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Rivals: Schalke 04 vs Borussia Dortmund | The local derby in the Ruhr region

It’s time for the latest edition of the brand new series on Outside of the Boot, with a special tribute to the most intense rivalry in Germany.

As with almost every other rivalry in football, in fact in any sport, there is a heady mixture of geographic, social, and sporting history that defines a fixture. Alex Lynch takes up the challenge of writing about the Revierderby.

When people in Germany think of rivalries, Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke 04 immediately comes to mind. The long history, proximity of the clubs and the success of both clubs has made this game one that fans circle on the calendar every year. As the years have gone on, Dortmund and Schalke being regulars in the Champions League has also made this rivalry that much more special. Dortmund winning the Bundesliga fairly recently combined with Schalke’s title drought has made the fans despise each other that much more.


The history of the Revierderby as it’s called in Germany started way back around 90 years ago. But the cities Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen (home of Schalke) had been close rivals long before that. Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund are right along the Ruhr river, and they provide vital resources to Germany’s economy. Schalke are known for mining, and Dortmund is known for its steel and coal. As the cities continued to fight for economic prosperity, football came into the equation as well.

The first game of this historic rivalry was played in 1925, and Schalke won the match 4-2. As the first leagues in Germany formed, with Schalke and Dortmund included, the rivalry began to heat up. One of the main reasons for this besides the 25 minute drive between each city was the success of Schalke and Dortmund’s inability to compete with them. The Royal Blues were the most successful team in Germany in the 1930s, winning 6 out of 7 possible titles from 1933-45. During this time, Schalke dominated Dortmund as well, winning 14 of 16 meetings with just one loss and a draw. Some of the games were lopsided, with Schalke winning 10-0, 9-0, 7-0 and 6-0 over Dortmund in various contests. The 10-0 win by Schalke is still the most lopsided derby to this day, and that is likely never going to change. And the significance of the match at this point in time was due to location and fans rather than results on the pitch. But soon that would change.

It wasn’t until 1943 when Dortmund got their first win over Schalke in a 1-0 match. The winner was scored by August Lenz, who still lives in the memory of Dortmund fans to this day. And after that game, fortunes started to turn for Borussia. The two clubs didn’t play each other again until 1947 mostly due to the state of Germany at the time. The league that they were in called the Gauliga was disbanded as well. The four year wait came to an end in the Westfalia championship, which Dortmund won 3-2 in the final. Schalke had dominated Dortmund and the area (which has Koln, Bochum, Gladbach etc), but that win signaled that the Royal Blues had competition from Borussia.

Later in 1947, the Oberliga was formed, and the two clubs began to face off on a yearly basis once again. But this time, Dortmund set the tone and dominated the rivalry unlike they ever had before. The win in the Westfalia championship gave Dortmund belief that they could beat Schalke, which they didn’t have before. And during this time, Borussia also won 3 championships in the Oberliga, never letting their guard down against Schalke. Dortmund won 9 of the first 13 clashes between the two sides, and they ended up only losing 7 of the 32 meetings during the Oberliga era. And while they didn’t put up wins like Schalke did in the thirties, Dortmund still beat the Royal Blues by big margins from time to time. The biggest win during this time was 5-1, but most of the games were very close as they still are to this day. The contest featured a lot of draws, and in the 57-58 season and the 60-61 season, both matches were draws. The rivalry had shifted and Dortmund had become the feature team in the contest, but Schalke were always up to the challenge. And later in the Oberliga era, Schalke had become almost even with Dortmund, but they still struggled to beat them. And the changing dominance came with the formation of the current German top flight: The Bundesliga.

From the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963 up until the modern day, the Revierderby has been a close contest but Dortmund had the upper hand at the start. Just like in the Oberliga, they set the tone by winning 8 of the first 10 contests. Dortmund had become the better side, and they were contending for titles as well. But soon everything fell apart, along with their fortunes against Schalke. The Royals Blues beat Dortmund 1-0 late in the 1968 season, and after that match Borussia began to crumble as a club. They got so bad that they ended up getting relegated to the Bundesliga 2. This was one of the darkest times in Dortmund’s history, and they didn’t get to play Schalke again until 1975, three years after Dortmund’s relegation. While Borussia ended up becoming a Bundesliga regular once again, they first needed to reestablish themselves against Schalke. And they did so, by beating them for the first time in 10 years in 1977 as the Black and Yellows had announced their Bundesliga return. And after that match, Dortmund’s domination of their rivals returned, winning 11 Revierderby matches compared to Schalke’s 6 victories. And eventually, just like their rivals, Schalke went on a downward spiral that led to relegation. Schalke got relegated after the 87-88 season, and it took 4 years before the two teams met up again. But it was worth the wait for Schalke supporters, as they beat the eventual 2nd place finishers in Dortmund 5-2, despite having a lot of goalscoring woes.

