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

Natalia Richardson

Updated: Sep 15, 2022 06:13

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


The rivalry between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke is among the most intense in European football.

The Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke Revierderby is dubbed "the mother of all derbies" for a reason. According to, two of football's most fervent fan bases compete for local bragging rights in Germany's industrial heartland, setting off one of the greatest rivalries in the world. will introduce you the biggest derbies in the Bundesliga.


The Ruhr region, historically Germany's center of coal and steel industry, is home to the towns of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen, which are only less than 20 miles apart. Given that they both have a sizable, fervent, working-class fan following for football, one could argue that they have more in common than differences.

You may say that, but if you do so in Dortmund or Gelsenkirchen, you should either duck or run away because, like many neighbors, the closer you live to someone, the less you like them. Other derbies are divided along racial, economic, and political lines, while the Revierderby is divided just along one line: Are you Black-and-Yellow or Royal Blue? There is no room for compromise.

Even the most ardent supporters avoid using the rival team's name, referring to them instead by their proximity to neighboring cities: Schalke is mockingly referred to as "Herne-West," while Dortmund is dubbed "Lüdenscheid-Nord."

The origins

It will be their 99th encounter in the Bundesliga on Matchday 7. Dortmund leads, but only just, with 36 victories to 32 for the other team.

The pre-Bundesliga era saw Schalke, though, as the uncontested kings of the Ruhr; a 4-2 victory in their first competitive meeting in 1924/25 set the stage for 18 years of derby supremacy.

That is how long it took Dortmund to defeat a team led by the renowned Ernst Kuzorra, whose 'Schalker Kreisel' style of play—an early variation of one-touch football or tiki-taka—saw Gelsenkirchen win six German Championships between 1934 and 1942. Kuzorra's name appears on a path that leads up to the Veltins Arena as a tribute to his accomplishments.

Dominant Dortmund

Even though they lost to their bitter rivals 9-0 and 10-0, and were defeated 7-0 three times at home, Dortmund still respected them. Even though it is unimaginable now, the Schalke team was actually taken to the town hall to sign the golden visitors' book as they rode back from Berlin after winning their first championship versus Nuremberg.

Dortmund became the dominant force in western Germany's top division after defeating Schalke 3-2 in the 1946–1947 Westfalenliga final, which is seen as the turning point in the struggle for local dominance.

The competition for Ruhr Valley bragging rights was in full swing when they won their first three national championships in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Bundesliga battles

In their first season as founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963, the two teams traded home victories, but BVB rapidly established itself as the dominant force both locally and nationally.

Dortmund enjoyed derby day for a while, led by the renowned strikers Timo Konietzka and Lothar Emmerich, the first player to score a hat-trick in the match during the Bundesliga era and the Revierderby's all-time leading scorer with 10 goals. Up to the point when they stopped again... Between 1968 and 1977, Schalke went 12 competitive matches without a loss.

The initial of many legendary interactions occurred during that time. Hans Pirkner's first-half goal gave the Royal Blues the lead in front of 40,000 spectators at Dortmund's Rote Erde Stadium in September 1969, and the crowd stormed the field. In an effort to retake control, the police let out their canines, but Rex bit Schalke defender Friedel Rausch in the behind. The thigh of teammate Gerd Neuser was also bit.

Bitemarks and lions

Years later, Rausch revealed to Die Welt that the bite left a scar and that he had to spend two nights sleeping on his stomach. Surprisingly, he managed to finish the full 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw, but only after getting a tetanus shot from the team doctor. Dortmund also gave him a floral arrangement and 500 Deutsche Marks (about $290) as an apology.

In the rematch, which ended in another 1-1 tie, the Gelsenkirchen team responded with a "new mascot." In January 1970, Schalke president Günter Siebert hired lions from the nearby zoo to accompany the players out at the start of the game and stand guard around the pitch alongside the stewards. Eintracht Frankfurt has Attila, the eagle who flies around the Commerzbank Arena, and Cologne have Hennes the goat at their home games. The Revierderby was starting to really bare its teeth.


Normally, a Revierderby would fill the entirety of Signal Iduna Park.

Good neighbours?

Despite the intense rivalry between these two Ruhr titans, there is still respect between the clubs, and on some occasions, the groups have even cooperated financially. The most well-known instance occurred in 1974 when Borussia was struggling financially following relegation.

In preparation for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany, their new Westfalenstadion (now the Signal Iduna Park) had just been built, and Schalke were invited to launch the stadium against their arch-rivals. The Royal Blues agreed to the appearance without charging a charge and let Dortmund keep all of the gate receipts due to the hosts' financial difficulties. In response, Schalke would ask BVB to formally inaugurate their brand-new Arena AufSchalke (now the Veltins Arena) in 2001.


Jens Lehmann, the goalkeeper, participated on both sides of the Revierderby conflict.

The year of the Ruhr

Both sides of the Revierderby divide were united in celebration in 1997 as Dortmund and Schalke brought home European success, an even more infrequent occurrence.

The first step was taken on May 21 at the San Siro, as Schalke defeated Inter Milan on penalties to win their first continental trophy and bring the UEFA Cup to Gelsenkirchen. A week later, BVB defeated Juventus of Italy to win the UEFA Champions League for the first time in Munich. The legendary Franz Beckenbauer of Germany and Bayern Munich is quoted as saying, "The heart of German football beats in the Ruhr."

In Milan, goalkeeper Jens Lehmann saved Ivan Zambrano's penalty to give Schalke a 4-1 shootout victory. A few months later, he would win even more admiration from the supporters of the Royal Blue.

On December 19, Schalke was down 2-1 against Dortmund in the dying seconds of their Bundesliga game at Signal Iduna Park. The subsequent events created league history.

