Last week, the footballing world was sent into shock as news broke of an attack on the Bourissa Dortmund team bus as it made its way to Signal Iduna Park for their Champions League match against Monaco.
Eventually we would learn that, as horrific as the attack could have been, no one suffered long-term serious injury but for a short time the footballing landscape shifted slightly and something strange happened.
Now, I’m a “Glass half empty” kind of guy and I know it. My natural position in the world is one of cynicism and grumpiness. So I was as surprised as anyone that such a terrible event would restore a little of my faith in football… and people.
Every day football websites, TV news channels and tabloid back pages are full of stories about greedy agents, brawling fans, moaning managers and cheating players. As a nation we revel in the negative. Most people would rather read a newspaper expose about footballers sleeping with their team-mates’ wives than a tactical breakdown of Pep Guardiola’s genius and so it’s no surprise that we get fed exactly that by the media. It’s supply and demand. That’s fine. However, what it does give us is a skewed, jaded view of the sport that we love. Every player is a dimwitted gold-digger, every fan is a shaven headed thug and every chairman is a crook willing to sell the history of your club to the highest bidder. Actually, that last one may be true.
The events of last week remind me that wasn’t the case.
Firstly, we had the Monaco fans. Gathered inside the Dortmund stadium they were informed that the match was cancelled. They didn’t respond by tearing seats from the stadium and throwing them onto the pitch in protest to the inconvenience. Instead they stood as one in the terraces and chanted the name of the opposition team. A chorus of support and sympathy for the home fans. This gesture was reciprocated by the Dortmund faithful with a demonstration of pure class. The twitter hashtag #BedsForAwayFans popped up on social media in an attempt to find a place for the French fans stranded in the city as a result of the 24-hour-delay a bed for the night. At a time when you would forgive every household in Dortmund for barricading themselves in their homes, they opened their doors to strangers. It was a beautiful act.
The class of the fans was only matched by the players and coaches at the German Club who not only contributed to a thrilling game of Champions League football but bravely faced the media afterwards to tell their story.
Whilst week in week out we hear quotes from Jose Mourinho blaming his players and casting the blame away from his own door, here we had a lesson in man-management from Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel who told German TV how he would be dealing with his players and guiding them through the aftermath:
“Most of the time, I don’t feel like a leader. I just take care of my guys and my staff. I mean, I have a bit more experience than my players and I told them ‘Don’t worry so much about it, try not to think about it. It does not get much better. Everybody has the right to deal with it in the way they want to. If you want to talk about it, talk. If you want to be silent, be silent. If you need a hug. I’ll hug you!”
It’s the softer side of man-management that we don’t often see and a reminder that a football boss’ job ins’t just about tactics on a chalk board and picking teams. It’s also about relationships and respect.
There were also significant words from Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin who said something we could all do with remembering from time to time.
“I didn’t fully realise what happened until I went home and saw my wife and son waiting by the door. That’s when I felt how lucky we were. I know football is very important, we love football and have a privileged life, but we’re human beings and there’s so much more than football in this world.”
And there we have it.
For all the nonsense that goes around football, there really are more important things in life. It’s easy to forget that.
For all these examples of managerial father figures, respectful fans and emotional players though, the thing that did the most to restore my faith in football was my own reaction, mirrored by every other fan I spoke to.
For a moment last week we forgot that our star striker can’t score goals for toffee or that the cost of a season ticket is the same as a small semi-detached house in Manchester or even the colour of our shirts (and how much we hate those people who wear a slightly different colour shirt). Instead we thought about the PEOPLE involved.
Maybe a piece of that will stay with me in the future but, more likely, I’ll be back to my sarcastic and cynical ways by this time next week.
Incidentally, as we’re talking about class and dignity it’s worth noting that UEFA didn’t “consult” with Bourissa about rescheduling the match. They informed them. Via text message. When Martin Jol’s Tottenham team suffered food poisoning in 2006 they were offered the chance to postpone the game. These guys were involved in a terrorist attack and were not offered the same courtesy. Madness.
You can listen to Jim (usually being funnier and much less serious that this) Satirical football podcast, On The Left Side here: