Nuri Sahin bleeds yellow and black. In this emotional letter written for the Player's Tribune by Sahin himself, the 28-year-old discusses his career, what it means to play for Borussia Dortmund and the worst day of his life so far.
Before Sahin’s worst experience came many of his best. Having been hooked on football ever since watching Gheorghe Hagi score a wonder goal for Romania at the 1994 World Cup, he soon became devoted to Dortmund.
“I thank God every day that Dortmund knocked on my door when I was seven years old to ask me to come play in its youth system,” Sahin wrote. “That same year [in 1996] Dortmund won its second straight Bundesliga title and I fell in love with the team. All I wanted was to wear yellow and black.”
Watch: The Nuri Sahin story
At the age of 12, Sahin moved 45 minutes from the family home in Meinerzhagen in order to play at Dortmund’s academy. Four years after that, he made his league debut at the age of 16 years and 335 days – in so doing becoming the Bundesliga’s youngest ever player.
His first home match was against local rivals Schalke and he says the atmosphere at the Westfalenstadion that day was even more electric than usual – mainly because of Dortmund’s famous Yellow Wall. More than 25,000 of what Sahin terms the best supporters in the world pack into the club’s Südtribune to form that wall each week and it has left a lasting impression.
“For me, it’s kind of like the Mona Lisa — like a great work of art,” he wrote. “That day, the wall was the first thing I looked at when I walked on the pitch. And even now, it’s still the first thing I look to. From pitch level, you can’t even see where it ends. It’s just… yellow, as far as the eye can see. “It’s the greatest sight in sports.”
Watch: The allure of Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park
After a loan move to Feyenoord in 2007, Sahin’s love for Dortmund grew deeper. But he still took the chance to join Real Madrid after he won the Bundesliga for the first time in 2011.
That switch did not work out as planned and, on his return in January 2013 following a spell at Liverpool, Sahin was not sure how his beloved Yellow Wall would react. When the free-kick maestro was warming up for his first match back, however, his manager Jürgen Klopp advised him to listen to the crowd. “I turned to the Yellow Wall and closed my eyes,” Sahin said. “They were singing my name.
“’I really thought they were going to hate you,’ Jürgen said. And then he let out his classic booming laugh. He messed up my hair, pushed me out onto the pitch and the crowd erupted.”
The Turkey international understood then and there that his connection with the club’s supporters would never be broken. “Echte liebe,” Sahin wrote. “It means true love — and to love without any conditions. That’s the Borussia spirit. That’s our strength.”
Sahin said he felt that support in the days after the Dortmund team bus was attacked when they were on their way to play a UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie against Monaco.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Sahin says of the bomb attack in Dortmund last April. “I just sort of … froze … I guess. But my mind was racing. In the span of maybe two seconds, I thought of my entire life. I thought of dying — but I thought of living, too. And then I thought of my family. I saw my five-year-old son, my one-year-old daughter and my wife. I could feel them there with me.
Watch: Bartra's emotional return to the pitch
“And then I snapped out of it … and I realized where I was. I turned around and saw my teammate Marc Bartra. His arm was bleeding … bad … and I looked up and saw his eyes. I’ll never forget his eyes. They were dark and terrified. I saw other guys behind him start to stand up, but I screamed as loud as I could, ‘Stay down! Stay down! Get away from the windows!’”
Bartra had suffered a broken wrist but thankfully no one else was seriously hurt. The game was called off but the shock of the ordeal truly hit home when Sahin returned to his family later that evening.
“I stopped — I just looked at them for a few seconds,” he said. “And then I started to cry. I cried like I never had before. I hugged my daughter. I felt her face against mine and I thought, I am so lucky. I am so lucky. I am so lucky.”
He travelled to see Spanish defender Bartra in hospital and was heartened to see TV images of Dortmund fans welcoming stranded Monaco supporters into their homes. The match was rescheduled for the following night but Sahin, understandably, found it hard to focus on football.
“That night, I saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” he wrote. “The fans had created a massive tifosi that read: BVB, which is our club’s abbreviated name. It stretched from the very top of the stands all the way down to the pitch. It was awesome. And — even if only for a few minutes — it made me feel that everything was going to be all right.”
A second-half substitute, Sahin said that first leg of the Monaco tie was the most difficult game he had ever played in. While the attack had left its mark though, the response from Dortmund gave him strength.
“The fear of that moment will be in my mind forever, but it’s the hours afterwards that I think about whenever someone mentions that day,” the midfielder wrote. “The way our club and our city responded made me so proud. The welcoming of the Monaco fans, the togetherness in the city, and the support in the stadium less than 24 hours after the attack — it was truly wonderful.”