Remembering the rich, crazy history of Borussia Dortmund versus Juventus
The 1997 Champions League final was about 25 minutes old when I felt a tug on my sleeve. I looked down and noticed a steward trying to get my attention. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "Will you be standing on your seat for the entire game?"
I looked around. In this part of Munich's Olympic Stadium, the north curve, by and large everybody was standing on the plastic seats. One of the few exceptions was the elderly couple directly to my left. They were sitting down and, consequently, couldn't see anything except the backs of the people in front of them.
"I have never sat during a game," I replied, "and I'm certainly not going to start now." The steward smiled. "That's good," he said. "I was asking because we have a ticketing problem. These gentlemen don't have seats."
He pointed toward two men standing in the aisle a few steps away from us. They wore scarves half black-and-yellow, for Borussia Dortmund, and half black-and-white, for Juventus. A few variants of such scarves, commemorating the final between these clubs, had been on sale around the ground all day long. The two men also carried plastic bags.
"Would you mind," the steward continued, "if we put them in front of you, between the seat and the railing? You're quite tall, and you're standing on the seat, so you can still see everything." I told him that was fine, and he waved the two men over. After they had assumed their positions in front of me, one of them turned around and looked up.
"Grazie," he said.
It might seem strange today that a steward would put two Italians right in the middle of the German fan stand for such a huge game. But back in 1997, I wasn't surprised in the least.
All day, supporters from Turin and Dortmund had mingled in downtown Munich peacefully and even amicably. Sometimes it was hard to tell the two sets of fans apart. Many Germans wore Juve paraphernalia; many Italians sported Borussia gear. The reason was simple: the two clubs had met each other so often in the preceding years that the final felt a bit like a semi-annual family reunion.
In the four years between May 1993 and May 1997, Dortmund met a team like Fortuna Düsseldorf, traditional Bundesliga rivals, just four times. And Juventus contested only two matches during this period against a side like Bologna, their long-time Serie A opponents. But Borussia and Juventus played each other seven times over the same span.
To make this sudden but intense spurt of clashes even stranger, the two clubs had never met before May 1993, and almost 18 years would pass until they'd meet again after May 1997. Finally, the good-natured rivalry was football's version of the Doppelgänger motif: by the time the two teams contested the 1997 Champions League final, Dortmund's squad included no fewer than five men who had once played for Juventus.
The story of the epic clashes between Dortmund and Juventus began with the two-legged UEFA Cup final in 1993, which, to be honest, wasn't very epic. Not for long. Michael Rummenigge, younger brother of Karl-Heinz, put Dortmund ahead after less than two minutes of the first leg with an elegant first-time shot.
That was as good as it got for the Germans. Yes, Dortmund were hit hard by injuries, but this was the Juve of Roberto and Dino Baggio, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Gianluca Vialli -- plus their Germans, Kohler and Andreas Moller. "We played Juventus at the wrong time," Dortmund's coach Ottmar Hitzfeld later said, "but we would have struggled even with a complete team."
The two Baggios (who are unrelated) scored three goals in Dortmund, as Juve came from behind to win the away leg 3-1. This put the trophy out of Borussia's reach, especially when Vialli set up another Dino Baggio goal with a cheeky back-heeler after only five minutes of the second leg. Juve eventually won 3-0 at home and lifted the 1993 UEFA Cup by a commanding aggregate score of 6-1.
Two years later, though, the tie was no longer so one-sided. In fact, the games in April 1995 were nail-bitingly close. Dortmund had signed two players from Juventus, defender Julio Cesar and Moller. Both would be on target as Borussia were drawn against the Bianconeri in the UEFA Cup again -- this time in the semifinals.
However, the first man to put his name on the scoreboard in this meeting was Dortmund's Stefan Reuter. In the first leg, in Turin, sweeper Matthias Sammer released his teammate on the right wing with a tremendous pass, and Reuter found the target from a tight angle.
Amazingly, he too had once been a Juventus player.
A terrific match eventually finished 2-2 because Kohler scored one of his rare goals for Juve two minutes from time. What annoyed the Germans, though, wasn't the late equaliser but the referee. He booked no fewer than six Dortmund players; Moller, Sammer and Karl-Heinz Riedle would miss the second leg on account of his card-happy ways.
