The queue for the bar started to snake around Signal Iduna Park from not long after 6am. Stalls sold scarves and T-shirts plastered with the legend “Deutscher Meister 2023”. The club had emailed fans to detail the timings and route of Sunday’s victory parade; after the players had signed the Golden Book of the City of Dortmund, their bus would leave Westfalenhütte and make the journey towards Borsigplatz, where the club was founded in 1909.
This time, it had to be for Borussia Dortmund. Thoughts of tempting fate and angering the football gods were put to one side in the interests of practicality. Sebastian Kehl – a man who knows what it takes to beat Bayern Munich to a Bundesliga title – and Edin Terzic spoke boldly in the run-up to the game, with the latter talking of the team, the fans and the city taking “a final step” in unison. After having had their best season of home form, facing a Mainz team with nothing to play for on a run of four straight defeats, it had to be.
But it wasn’t. Those players, if they can bear to, will replay that first half in their minds for a while. A carnival day for the club and its supporters was stymied by the tension among players normally so fluent in their house. It was, said Kicker’s Matthias Dersch, “as if your knees were shaking, your feet were twitching”.
The city believed but you wondered whether the players did. And they didn’t. Just as they hadn’t in frittering a two-goal lead against 10 men in Stuttgart or in failing to overcome Bochum when last leading the table.
The 16th-minute goal from Andreas Hanche-Olsen, a near-post header of jarring simplicity from a corner, appeared to drain it out of them. Bayern still needed to win at Köln, where a Kingsley Coman rocket had given them an early lead, but if Dortmund were going to emerge victorious they had to do it themselves. There were opportunities: a Sébastien Haller penalty, saved by Finn Dahmen, which would have made it 1-1, a foul on the departing Raphaël Guerreiro just after that may have yielded a second spot-kick. But they went into the break down 2-0.
They improved, with Guerreiro pulling a goal back, and as Terzić made brave and successful substitutions, they had chances. They might not have needed them. In Köln, 95km down the road, the hosts almost rescued the Dortmund dream, Dejan Ljubicić netting a penalty equaliser in the final 10 minutes to cancel out Coman’s goal.
A draw would not have been enough for Bayern and for eight minutes the title was back to heading to Dortmund. A title winner made of both contenders fluffing their lines might have been fitting.
But where with Dortmund the feeling was hope, with Bayern there is almost always resolve, somewhere, even in this diminished state after sackings past, sackings present – their CEO, Oliver Kahn, and the sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, were confirmed to have left their posts with the champagne corks still flying through the air.
Call it muscle memory, call it idle assumption, but Jamal Musiala’s 89th-minute winner felt as if it had been coming. If it always felt like the narrative was with Dortmund – for the home town boys Terzić and Marco Reus, for the heroic cancer survivor Haller – it was fitting that the goal that won Bayern the title was from one of the few players we can definitively say will be part of their future.
It recalled previous Bayern final-day wins against the odds, especially 2000 when Leverkusen led going into the final day but tumbled to a 2-0 defeat at Unterhaching to let Bayern win on goal difference.
If BVB are not yet getting their own “Neverkusen” tag, this afternoon will go some way to cementing their own reputation for self-harm. Niklas Süle’s equaliser deep into stoppage time came too late, a cruel frisson of what could have been.
As Reus and Terzić choked back tears, it was hard to think of tomorrow, as that extraordinary home crowd tried to lift them. “And that’s Borussia Dortmund,” wrote Hummels on Instagram on Sunday. “That togetherness and lifting each other up after failures and disappointments. We will be back.”
It feels as if the club, and team, is in the right hands. The atmosphere Terzić has created is special – special enough to inspire veterans as well as the kids, with Reus and (this week) Hummels signing new one-year deals to stay, uncomplaining about reduced roles and pay packets, and with Emre Can in monstrous form since the winter break.
Bayern, under new CEO Jan-Christian Deesen, will have to reset and it will be neither easy nor cheap. The uneasy rhetoric of Thomas Tuchel in recent weeks poses legitimate questions over whether he is the man to lead Bayern forward in the medium-term.
Neither of these teams really had the constitution of champions, but one of them ended up with the title. The hope is that this time next year it can be as keenly contested again.
• Union Berlin, in contrast, held their nerve and assured themselves of a place in the Champions League. Rani Khedira’s side-footed late winner against Werder Bremen sealed the deal, four years after they were promoted to the top flight for the first time. “It was an emotional explosion,” said Khedira as, led by captain Christopher Trimmel, the players celebrated by lifting a foil-clad cutout of the Champions League trophy to the sky, a personification of the club’s continuing humility and likability.
• At half-time it had been Freiburg heading for the top four as they led at Eintracht Frankfurt via Vincenzo Grifo’s header. However, Khedira’s goal, scored at almost the same time as Randal Kolo Muani’s equaliser, scuppered their hopes, with Éric Junior Dina Ebimbe’s winner leaving them empty-handed on the day. It ensured Eintracht will get at least a Europa Conference League place (that will become a Europa League spot if they win the DfB Pokal final against RB Leipzig next week).
• Leipzig, already guaranteed third after last week’s stunning victory in Munich, beat Schalke 4-2 to send them down despite a valiant scramble for safety against the odds. This was Schalke’s campaign in microcosm; 2-0 down, they fought back (with a bizarre Willi Orban own goal bringing them level) only for Christopher Nkunku to pick them off in the dying minutes, setting up Yussuf Poulsen before bagging the fourth, which took him level as joint top-scorer for the season with Werder’s Niclas Füllkrug. A relegation that had looked inevitable at Christmas felt cruel in the end. “Our fans have been Champions League level this season,” said Thomas Reis, “and I feel so sorry for them.”
• Bochum celebrated joyously after a 3-0 win over Leverkusen (aided and abetted by Amine Adli’s ludicrous early red card for the visitors) took them to safety, with Stuttgart’s failure to beat Hoffenheim condemning them to a two-leg relegation playoff with Hamburg. The latter’s fans had thought they were already up with Sunday’s 1-0 win at Sandhausen before two goals for Heidenheim in 11 minutes of stoppage time at Jahn Regensburg sealed automatic promotion (and, remarkably, the Bundesliga 2 title) for them instead.