Borussia Dortmund and Schalke boast one of the fiercest rivalries in European football. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga
Borussia Dortmund and Schalke boast one of the fiercest rivalries in European football. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Why Borussia Dortmund and Schalke are such fierce rivals: A Revierderby explainer


The Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke is known as 'the mother of all derbies' for a reason. explains one of the fiercest rivalries in world football as two of the game's most passionate sets of fans vie for local bragging rights in Germany’s industrial heartland.

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The cities of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen are separated by less than 20 miles in the Ruhr region, for generations Germany's centre of coal and steel production. You could say more unites them than divides them as they share a hugely passionate, football-mad, working-class fan base.

You could say that… though duck/run if you say it in Dortmund or Gelsenkirchen, because like with many neighbours, the closer you live to them, the less you like them. While religious, economic and political differences spice up other derbies, the Revierderby is split simply across one divide. Are you Black-and-Yellow or Royal Blue? There is no middle ground.

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 disparagingly called 'Herne-West', Dortmund are mocked as being 'Lüdenscheid-Nord'.

Watch: The history behind the Revierderby

The origins

Matchday 24 will be the 100th Bundesliga meeting between the pair. Dortmund have the upper hand, but only just, with 36 wins to 32.

Schalke, however, were the undisputed kings of the Ruhr in the pre-Bundesliga days, a 4-2 win in their first competitive meeting in 1924/25 setting the tone for 18 years of derby dominance.

That was how long - and as many games - until Dortmund finally managed a win against a side inspired by the legendary Ernst Kuzorra, and whose 'Schalker Kreisel' style of play – an early form of one-touch football or tiki-taka – saw six German Championships go to Gelsenkirchen between 1934 and 1942. A path leading up to the Veltins Arena bears Kuzorra's name as a reminder of his achievements.

Dominant Dortmund

Beaten 7-0 at home on three occasions and suffering 9-0 and 10-0 losses to their arch-rivals actually brought respect from Dortmund. It is unthinkable now, but the Schalke train was in fact celebrated at Dortmund station on its way back from winning their maiden title against Nuremberg in Berlin, and the squad were even escorted to the town hall to sign the golden visitors’ book.

A 3-2 win over Schalke in the final of the 1946/47 Westfalenliga is seen as the turning point in the battle for local supremacy as Dortmund became the dominant force in western Germany’s top division.

They claimed their first three national titles in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the battle for Ruhr Valley bragging rights was well and truly on.

Bundesliga battles

Founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963, the pair exchanged home wins in the inaugural season, but BVB would soon emerge as the dominant force both regionally and nationally.

Spearheaded by legendary strikers Timo Konietzka and Lothar Emmerich - the Revierderby’s all-time top scorer with 10 goals and the only player to net a hat-trick in the fixture in the Bundesliga era - Dortmund enjoyed derby day for some time. Right up until when they didn't again… Schalke went 12 competitive meetings without defeat between 1968 and 1977.

That period saw the first of many iconic encounters. 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 sank its teeth into the behind of Schalke defender Friedel Rausch. Teammate Gerd Neuser was also bitten on the thigh.

Bitemarks and lions

Several years later Rausch told Die Welt he still has a scar from the bite and had to sleep on his stomach for two nights. Remarkably, he actually completed the 90 minutes of a 1-1 draw – but only after receiving a tetanus jab from the team doctor. He also received 500 Deutsche Marks (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.

Normally, the Signal Iduna Park would be packed to the rafters for a Revierderby. - Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Good neighbours?

The rivalry between these two Ruhr giants is immense, but there remains a mutual respect between the clubs, and 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.

Their new Westfalenstadion (now the Signal Iduna Park) 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.

Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann played on both sides of the Revierderby divide. - Bongarts

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, 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."

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.

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 Meisterschale 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 Borussia fans particularly enjoy rubbing salt into, especially after a derby victory in 2007 denied the Royal Blues that potential maiden Bundesliga crown.

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.

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 and who would himself later play for Schalke, 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 aeroplanes 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".

Dortmund forward Timo Konietzka found the net against Schalke to earn a place in Revierderby folklore. - imago/Horstmüller

Mother of all 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…

Schalke and Dortmund fans should know better: both have blown sizeable leads in recent Revierderby history.

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.

Jürgen Klopp brought the Bundesliga title back to Dortmund. Schalke have never won it. - imago images

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: Is this the most exciting Revierderby ever?

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 around three goals per game over its 99 renditions in the league, while the record between these two great local rivals is - as we have seen - tantalisingly balanced.

You see, the Revierderby duo are not so different. Just be sure to whisper it quietly on derby day.