After both clubs had struggles and triumphs during the 70’s and 80’s, they’ve both  become and remained German powers since then. Dortmund has won 5 league titles and they have the Champions League crown of 1997, and Schalke has won 3 German cups and a couple of 2nd place finishes. The success of the two clubs has made the match as even as anytime in its history, with Schalke only losing 5 matches from 1999 to 2012. The games are close and many of them result in draws. Schalke did have a brief period of dominance over Dortmund when Borussia had financial difficulties as Schalke had a 7 year undefeated streak during this time. But ever since Jurgen Klopp came to Dortmund, they’ve had the upper hand with 3 wins in 5 games in Dortmund and 3 wins in 6 at the Veltins arena. The most recent tie between the two was a 2-2 draw in Gelsenkirchen, with a 4 goal second half that included scuffles and items being thrown onto the pitch. And that second half was enthralling for any viewer as the matches between the two clubs always have been like that.

Key games down the years

Heading into this contest in Dortmund, Schalke were atop the league and looking to end the title drought of almost 50 years. After maintaining the lead for more than 3 months heading into the game, all that Schalke needed to do was to beat Dortmund. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to do so, as Dortmund came away with a 2-0 home victory. Schalke then lost out on the league once again, and the amount that was on the line for Schalke is what makes this game truly famous. To this day, Schalke fans still resent that loss to their rivals as the wait for a league title goes on.

November 1943: Gauliga: This was another famous game for Dortmund fans, as the rivalry between the two was very one sided during this time. As mentioned earlier, Schalke picked up some huge wins, capped off by a 10-0 win in 1940 and a 9-0 win in 1939. But this game began what was a steady change in the rivalry, going from Schalke dominating every year to Dortmund putting up a fight and coming out on top. In this match, Dortmund won 1-0 on a goal by August Lenz and after years without putting up any kind of fight against Schlake, and the rivalry truly began to blossom.

August 1991: Bundesliga: At the time of this game, Dortmund were beginning to show signs of the side that won the Champions League in 1997, while Schalke had just returned to the Bundesliga. Dortmund were favored to win quite easily, and the rivalry had waned because of Schalke’s downturn. But the wait was worth it for Schalke, and they came away with the 5-2 victory. The victory marked the return of Schalke, and the rivalry was ignited once again.

Important Figures

Jens Lehmann: Even though most people might know Lehmann for being the goalkeeper during Arsenal’s invincible season, the German spent most of his career in the Bundesliga. And during his Bundesliga career, he has the distinction of playing for both Dortmund and Schalke. He started his career with Schalke, and becoming a hero after the 1997 UEFA cup while making over 270 appearances in a 10 year stint. After a brief move to Milan, he returned to the Bundesliga and made over 100 appearances for Dortmund. But his most significant moment in the derby came in 1997, when he scored a goal. That’s right, Lehmann scored a stoppage time goal for Schalke against Dortmund in 1997. That goal is one of the many iconic derby memories.

Andreas Moller: A man who will always be remembered for his tenure in Dortmund and National achievements, he also played for Schalke. Moller was a Dortmund legend as he was the backbone of the 90’s dynasty that was Dortmund. He won the Champions League and two league titles with the club, and his technical ability made him a very important player. He also won the World Cup and Euros internationally compiling 85 caps. Then after all of his accomplishments, he joined Schalke on a free transfer. Dortmund fans saw him as a traitor, and Schalke fans didn’t want him either. But eventually he helped guide Schalke to some good seasons including a second place finish. He was accepted by the Schalke fans, and will always be apart of their history as well.

Steffen Freund: Another player who won multiple trophies with Dortmund in the 90’s, the German started off his career as a Schalke player. He then moved to Dortmund after Schalke had financial issues, and he made a huge impact. A part of the EURO 96 German side, he was a key cog for Dortmund in the 1997 Champions League triumph. And his move to Dortmund showed everyone just how much better they were then Schalke at the time. He would later move to Spurs and become a legend with them as well as being a historic figure in this derby.

After all of the history that the Revierderby has produced, some people might expect it to tone down a bit. But that’s not what has happened, in fact, most people would say it’s as intense as ever. From Schalke letting the title slip in 2007 at the Westfalenstadion to Dortmund winning trophies under Jurgen Klopp, and Schalke being a top side as well, the games have all of the reasons to be intense. And the latest contest was no different, with an enthralling 2-2 draw in Gelsenkirchen. 4 goals in the second half, in a game that had it all, the latest contest optimized all that this rivalry is about.

Written by Alex Lynch

Alex Lynch

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