Dortmund signed Felix Nmecha. But their LGBTQI+ fans feel alienated

Supporters are used to being let down by their club. Frequent disappointment is part of the one-way deal.

But in Dortmund things are different; at least up to a point. The club’s “Echte Liebe” (true love) slogan is easily dismissed as a cynical marketing ploy, but Dortmund are trying harder than most to live up to the implied promise of mutual affection. The Westphalians have been at the forefront of attempts to make football in Germany as inclusive as possible and have shown a genuine concern to tackle social ills such as racism, antisemitism and homophobia on and off the ground. Thanks to Edin Terzic, the former Yellow Wall regular turned head coach, the traditional lines between fans and supporters have also been blurred.

The renewed sense of togetherness was touchingly evident as the 40-year-old wept in front of the “Sud” stand as 25,000 chanted his name in the wake of BVB’s draw with Mainz 05 on the final day of the season. Far from creating division and anger, the team’s late stumble in the title race only strengthened the emotional bond between supporters and those tasked with providing happiness. Terzic knew how it felt up on the terraces to see your dreams crushed. Their pain was his.

Felix Nmecha (Photo: Hendrik Deckers/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)

For die-hard supporters like Larissa (who, like all fans quoted in this article, wants to use only her first name), an editor at digital fanzine, the community spirit on display in May far outweighed the sadness of lose. at the championship. Like many members of BVB’s active fan scene, she couldn’t wait for the new campaign to start and bring everyone back together in black and yellow.

Then Dortmund signed midfielder Felix Nmecha from VfL Wolfsburg a week ago. Sporting defeats do not compare to the dismay she and other LGBTQI+ supporters have felt at the club’s handling of the transfer of the 22-year-old Germany international.

“We have received many messages from affected people who are disappointed and cannot believe what has happened,” says Larissa, who describes herself as queer. Athletics. “Dortmund have built a reputation for themselves as role models fighting discrimination in recent years, but they don’t fully understand what the problem is and what it means.”

She says as long as the club or the player fails to make amends, she will not go to Signal Iduna Park. A friend wants to use his season ticket in her place.

In February, Nmecha, a devout Christian, shared an Instagram post by US conservative pundit Matt Walsh mocking the parent of a transgender child. After a backlash on social media, Nmecha wrote that he disagreed “with the majority of what Matt Walsh says and how he mocks people”, but offered no apology. In another Instagram story that coincided with the beginning of Pride month in June, he shared a message that equated pride with satanic worship.

As rumors of a possible €30m (£25.7m; $33m) move to Dortmund intensified late last month, the club’s active fan scene voiced their opposition. Larissa and others wrote articles reminding the club of its Grundwertekodex – a code of universal values ​​adopted at the November 2022 general meeting. It states that BVB considers itself “a diverse, inclusive community” and “a home for all Borussen regardless of age , appearance, gender, sexual identity or orientation, culture, religion, skin colour, nationality or social background”.

Outside the BVB club headquarters, anti-discrimination supporter group ballspiel.vereint! held up a banner imploring the club to consider their values ​​as well.

BVB president Reinhold Lunow and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke met with Nmecha. Lunow admitted to having “big concerns about him sharing Borussia’s values” before and admitted the player had posted content “that could definitely be interpreted as homophobic or anti-queer”. But Nmecha, he said, had “assured him” that he shared Dortmund’s universal values ​​and would act accordingly.

“He completely convinced us during intensive conversations that he has no transphobic or homophobic beliefs,” Lunow added in a joint statement with Watzke, who was quoted by Suddeutsche Zeitung as describing Nmecha as “a very normal boy” a few days earlier. Sporting director Sebastian Kehl called the new arrival “gracious and open” and asked that he be given “a fair chance”. The player was “part of our family, of course we will defend him”, the 43-year-old said. Terzic, meanwhile, expressed the hope that Jude Bellingham’s designated successor could “develop as a footballer and as a person” during his time in Westphalia.

Nmecha himself posted a photo of himself embracing VfB Stuttgart’s Josha Vagnoman in a rainbow colored shirt. “I love all people and don’t discriminate against anyone,” he wrote, later insisting the offensive Instagram stories had been taken “out of context”.

