over a superstar, but over what characterises us as a club" added Cramer. "Also, [we must] not to be hit by a major depression should players leave us."
The departure of Pulisic for Chelsea was therefore seen as a natural opportunity to bring in established Bundesliga stars Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt, in addition to taking a calculated gamble on 19-year-old Mateu Morey, potentially their next big star in the making. All three fit the bill in terms of adding excitement to Dortmund's now trademark crowd-pleasing football, the hallmarks of the best-supported, coolest, most fun club in the world.