Rhineland rivalry resumes

Munich - For Bundesliga romantics, there is no doubt which is the standout fixture of the upcoming weekend. In the hours leading up to half past six on Saturday evening, fans of Borussia Mönchengladbach will make the short trip west to Fortuna Düsseldorf to be there for the start of a new chapter of one of German football's classic local encounters.

A real derby

Unlike top-flight regulars Gladbach, Fortuna are one match into their first Bundesliga campaign for 15 years. Other than a friendly game won by Düsseldorf in January, this is the first opportunity fans and players will have had to lock horns with each other since their last league meeting back in March 1997, which ended in a 2-0 victory for Gladbach.

Just 26.2 km separate the cities of Düsseldorf and Mönchengladbach, making the two clubs even closer neighbours than Ruhr district heavyweights Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04. Only Greuther Fürth, top-flight newbies themselves, and 1. FC Nuremberg are nearer to each other among Bundesliga clubs as the crow flies.

In addition to geographical proximity, these two teams have been traditional rivals as well. Düsseldorf were a mainstay in the Bundesliga between 1971 and 1987 and one of the sides competing directly with Gladbach for domestic and European honours. Fortuna won the DFB Cup twice in that period - back-to-back successes in 1979 and 1980 - while the Foals racked up five league titles in what was a true golden era for the club.

In recent years, meetings between the two sides have been more sporadic, with Düsseldorf dropping as low as the fourth flight before beginning the long ascent back to the top. That of course only serves to heighten the anticipation of the fans, with Düsseldorf finally back in the promised land and ready to once again go toe-to-toe with their more illustrious nieghbours.

Familiar faces

For Düsseldorf players with a Gladbach past, such as Andriy Voronin, Johannes van den Bergh and Tobias Levels - the latter a fomer youth team player still living in Mönchengladbach - this is a game with a very special meaning. The same goes for coach Norbert Meier, who began his touchline career with the Foals.

The two teams will meet again in the DFB Cup second round in late October, offering the fans a regular feast after the years of famine. This first league encounter is however sure to be sure a particularly tense and emotional encounter for both sets of supporters, who will doubtless be hoping for many more opportunities to make the same short journey, in both directions, on a regular basis in the years to come.

Bernard Reeves