The 156th Ruhr derby will go down in history – partly as the biggest BVB win since 1966, but mostly as the strangest derby ever. "The experience of a game behind closed doors was surreal. But you have to get to grips with it while there are no alternatives," said Hans-Joachim Watzke in a telephone interview with Ruhr Nachrichten.
Lars Ricken also had "mixed feelings" about the derby. Speaking on the BVB Net Radio after watching an entertaining 90 minutes of action, he said: "In footballing terms, it was a wonderful advertisement for the Bundesliga and for BVB too. Half of the sporting world was watching." They were treated to some very well-worked goals too, with Erling Haaland, Thorgan Hazard and Raphael Guerreiro (two) scoring to seal a 4-0 victory that was never really in doubt. Schalke could have struck the first blow, but goalkeeper Roman Bürki made a strong save with his foot.
"This was no different from the game we used to play when we were children. Without spectators, just having fun. You could see that was the case for the team today," said the Swiss shot-stopper post-match. Julian Brandt had already described it as a game "like we used to play as kids" in the days leading up to kick-off. The midfielder had a great game, with a hand in all four goals – two direct assists and two indirect assists. "In a situation like this, you have to try and have fun. And we did at times. And what better way to resume our campaign than with a win? We performed well, even if it wasn't perfect. I thought it was good for the first game after such a long time. We can build on this." Brandt was one of five Black & Yellows who were included in Kicker magazine's Team of the Round.
Even without the support of their fans, the Black & Yellows managed to extend their home run. BVB have now scored 45 goals in their past 13 matches at Signal Iduna Park – an average of almost 3.5 goals per match. The club are still unbeaten at fortress Strobelallee this season and remain hot on the heels of league leaders Bayern Munich, who re-established their four-point cushion at the summit on Sunday evening courtesy of a 2-0 victory at Union Berlin. Sporting director Michael Zorc was highly satisfied with the performance ("All in all a very good display"), especially as six players – Reus, Sancho, Witsel, Can, Zagadou and Schulz – were unavailable and Gio Reyna got injured in the warm-up. But Zorc was at pains to point out: "A derby without fans makes your heart bleed."
Their absence was keenly felt by the players, who spontaneously – the way it usually is, the way it has to be – ran over to the South Stand after the final whistle. A monument of concrete and steel, it was empty on Saturday and will remain so until the end of the season at least. "It was a spontaneous idea, not planned, not discussed beforehand," said Brandt. "The team was giving a round of applause for all of our supporters who were watching on TV," explained Sebastian Kehl. Over 10 million TV viewers tuned into Sky, ARD and ZDF for the six Saturday matches.
"Many people were amazed by the Bundesliga and German politics, which had the courage to enable a return to match operations on the basis of a detailed concept. The UEFA President congratulated us on the smooth running, the English broadcast our matches and gave them lengthy coverage, and the league was on the front pages of the four Spanish sports newspapers on Sunday," declared BVB boss Hans-Joachim Watzke in an interview with Ruhr Nachrichten.
There is a feeling of relief that the restart went without a hitch. International media believe it could pave the way for other countries. "Psychologically and symbolically, it was a great moment. There is now a model that the rest of Europe can follow," wrote the American magazine Sports Illustrated, adding: "As a spectacle it may not be perfect, but it is what we have. With or without fans, football is football." In the Netherlands, De Volkskrant stated: "It may be a substitute without fans, but a substitute is better than nothing."
It was a start, in any case. Hans-Joachim Watzke said: "I'll only be happy when we are able to play in front of our supporters again. It hurts without them."