During the second half last night, as Borussia Dortmund were labouring to get their way through the massed ranks of Malaga’s midfield, the commentator, Kai Dittmann, said a peculiar thing: “It’s not much fun, and a lot of hard work for Dortmund.” The poor buggers, I thought to myself, just before I started my own impression of the fiddler crab, nature’s most sarcastic crustacean, which has one oversized claw and always seems to be playing a winking refrain on the world’s smallest violin.
Lots of work and not much fun. Poor Dortmund. Here they are playing in one of the greatest nights in the European football calendar. Here they are earning millions while we can only gawp like slack-jawed yokels at their technique and speed. Poor Dortmund. Someone should have told that to Kristjan Vidovic on Sunday, for it was he who immediately sprung to mind.
He was playing in the Landesliga, the seventh division, for BFC Alemannia 90 against Sparta Lichtenberg when, after only about five minutes, he took a ball to the chest, that was struck so hard it was as if he had inhaled it into his ribcage. He was just in front of me, out by the left hand touchline, and I could hear the brutal wheezing as he desperately gasped for air. Not much fun playing for Dortmund? It took him a few minutes to get himself back together, but when he had done that, and after about another 20 or so minutes, he went up for a 50/50 ball in his own penalty box. A “crrrrack” rung around the small stadium. He had clashed heads with an opposing striker, skull met hard, cold skull, and again it was the sound, that crack, bouncing off the walls and around and around in all of the spectators heads that was the worst thing. Though maybe not for him. For Vidovic the pain was probably worse.
Lots of work and not much fun. Dortmund were struggling at that point in their game, and then they would go a further goal down, but things would change in the most astonishing and beautifully chaotic of circumstances. The guy next to me in the kneiper was a Dortmund fan. He picked up his black and yellow scarf and wrapped it around his black and yellow clad shoulders, leaving to buy some fags with a couple of minutes to go and with his side still losing. By the time he trudged back in everything had changed, and his side had scored twice, securing a victory that will be talked of for as long as we have bungling referees and tasteless kits designed for small boys and fat men.
Vidovic picked himself up after another couple of minutes and came back to the game at hand. He looked a bit sluggish, but then, to be fair, he hadn’t exactly been setting the world on fire before the clash either. He shrugged his shoulders again whilst offering a choice selection of words at his holding midfielder – the sechser – who had just given away another pass with a complete lack of care or attention. Vidovic kept running though, he kept trying to create some space up the lonely left wing, to try and exploit a gap or to run onto a decent ball for once.
It didn’t happen. Vidovic’s side, Alemannia, lost 8-0. They were crushed, eviscerated, but still the winger kept trying. Despite being winded, and despite his inept teammates, despite the score line and despite the smattering of fans who all supported the other team. Despite the crack of skull on skull he kept trying. The excitement that I felt watching the last three minutes of the Dortmund win last night was quite incredible, it was an adrenaline shot of nowhere, a one in a million comeback, but then that is what these guys are paid so well for. They are paid for hard work, and at the end it also looked like a hell of a lot of fun.
This is not meant to ascribe a kind of moral superiority to losing in the Landesliga as opposed to winning in the Champions League, and for all I know there might be a perverted kind of puritanical streak running through Vidovic that meant he had the time of his life in that game on Sunday.
But certainly, if Kristjan Vidovic was watching the game last night on SKY and he heard Dittmann’s words “lots of work and not much fun”, and he probably did a little fiddler crab impression to himself too. Hard work? They don’t know the half of it.