It all doesn’t quite fit together, says Christian, who speaks for the LGBTQI+ fan group Rainbow Borussen. Athletics. “Nmecha is still young and can learn. But these days professional footballers are all media trained. It is hard to believe that he did not know what he was writing. He says it (the posts) was taken out of context, but he didn’t address the content of it. He could have distanced himself quite easily. BVB should have done the same, but they prioritized their sporting interests.”

That neither the club nor the player saw fit to explicitly reject these hurtful posts also upset Larissa. “It’s not enough for four straight men to decide for themselves that Nmecha is not homophobic. If only Dortmund and the player would have shown the slightest bit of introspection and distanced themselves. BVB should have condemned the posts as discriminatory bulls**t. But nothing. The damage has already been done.”

When Dortmund considered bringing back Mario Gotze three years after his controversial move to Munich in 2016, the club sought supporters’ opinions beforehand. It is a mystery to Rainbow Borussen member Christopher why they were not heard in this matter. “As an affected group of people, we would have liked to have our opinions and concerns heard (before the transfer). But unfortunately we were not listened to by the club,” he says.

It is the feeling that their views and concerns were ignored by their own club that upsets the LGBTQI+ supporters the most. “I think BVB think, ‘We’ve done really well and have been very sensitive,'” says Larissa. “But I don’t feel like they’ve really been paying attention.”

Watzke did not help matters when he suggested that opposition to Nmecha’s messages was primarily of concern to a niche section of followers. “The normal football crowd doesn’t care,” he said in Sueddeutsche. “First of all, they expect football from football.” (According to a club source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their position, Watzke’s quotes were not approved before publication, as is customary in the German press. However, Broadsheet has not made any changes to the article.)

“When you suggest that ‘normal fans’ don’t really care, you open the door to those who want to marginalize and discriminate against minorities,” says Christopher. These fears have been confirmed by plenty of anti-LGBTQI+ messages on BVB-related social media channels, Larissa has noted. “If Nmecha is not homophobic, he must be upset that many homophobes have come out with hateful comments in his slipstream. I would love to talk to him and understand why he wrote this.”

It’s important, she adds, to understand that anti-LGBTQI+ hostility is not an abstract problem or “some kind of vigilante madness.” Last September, Malte C, a transgender man in Munster, an hour’s drive from Dortmund, was beaten to death during the Christopher Street Day Pride parade when he intervened to stop the assailant from insulting the participants. Hate is on the rise in Germany. The right-wing party AfD regularly measures around 20 percent nationally. In Dortmund, an even more extreme nationalist party has a seat on the council.

Christopher believes that one positive that can be taken from this affair is that it has been widely covered in the German media and has sparked discussion. “This whole thing feels like it belongs to another, long-forgotten era. There is no place in society for homophobia and transphobia, there can be no tolerance for intolerance. But it’s good that it’s not just brushed under the carpet. Supporters are taking a stand. This issue has received a lot of attention, a lot of people have been made aware of the issue and there is a proper debate about these kinds of comments and behaviour.”

But that doesn’t make cheering for Nmecha in a yellow shirt any more palatable to those hurt by his post. “I will find it difficult (to support him on the pitch),” says Christian. “Sebastian Kehl said: ‘He is one of us, we will protect him’. But what about protecting us?”

The club have reportedly hedged their financial risk in signing Nmecha by inserting a strict penalty clause if he sends any more discriminatory messages. However, they do not expect widespread protests at the stadium, unlike the masses of banners in the Sud stand that opposed outside investors taking part of the league’s television rights in May.

Most followers, Watzke surmises, probably won’t mind a few Instagram posts from a 22-year-old. Maybe a few people will hold their noses and seemingly keep quiet if Nmecha plays well next season, but only the tiniest minority will feel strong enough to consider taking Larissa’s lead and stay away altogether.

And that is the crux of the matter. The Nmecha transfer serves as a painful reminder that even in a crowd of 81,000, a section of fans are still very much on their own at times.

(Top photo: Hendrik Deckers/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)

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