There would be no chances taken this time. Borussia Dortmund’s team bus, roughly 22 hours after its windows had been blown out in a bomb plot of precise, ghastly orchestration, was not about to stop for anybody.
It made the journey from Brackel training ground to Signal-Iduna Park at a lightning clip, led by three police outriders and not even stopping for red lights as it crossed a main road. Such were the imperatives for a club still trying to make some sense, indeed any sense at all, of the grotesque act perpetrated against it.
Many in Borussia’s bumblebee colours felt that Wednesday night’s hastily-rearranged Champions League quarter-final was a burden too far. Marc Bartra, their star centre-back, lay in hospital with his right arm in a full-length cast after being showered with shards of glass. Roman Bürki, the goalkeeper who had been sitting next to the Spaniard, could be forgiven for not focusing squarely on the game. Little wonder that manager Thomas Tuchel felt uneasy about the whole affair. “We would have wished for more time to process this,” he said. “But we try to divert ourselves as best we can.”
A 3-2 home defeat to Monaco felt fleetingly like an escape. Under heavy Westphalian skies, a hope endured that football could, through the endless see-sawing changes of this match, palliate the horrors of the night before. But the questions over such a rushed restaging would not recede. After all, the 11 young men who took to the field had, quite clearly, been the subject of a murder attempt. Now they were expected to work out the intricacies of marking Kylian Mbappé as if it had never happened.
It seemed a perverse logic, especially when both sides had gaps in their schedule next week, not to give Dortmund players time to heal psychologically. Suits at Uefa headquarters in Nyon decreed otherwise, however, and here we are. In the circumstances, Dortmund performed superbly, hitting back at Monaco’s relentless attacks through goals from Ousmane Dembélé and Shinji Kagawa. And yet a sense of inappropriateness lingered, a suspicion that cold matters of logistics had trumped concerns for a team who could not possibly believe assurances that they were safe.
Just how disorientated they felt was spelt out in stark terms by Nuri Sahin, who came on as a second-half substitute. “It’s hard to talk about it, to find the right words,” the midfielder told Norwegian television. “Until I was on the pitch I didn’t think about football, to be honest. Last night, when I went home and my wife and son were waiting for me at the door, I realised how lucky we were. We love football, we suffer with football. I know we earn a lot of money and lead a privileged life, but we are human beings.”
— Viasat Fotball (@ViasatFotball) April 12, 2017
Of all the clubs in Germany, Dortmund had good reason to suppose they were protected from efforts to kill them. The hotel where they had been staying, the L’Arrivée, is a byword for bucolic calm. A luxurious retreat on the outskirts of the Niederhofer forest, it is the type of place, according to German idiom, wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute nacht sagen (where the fox and hare bid each other good night).
It is not an environment where anybody expects three bombs to be planted. But on the narrow, tree-lined Wittbräuckerstrasse, their illusions of innocence were shattered just as surely as the glass of their blacked-out bus. “I get goosebumps,” said Sahin, remembering the terror etched across the features of team-mate Marcel Schmelzer. “I will never forget Schmelzer's face. It was unbelievable.”
The prevailing sense in Dortmund on Wednesday was of something obscene having been done not just to the club, but the community. Borussia represent the one great constant of life here, the one consistent unifier through decades of convulsive ethnic and cultural change in the Ruhr Valley.
The suggestion that its players had been the subject of a co-ordinated attack – with one letter claiming responsibility and demanding that Germany scale back its military involvement in Syria – cut deep. The conspirators chose a target of huge symbolic power. As Dierk Borstel, a political scientist in the city, said: “If an extremist movement wants to meet society at its core, then it does so with an attack on BVB.”
It was this notion that injected an undercurrent of defiance into an anxious atmosphere. Hans-Joachim Watzke, the club chief executive had, unlike Tuchel, been insistent that the match went ahead, even delivering an emotional address in the Dortmund dressing room to press his point. “The most important thing is that democracy and our basic freedoms are being scrutinised, and we need to strengthen them,” he said. “The players are making a worldwide contribution.”
In their ambassadorial capacity, neither Dortmund nor their disciples could be faulted. In a stirring act of solidarity, scores of fans put up Monaco supporters for an extra night, on sofas or in spare bedrooms. Overnight, the hashtag #bedforawayfans had become a social-media craze. As such, the febrile antagonism usually found at this stage of the Champions League was nowhere to be seen. Nabil, one of the travelling band who stayed on, said: “I come from Paris, so I know how it feels when this happens to your city. We all feel, a little bit, like Dortmunders now.”
Armed police thronged every stretch of spare concourse on Wednesday night, while sniffer dogs scoured 80,000 seats that rapidly emptied at the final whistle. There was even a brief alarm when two unidentified rucksacks were found in the south-west corner of the stadium, before being declared safe.
Germany is jittery, unsure quite how to react to the latest escalation of evil in its midst. Its grounds have dealt with the threat of terrorism before, not least when the national team’s match with Holland had to be cancelled four days after the Paris atrocities in 2015, but the reality today casts a grave shadow. The attack is over, for the moment, but the trauma remains.