In November 2004, when Dr. Reinhard Rauball was elected as president of Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. for the third time, there were absolutely no indications of the positive developments that would take place at the club. Not just on a sporting level - with Bundesliga title wins, cup triumphs and an established place at the top table in Europe - but also on a societal one. BVB knows that it serves as a role model for many people, and it acts accordingly. Something the 74-year-old Black & Yellow president is particularly proud of. A conversation about trust, women and fans. Among other things.
Football cup winners. German champions in women's handball. Promotion to the 3. Liga for the U23s. But: early cancellation of the table tennis Bundesliga season and all youth football leagues; no Torball season. What did you make of the 2020/21 season?
It was a season that was just about bearable in light of the exceptional circumstances. We were very happy about the German Women's Handball Championship win, especially because the federation's decision the season before was not something that anyone understood or accepted. To then win the title so magnificently, without dropping any points, it's fantastic. It was a great team performance for which one can only congratulate the coach, the head of department Andreas Heiermann and all his staff. On the other hand, there are the table tennis players, who barely played a handful of matches and had hardly any training. That's painful. You have to be careful that something doesn't fall away, the athletes themselves or their athletic ability. Not so much at Borussia Dortmund, but it's something I'm worried about in general; I fear there's going to be a reduction of people doing sport, especially the young people, the school pupils, who couldn't do any sport for months. We have to talk about whether or not everything was right in the political decisions that were made.
We should think about how we can make it possible for children and young people to regularly practice sport together again, including in indoor halls. This should be as safe as possible, but without putting up insurmountable hurdles. These efforts need to be given more attention than has been the case in the past. And it must be made clear to the boys and girls who have not done sport that it is essential for their health and that being active in a sports club with other people is one of life's great joys.
During the pandemic, the entire management team's contracts were extended ahead of schedule. The sporting director is set to continue for another year. The club's current board of directors has been in place since 2008. How helpful is this continuity in a crisis?
We are very happy about this. Borussia Dortmund has always overcome difficult situations over the past two decades by building trust at a very early stage. As far as the economic side is concerned, we have managed to a certain extent. But it will be very tight if we don't get this pandemic under control.
Was the club's situation more precarious in 1979 or 1984, when you were called in to save the day? Or are things worse now due to the still unforeseeable consequences of the pandemic?
At that time there were funds from the non-profit sector, but we could not use them for business operations so as not to jeopardise our non-profit status. The financial problems were just one aspect in 1979; the other was the fact that there were five players under contract who were older than the president. That in itself required a serious cut and was one major cause of the club's problems back then. In terms of scale, what happened in 2004 and 2005 was much more significant, because we had to tackle many different problems at once: there were the shareholders, there were the creditors, there were the investors of the Molsiris Fund. It was a stroke of luck that we found exactly the right people in Hans-Joachim Watzke and Thomas Tress, but also a partner like Morgan Stanley. Patrick Lynch and his staff provided support for which we are still incredibly grateful today. So far - to come to the second part of your question - Aki Watzke and his colleagues in the management, Thomas Tress and Carsten Cramer, are keeping the ship on course in stormy seas, if I may choose this image. And the registered association is in no danger whatsoever. At the level of the association and the management there is a great relationship of trust, which is second to none and has been a major factor in the success achieved over the years. We also don't know today what will happen - and what won't - in the 2021/22 season. We are prepared for all eventualities.
"A relationship of trust that is second to none."
When you took up your post for the third time in 2004, BVB was miles removed from what it is now. There was no training ground for the first team, let alone a youth performance centre. The women's handball team were in mid-table, as were the football team. What was the first thing you focused on improving?
The first thing we had to do was solve the problem with the women's handball team. The creditors wanted to cut everything that was running a loss. I then decided with my fellow board members that we would not accept this department being closed down, because Borussia Dortmund has also been a handball club since 1924. With the financial help of sponsors, we succeeded in bringing this department back into the registered club and finding a solution that was sustainable in terms of non-profit status. At the same time, the management pushed for a debt reduction. Only then could the club's sporting development be addressed. This became a lot easier with the signing of Jürgen Klopp.
Borussia Dortmund has opened up: for accessible sport, for women's football. Since 2004 BVB has given its fans their own department in which they can make their voice heard. The club is cosmopolitan and against all forms of intolerance and discrimination. How did this development come about?
The financial crisis of 2004 resulted in a massive loss of trust on the part of fans. The establishment of the fan department led to the supporters getting behind the club again. And through them, too, an approach was introduced that has proved exemplary. For example, the regular visits to the former extermination camps in Poland show that they take on issues that go far beyond sport. I am proud that Borussia Dortmund is not only a football, handball and table tennis club, but also an organisation that lives up to its sense of social responsibility. I am also pleased that our blind footballers are receiving more and more enquiries from people who want to get involved.
