‘Coal, beer, football’: German clubs honour last mine

When Germany's last black coal mine shuts on Friday, it is not just miners who may shed a tear – football fans too will mourn the end of a pillar of the nation's industrial wealth.

'Coal, beer, football': German clubs honour last mine
Miners were invited to watch the Schalke v Leverkusen match on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

“Coal, steel, football and beer are inseparable here, they permeate our culture and our community,” said Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke ahead of the final shift in the mine at Bottrop at the heart of the Ruhr region.

SEE ALSO: End of an era as Germany's last black coal mine closes

This industrial region – rich in coal, the basis of German industry since the 19th century – is also the gritty home of some of Germany's best-loved football clubs.

“Without this mining history, we would not have the clubs we have today, which come directly from the world of mining,” Manuel Neukirchner, director of the football museum in Dortmund, told AFP.

Bundesliga clubs Dortmund and Schalke, the name of a suburb of the city of Gelsenkirchen, are the standard bearers of the densely populated Ruhr basin, colloquially known as the “Ruhrpott”, that is home to five million people. 

Also here are Bochum and Duisburg, who currently play in the second division. Since World War II, the area has boasted seven professional clubs. In Europe, only London has a greater concentration of teams in such a small area.

'You'll Never Walk Alone'

The Bottrop mine lies 10.5 kilometres from Schalke's Veltins Arena.

As a nod to their shared heritage, Schalke on Wednesday invited 2,000 miners for their Bundesliga match against Leverkusen and the name of one of the mine shafts was printed on the players' shirts.

On Saturday, Dortmund players will take their turn to wear the thank-you message “Danke, Kumpel” — a word that in German means both “miner” and “buddy” — on their chests.

“These tributes to a vanished world go straight to the heart of the fans,” said Hartmut Hering, a local football expert.

“For the clubs, it's 80 percent marketing and 20 percent conviction, but in the end everybody is a winner. The clubs know that respect for the tradition is a condition of the support of their fans.”

Football in the Ruhr has always been more than just weekend entertainment – it is the anchor of communal life that celebrates the virtue of solidarity, indispensable in the dangerous work below ground.

It is no accident that Dortmund fans have adopted Liverpool's anthem “You'll Never Walk Alone” to welcome their players before every game.

“The inhabitants of the Ruhr are not individualists. They don't just play football together, they live football together,” said Neukirchner.

'Ruhrpott! Ruhrpott!' 

Schalke was the first stronghold of regional football and won six German league titles between 1934 and 1942.

The Second World War left Germany's industry in ruins and its population hungry, but the Ruhr's coal became a vital resource for the country's reconstruction and the industrial “miracle years” to come.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants flocked there from regions lost by the Reich that are now part of Poland, and mingled with the local population to extract the black gold, followed in the 1960s and 70s by labourers from Turkey.

For the “Kumpel”, football was one of the only distractions and the cement of their new community.

“This was the time when mines supported 'their' teams, using coal as a barter product for footballs, jerseys, shoes, or to host visiting teams,” Hering told AFP.

“The best players had a privileged status to allow them to train. And in those lean years, teams were getting extra food rations.”

“On Sunday everyone was at the stadium, and on Monday back in the mine, we only talked about the match!” recalled Jule Ledorf, a legendary striker of the post-war era, before his death in 2015.

“At the time we couldn't afford to play badly. The whole family was in the stands, and the comrades in the mine would speak to us about it all week, saying 'Hey, Jule, why didn't you put that ball into the back of the net?!”

The heart of industrial Europe, the Ruhr also became the epicentre of football on the continent in 1997 when Schalke and Dortmund won the UEFA Cup and the Champions League a week apart.

“I still get goose bumps when I talk about it,” smiles Neukirchner. “At the time the supporters of the two rival clubs fraternised, and shared the same war cry: 'Ruhrpott! Ruhrpott!'”

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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.