One last time the visitors advanced, Marc Wilmots attempted to cross, but the ball sailed out of bounds. The referee gave Schalke a corner, much to the dismay of the 55,000 home supporters. Goalkeeper Lehmann was there, seemingly in the incorrect penalty area, to nod in an equalizer after Olaf Thon took it and Thomas Linke flicked it on. It was the first goal scored by a goalkeeper in open play and the 33,325th overall in Bundesliga history.

The German international would soon, though, break the hearts of the Royal Blue. At the conclusion of that campaign, he departed the team for AC Milan before making a quick return to the Bundesliga with Dortmund, where he would go on to win his lone Bundesliga championship in 2002.


Title heartbreak

Although Dortmund presently leads Schalke in the German league with eight titles, they have lagged behind their Gelsenkirchen opponents for the most of their existence. BVB didn't overcome the Royal Blues until Jürgen Klopp arrived and won back-to-back Meisterschales in 2011 and 2012.

Schalke hasn't won the Bundesliga title yet because their previous league championship was in 1958. It's a wound that Borussia supporters particularly like to stoke, especially since a derby victory in 2007 prevented the Royal Blues from potentially winning their first Bundesliga title.

Schalke, VfB Stuttgart, and Werder Bremen engaged in a dramatic three-way title race in the 2006–07 season. Going into the final two games, the teams were separated by just two points. In contrast, Schalke was forced to travel to Dortmund on the penultimate matchday. The only thing Borussia had left to play for was to end the title hopes of their bitter rivals.

BVB defeated Schalke 2-0, knocking them off the top spot and putting them two points behind Stuttgart, who twice overcame deficits to defeat another Ruhr team, VfL Bochum. Goals from Alex Frei and Ebi Smolarek earned BVB the victory. When Smolarek scored, Christoph Metzelder, whose shot had been deflected and who would subsequently play for Schalke, said it was "my favorite personal derby highlight."

Given that a Royal Blue victory would have seen Schalke win the title, it is still considered "the mother of all derbies" by many Borussia supporters and was a decisive outcome. The Dortmund supporters responded with a banner that included Rudi Assauer and the Meisterschale and mimicked the former S04 sporting director's famous beer commercial phrase, "Look but don't touch."

Before it became common for fans to hire planes to carry banners, BVB supporters did just that to mock the residents of Gelsenkirchen for their prolonged title drought. “A full life with no shield [league title] in your hands," the banner read.


Timo Konietzka, a forward for Dortmund, scored against Schalke to secure his spot in Revierderby lore.

Mother of all comebacks

In the midst of the excitement as you cruise to victory over your greatest opponents, you decide it's okay to send your friend who backs the opposing team a cheeky message making fun of him. Of all, the main goal of a derby is to win bragging rights when Monday mornings bring work or school. Then, though, the unthinkable occurs...

Fans of Schalke and Dortmund ought to be wiser because both teams have recently lost significant Revierderby leads.

On Matchday 4 of the previous season (2008)/2009, Klopp was in charge of his first derby as Borussia's head coach. BVB got off to a terrible start, falling behind 3-0 after only 54 minutes to goals from Jefferson Farfan, Rafinha, and Heiko Westermann. The hosts, though, retaliated. Soon after the hour mark, Neven Subotic trimmed the deficit by heading in a corner from replacement Frei, before the Swiss striker seized the lead for what he dubbed "one of the best games of my career."

Only three minutes later, he scored on his own, and all of a sudden, the 80,000 spectators inside Signal Iduna Park started to believe. They still had 20 minutes to work a miracle, which they did. As the match grew tense, Schalke's Christian Pander and Fabian Ernst were both dismissed from the game in a span of three minutes. Then, Dortmund was given a penalty after Dortmund center-back Mladen Krstajic handled the ball in the box. In the 89th minute, Frei stepped up and threw Ralf Fährmann the wrong way in front of the Yellow Wall, giving BVB the first of many noteworthy victories under Klopp.


Dortmund won the Bundesliga once more under Jürgen Klopp's leadership. Schalke has never succeeded.

A little more than nine years later, third-placed Schalke arrived in Dortmund three points ahead of their opponents after 12 matchdays of the 2017–18 season, and Fährmann was in goal once more. The Royal Blues were having what appeared to be a dream season, but their day at Signal Iduna Park rapidly threatened to become a nightmare.

In just 25 minutes, goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mario Götze, Raphael Guerreiro, and an own goal by Benjamin Stambouli had the visitors 4-0 down. It perhaps might have been more.

The headlines were ready, the Gelsenkirchen fans were hiding behind their couches, and the players were disheartened. Before making a third change at halftime, Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco made two substitutions after just 33 minutes of play. He then sent his team out for the remaining 45 minutes with the goal of merely winning the second half.

This goal appeared to be accomplished immediately after the hour thanks to two quick goals from Guido Burgstaller and replacement Amine Harit, but Schalke knew there would be more. After Daniel Caligiuri's looping shot four minutes from time set up an electrifying finish, Aubameyang was dismissed in the 72nd minute.

Similar to 1997, when Lehmann scored in stoppage time from a corner, Schalke again sent every player forward in the hopes of scoring an incredible equalizer. Additionally, there were two lightning strikes. Roman Weidenfeller, who, like Fährmann, had also participated in Dortmund's own comeback almost a decade earlier, was beaten by defender Naldo in the 94th minute as he rose highest to head home a header from the same corner at the opposite end of the field. Only twice in the history of the Bundesliga had a team overturned a 4-0 deficit to win a game.

The Revierderby team is not that dissimilar, as you can see. On derby day, just be sure to say it quietly.

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