You can be seen in the crowd at almost every home game of the women's handball team. Can the women's football team look forward to the same level of support in the local league?
You can be sure of that! My presence in the crowd has nothing to do with the level of success. That said, it was a lot of fun to sit down with the department directors and witness how all the hard work bore fruit.
We've mentioned the success of the football teams - the first team's cup win, the U23s' promotion - and the handballers. What are your expectations for the new season?
The Bundesliga team have always been near the top of the table in recent years. I, and many others, expect that they should once again qualify for the Champions League. For the U23s, it will be hard work making their first season in the 3. Liga a success. Staying in the division should be the goal. The women's handball team have lost their two best players, Kelly Dulfer and Inger Smits, to their biggest rivals. Repeating the outstanding successes of the past two seasons will not be easy. In the end, however, they should finish in either first or second place.
How much are the emotions generated between fans and footballers missed?
Bundesliga matches without fans: it's a different sport entirely! Hearing the permanent shouts from the coaches, the players and the substitutes got on my nerves to be honest. I can't wait for the day when we can play in front of fans in the way we're used to: with 81,000 in the stadium. The current case rates show that we still have a long way to go until we get there.
''Bundesliga matches without fans: it's a different sport entirely!''
Michael Zorc will leave the club in June 2022 after 44 years in Black & Yellow. Can you imagine BVB without him?
My signature is on his first contract, so this is something that's close to my heart. Michael joined us in 1978 and could have become a professional player just one year later. I advised him against it, so that he could play one more season with the amateurs and get regular appearances there, which probably wouldn't have been the case for him in the first team at 17. I can still remember when he signed his first professional contract in 1980 in the presence of his mother. For me personally, Michael Zorc has been a companion from day one. That's what connects us. It's hard to imagine Borussia Dortmund without Michael Zorc. A new era is dawning.
Zorc's succession has been settled early, while in Edin Terzic, another dyed-in-the-wool Borusse is taking on the important newly-created role of technical director. Do you think this approach will pay off?
We are happy that Edin Terzic has decided to stay with us and that those responsible at the KGaA have created this new role. Having Sebastian Kehl - who is now also a veteran, having been at the club for two decades - succeed Michael Zorc is a logical next step.
''My signature is on Michael Zorc's first contract.''
You notice that all members of the management team are proper fans of the club. You also have Hans-Joachim Watzke, Michael Zorc, vice-president Gerd Pieper, treasurer Reinhald Lunow, to name but four. They were either standing in the Rote Erde watching the team win titles in the sixties or represented the club as players...
Borussia Dortmund is a family. There is no other way that we would have reached 153,000 club members, making us the second-largest football club in Germany. In 2004, we had 25,000 members. This is another development that we are proud of.
Borussia Dortmund was instrumental in initiating the "My Friend is a Foreigner" campaign in the early 1990s, supports small clubs through "BVB for Amateurs", has been involved in the expansion of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel with a large donation, and is currently helping people in the region affected by the flood disaster. Does the glamorous world of professional football, which is often criticised, have a special societal role to play through its massive pull?
And if I might add to that list: back in 1980 we organised a charity match against a world XI in aid of UNICEF. The biggest players came along: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Kevin Keegan, Franz Beckenbauer. We've always arranged games like this; the BVB community has always been bound together by the fact that we don't just play football, we also promote social engagement.
''We don't just play football, we also promote social engagement.''
When the pandemic broke out, the fans continued to get involved in many different ways, despite the fact they were locked down for almost a year and a half. They collected donations and did shopping for vulnerable people. And they continue to do so now for the victims of the flood disaster.
It's impressive that this attitude is exemplified time and again. I am proud that, in the many years since I first took charge of Borussia Dortmund, things have developed here in a way that is not only good for the club, but also for society as a whole. Football is better than its reputation. All clubs and many players have their own foundations. All of them do something to benefit wider society. If you were to list all of that then football would be seen in a slightly different light. But yes, there are also things I don't like, but these are individual cases. Not all Bundesliga players eat a golden steak every month.
The former chairperson of the works council, Petra Stüker, said in this magazine on the occasion of her 40th anniversary of service a month ago: "I am convinced that if we address difficult subjects, more attention will be achieved than the ordinary citizen could ever manage on their own."
That's a remarkable phrase, and one I really like. People say that football is losing its fans. I say: football will not lose its fans in the long run. Fans recognise the overall direction the game is going in, even if things happen every now and then that we don't want to see repeated or normalised.
Author: Boris Rupert
Photos: Alexandre Simoes