Age in soccer is a funny thing. On the one hand, we’re endlessly bombarded with praise for the latest teen sensation and seemingly every other issue of World Soccer or Four-Four-Two magazine includes a special on “25 rising stars”. On the other hand, football clubs take great pride in their years of origin – the older the better. A great many teams feature their foundation year in their logo and a large percentage of fans can tell you the year their favorite team was founded. I doubt that more than a tiny percentage of baseball or basketball fans could do the same.
The reasons for this confusing relationship of soccer with age are for someone other than me to answer. But considering the importance fans place in the heritage of their beloved clubs, I’m here to pay tribute to a pair celebrating their centenary in 1909 – two clubs with long, action-packed histories, rather interesting names and, by random chance, that also happen to be the local club of two of my favorite soccer columnists.
Regular readers of Phil Ball’s Soccernet column will be quite familiar with the recent travails of the Txuri-Urdin of Real Sociedad. Based in San Sebastian in the Basque country (where Ball resides), Real Sociedad have endured a few tumultuous seasons – finishing second place to Real Madrid in 2003 (despite leading for a long stretch of the season) and then being relegated to the Segunda in 2007 (ending a 30 year run in La Liga). It must come as a great disappointment to the supporters of Erreala to be celebrating one hundred years of football in the second division.
The Royal Football Society (as their official name is so gloriously translated) has its origins in an era when the great game of football was spreading rapidly around the globe, usually by expats from Great Britain or native students who had studied there. San Sebastian was no different and many a local club contested matches in haphazard fashion. The most stable of these early ventures was San Sebastian Recreation Club, who got the ball rolling in 1903. Six years later, prompted by registration complications, the boys entered (and won) the Copa del Rey under the name Club Ciclista.
Later in that year of 1909 – September 17, to be exact – the club was officially registered with the Spanish FA under the name Sociedad de Fútbol. Just five months later the club requested (and received) the patronage of the Spanish king Alfonso XIII and adopted the name Real Sociedad de Fútbol.
The name changing was not quite done for the boys in blue and white. The 1930s were a period of incredible turmoil in Spain – the Spanish Civil War. For a time the Basque region broke free of the center and became an independent country with independent football competitions. In this context everything was politicized – language especially – and football clubs were no exception. In 1931, Real Sociedad changed their name to Donostia Club de Fútbol in recognition of the Basque name for the city of San Sebastian – Donostia. When the Civil War concluded and the city was reunited with Spain the team reverted to the earlier name.
The Txuri-Urdin (Basque for blue and white, the club’s colors) finally won their first league championship in 1981 and then promptly won a second the following year, to date their only league titles. The Eighties also featured a Copa del Rey title in 1987, a Supercopa de España win in 1982 and, to the dismay of traditionalists, the end of the Basques-only policy in 1989. Similar to their great Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad had long fielded only Basque players but the signing of ex-Liverpool legend John Aldridge changed all that. If I’m not mistaken they do still, however, refuse to sign players from the rest of Spain – strictly Basques and non-Spaniards.
In the 1997 Champions League final Borussia Dortmund pulled off a huge upset, beating Italian maestros Juventus 3-1, the final goal scored from midfield by Lars Ricken on his first touch of the game. This victory propelled BVB to a level of name recognition never received before (or since) by the club. Their relative anonymity outside Germany is a puzzle considering their massive fan base fills the 80,000 seat Signal Iduna Park every other weekend, giving Borussia Dortmund one of the highest average attendances in the world.
Turn of the century Dortmund (and the nearby mines and steelworks) received a relatively large number of (mainly Catholic) Polish immigrants. This community needed a gathering place within their predominantly Protestant surroundings and a local Catholic youth organization – Trinity – offered just the thing. In addition to religious instruction the group offered social activities like football. In 1906, a new chaplain Hubert Dewald took charge of Trinity and, much to the disappointment of many of the young men, opposed the organizations member’s playing football and using a nearby pub for meetings.
Revolt was soon in the air and on December 9, 1909, a brand-new club was formed, independent of the Trinity Catholic organization. The name chosen for the club was Borussia, by most accounts chosen for the beer the founders were drinking, which came from the Borussia brewery (now a part of the Dortmunder Actien Breweries).
Naming a football club after your favorite beer? Brilliant!
The Schwarzgelben (Black and Gold) have won the German championship six times in all – three times in the pre-Bundesliga era and three times in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and have a fair number of other trophies in their cabinet – two German Cups, four German Super Cups, a Cup Winners’ Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and the 1997 Champions League. But what’s most impressive about Borussia Dortmund, as previously mentioned, is the incredible popularity of the club.
Opened in 1974 the Westfalenstadion (now the Signal Iduna Park for sponsorship reasons) holds up to 80,000 fans per game and includes a huge standing area on the South end of the stadium – the Südtribüne. While Dortmund itself is only the 7th largest city in Germany, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is the country’s most populous. Despite a string of recent disappointments and crushing financial problems the Dortmunder keep packing in the Signal Iduna Park. In the midst of that mass is Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, pondering his latest idiosyncratic column on German football for Soccernet.
Jeremy Rueter spends far too much time exploring the history of football clubs around this crazy world on his website Albion Road.