They have long since lost faith in the football god at FC Schalke 04. The great Rudi Assauer personally ordered this special form of atheism to the royal blue fan community as manager after the dramatically missed championship in 2001. And yet, even today, sometimes some higher forces seem to be at play when the footballers of this club perform their very special dramas.
Like the vital 2-1 victory against VfB Stuttgart on Saturday evening, which was not only played in a beguiling stadium atmosphere. There was a subtle irony in the story of the evening, as if some creative spirit was involved.
For weeks, Schalke had not scored a single goal, the lack of striker talent and quality was a constant topic in Gelsenkirchen. And now Marius Bülter scored a goal to make it 2-0, which was more complicated than any other goal scored on this Bundesliga Saturday: an artful shot with the hoe into the long corner, which also seemed amazingly simple in its beauty.
The limits of what is tolerable
In addition, Ralf Fährmann pursued the intention in the Schalke goal, after four previous duels, which ended 0:0, to maintain the myth of their own insurmountability. Until a completely harmless ball flooded through his legs to make it 2-1; neutral spectators could only laugh. For all Schalke, the final phase of the game became a showdown whose thrill reached the limits of what was bearable.
All Schalke's hopes, fears, weaknesses and strengths became visible after Borna Sosa's connecting goal as if under a magnifying glass, before a big message stood at the end: Nothing is reliable, everything is possible at this crazy football location, including staying in the league. "We are the number one in the pot" sang the fans and drove the game with the contradictions to the extreme; after all, arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund had conquered first place in the table three hours earlier with a win against TSG Hoffenheim, and Schalke is still bottom of the table behind VfL Bochum.
But the usual evaluation mechanisms are irrelevant under the influence of the magic that the Stuttgart Sosa had also felt. "There is perhaps a bit of fear, because the atmosphere was very, very strong," said the Croatian, and VfB goalkeeper Fabian Bredlow explained: "They bought us the edge, they were simply more toxic than us, they were more grippy, they started with a completely different intensity."
Special connection with the fans
That was the translation of Schalke's success forces into the language of football. In fact, the energy difference was spectacular, especially in the first half, in this relegation duel. "Something has emerged," said Bülter, referring not only to the greatly improved footballing quality, which has a lot to do with the skills of central defender Moritz Jenz, who was loaned out from Celtic in the winter. And with the return of Rodrigo Zalazar and the strength of Alex Kral, who all feel that they can't somehow finish the season here, as would be possible in Hoffenheim or Augsburg.
There is this special connection with the fans, who had aggressively demanded commitment and dedication after a harrowing 1-6 defeat to RB Leipzig and apparently reached the players. The team does not have to play particularly great football, but "kick every opponent at least the fucking lawn", had demanded a speaker from the circle of ultras at the time.
After this victory, another demanding speech was held, after all, two Revierderbies are imminent. This form of exchange is a balancing act, because it was not so long ago that the players were chased through the arena and even beaten by people from the fan environment after relegation in 2021. But at the moment, the connection works. "It is now the case that we have put ourselves in a good starting position," said coach Thomas Reis.
The fear of losing something
Next Saturday, Schalke can overtake their rivals from the neighbouring city in the small derby at VfL Bochum on their own, before BVB will be guests in Gelsenkirchen the week after. It can be considered certain that this vibrating energy, which was created against VfB Stuttgart under the closed roof of the football hall, will be effective again. The team had "left their hearts on the pitch," said Fährmann, "everyone who was in the stadium got goose bumps today."
In the meantime, the small series of success with now five games without defeat has also strengthened self-confidence, "The last few weeks give us extreme strength," said midfielder Tom Krauss, and in fact, Schalke are again on an equal footing with the competition in terms of football. However, and the game against VfB also showed that the enormous emotionality in the club has a dark side. When the team after the connecting goal "once again had in mind to lose something", courage and sovereignty were lost, said Reis. And this will probably happen to the team more often during the coming weeks.