'We are one family' - Inside Borussia Dortmund's women's team dream
On a cold winter night in 2019, Borussia Dortmund and Paderborn played out an incredible six-goal thriller at Signal Iduna Park, the hosts fighting back from 3-0 down to salvage a point thanks to Marco Reus’ stoppage-time equaliser.
It’s a game that will live long in the memory for those in attendance, such was the drama that unfolded on the pitch, but what happened in the stands is what makes 22/11/19 an historic date for this club.
There was a banner in the crowd which read, ‘Football is for everyone. Women’s team now!’
Svenja Schlenker, the head of women’s football at Dortmund, today describes it as a statement that would “kick off” serious thoughts and conversations about delivering exactly what the fans desired.
So it came to pass that in July 2021 Borussia Dortmund launched a girls’ and women’s football department.
The long-term ambition? To reach the Frauen-Bundesliga.
BVB is still some way away from that final aim. That’s because when Schlenker sent a survey to fans about a possible women’s team, which 89 per cent were keen on, the supporters didn’t want the club to buy a licence to begin higher up the footballing pyramid.
They wanted to do it “the Dortmund way” and start from the bottom, in the seventh tier.
It means instead of playing Der Klassiker against Bayern Munich, they are facing teams like SF Westfalia Hagen and PSV Bork.
“Football is for everyone - women’s team now!”— Matt Ford (@matt_4d) November 23, 2019
Banner from Borussia Dortmund anti-discrimination initiative @bvereint against Paderborn last night.
The subject may be raised at Sunday’s AGM, although I’m not aware that any official motion has been submitted.
📷 @schwatzgelbde pic.twitter.com/dtwHqxsMRC
But there was another challenge to face before thinking about the flurry of promotions needed to reach the top flight.
BVB Frauen was established during the Covid-19 pandemic and it meant that the club couldn’t even hold trials for players because of social distancing.
“I always had the dream to have a full black-and-yellow weekend with training sessions for the interested girls and women, to invite every girl and every woman who wants to play football in our jersey,” Schlenker says. “But it wasn't allowed, unfortunately.
“We had to decide to do some video sessions. We asked players to do some dribbling and some coordination etc., and they had to tell us something about themselves.
“Then, we watched everybody's videos, all the coaches and me and my team. We watched every video once or twice and there were more than 150, so it took a lot of time!
"Then, we were allowed to do two training sessions with the best 50 girls and through these two evenings we were able to decide who would join our squad.”
Fortunately, thanks to video calls and small meetings of two people being allowed, appointing a head coach was a little easier – not that it was straightforward.
Schlenker, who is a massive Dortmund fan, was seeking someone just as passionate about the club as herself.
“It was important for me that [the coaches] understood what Borussia Dortmund is, what this brand is about and, of course, they need to know what it means to work for BVB. They had to be able to live it, to represent the club,” Schlenker explains.
“It was very easy with our head coach (Thomas Sulewski) because he was born in Dortmund, he has a season ticket for the big stadium.
"He already trained a women’s team in the third league so he also had experiences as a coach and especially as a women's coach. This was easy in the end.
“As for the girls, they are all black and yellow in their hearts. It's a big pleasure for them to play for the club they love.”
It is fitting that it was action from the supporters, in the stands for the game against Paderborn, that proved the catalyst for this journey, because they are at the heart of BVB Frauen’s construction.
“We already have two fan clubs,” Schlenker says. “We have a big group of fans who join us everywhere!
“We did a trip to Poland at the beginning of the year and they came by car. It was so cold but they wanted to see the game – our first international friendly. They joined us at the training camp in Austria.
“They always celebrate the girls. We often talk to each other and they sing 'Happy Birthday' if one of the girls celebrates a birthday.
"We are very, very close to each other and I hope this will also be the case in the future.”
This dedicated following is not the only thing that makes the women’s team feel like a genuine part of BVB already.
The club has really committed to the project, providing excellent training facilities and a home ground that is right next to Signal Iduna Park.
Carsten Cramer, BVB’s managing director, is a regular at games and gives speeches to the team before and after the season.
Edin Terzic, head coach of the men’s team, is another of several visitors from the men’s side, while former goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller recently put on a special training session for the goalkeepers.
“They all feel very close to the rest of the club,” Schlenker explains. “We are one family.”
As this club rises up the pyramid and has a squad that has been together for some time, it’s likely we will see them start to look like a Dortmund team in the way they play, too.
For now, though, it’s about reaching the top tier as quickly as possible. In theory, they could get there for the 2027-28 season, but the club is neither expecting nor demanding a flawless rise.
They will not attempt to speed up the promotion process if it means sacrificing their sense of unity and there is no better example of their togetherness than one particular moment from last year...
Schlenker used to play football when she was younger but could never dream of playing for Dortmund as there was no women’s team. So, last season, the club did something wonderful.
“Due to Covid, half of our team was ill so our coach said to me, 'Svenja, you stopped playing football a few years ago, I know, but maybe we will need you on Sunday,'” she recalls, with a huge smile on her face.
“I said, 'Okay, I will join the team.' I played for 30 minutes. I didn't score! But my dream came true. It was pretty cool and I will never forget it. I have the pictures, the video and the original shirt from the game.
“I'll keep that moment in my heart forever.”
This club has huge ambition – but it’s clear that keeping the fans at the centre of the project is just as important. That is what Borussia Dortmund are all about. That is the Borussia Dortmund way.