In Dortmund, the goals kept coming at an astonishing rate. After half an hour, Juventus were 2-1 up, which made it 4-3 on aggregate after a mere 120 minutes of football. But there were to be no more comebacks. A depleted Borussia side, also missing the injured strikers Flemming Povlsen and Stéphane Chapuisat, finally succumbed to the Divine Ponytail's brilliance. ("Baggio beat brave Borussia," read an alliterative-minded Kicker magazine headline).
In the second half, a Lars Ricken goal was disallowed for a foul on Ciro Ferrara in the buildup, while Paolo Sousa hit the post for Juve with a strike from almost 25 yards. Then it was over. The Italians had prevailed again.
Following the postmatch press conference, a local journalist told Juventus coach Marcello Lippi: "Next time you'll lose." He was echoing a statement made by Dortmund's business manager Michael Meier, who had said, "In life, you always meet twice. But in football, you meet three times." Lippi listened to the reporter's challenge. Then he smiled and said nothing.
Next time came quickly. A few weeks after the UEFA Cup games, both clubs won their domestic leagues. During the off-season, Dortmund signed their fourth former Juve player: Kohler. Almost inevitably, these seemingly siamese-twin teams were then drawn into the same Champions League group.
The next round of their bout opened with a bang. In Dortmund, Möller scored in the first minute with a left-footed shot Angelo Peruzzi should have saved. But then it was 1993 all over again, as Juventus hit back to win 3-1. This time, Dortmund's nemesis was Alessandro Del Piero, who scored with a marvelous, swerving shot and set up the other two goals.
The return match was 10 weeks later. "The pressure's off," Lippi said, "because we're already through to the quarterfinals and have secured first place in the group." Consequently, the coach made numerous changes to his starting XI.
Dortmund's situation, meanwhile, was markedly different. They were only one point ahead of Steaua Bucharest, which meant they needed to return home from Italy with something. At first, it looked as if there would be no changes to their dramatic script. Dortmund's goalkeeper, Stefan Klos, was often called into action in Turin, saving from Vialli and miraculously parrying a close-range Michele Padovano header.
Padovano then hit the post before Michael Zorc opened the scoring at the other end against the run of play. In the second half, Ricken made it 2-0 with a nice volley. Del Piero did score his customary goal against Dortmund, but it came deep into stoppage time, with only seconds left on the clock.
"This is incredible, simply sensational," Borussia's Steffen Freund said after the final whistle. At the sixth try, Dortmund had finally broken the spell. The relief among players and supporters was so palpable it felt as if a curse had been lifted. But of course, doubts remained. Would the Germans be able to repeat this feat in a match in which more than just pride was at stake for Juventus -- for instance, the biggest European trophy?
And so, back to the 1997 Champions League final. It was about 25 minutes old when the two Italian fans assumed their positions in front of me and opened their plastic bags. They were filled to the brim with Juventus stuff: scarves in all shapes and sizes, replica shirts, little and large pennants.
Slowly and meticulously, they began building a Juve shrine right in the middle of the Dortmund fan stand. They put their shirts across the railing in front of them, then placed scarves across those shirts, then tied pennants to the metal bars.
While this was going on, Dortmund's new signing, Paolo Sousa -- their fifth ex-Juve player -- set up Jorg Heinrich on the left wing. Heinrich won a corner directly in front of our stand. Moller took it. Peruzzi cleared it. Paul Lambert crossed. Riedle scored.
In an instant, the two Italian supporters were wiped off their feet by ecstatic German fans, their whole lovingly prepared Juventus display soon scattered by surging, falling bodies. As soon as the celebrations died down, we picked the pair up and said we were sorry. Some people even helped them retrieve the shirts, scarves and pennants that had been dispersed across the steps below.
They took it in stride. With admirable defiance, they started rebuilding their Juve shrine. They spread the shirts across the railings again and gently put scarves across them. While they were doing this, Chapuisat won another corner. Moller took it. Riedle headed home from 10 yards.
I briefly saw the two Italians go down again, carrying the shirts and the scarves with them as they fell, then I lost my own footing and found myself a good 5 yards from where I had originally been, such was the force of the swaying mass of people. When all was calm again, relatively speaking, people helped the Italians pick up their gear once more. This time the two silently put everything back into their plastic bags. Then they took one last look at the pitch and left without a word.
I never saw them again.
Uli covers German football for ESPN FC and has written over 400 columns since 2002.