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Tetanus shots and wounded pride – The Revierderby dogbite of 1969

I’m trying to picture it in my mind’s eye now. “Hang on lads.” says the young, ambitious but wet behind the ears city council-man. “What the city really needs... Is a lion park!”

His fellow counsellors all roll their eyes in exasperation but for fear of avoiding yet another late-night they vote to approve the opening of a lion park in a forest just outside the city of Gelsenkirchen and against all the odds the Löwenpark is built. I like to think that there’s a heart-warming 2-hour TV special on the hard work and sacrifices that led to the construction and assembly a colony of lions just outside a mining town in the heart of the Ruhr in 1968. Perhaps there will be an amusing interlude where one of big cats escapes only to help rescue a small child who got lost in the mines.

Slightly more realistic (but no less fictional) was the park ranger receiving a call from one Günter Siebert in January 1970 asking to borrow one of the lions so he could use him as a mascot in a forthcoming football match. It’s possible that the ranger thought the request was mad but then remembered that he was standing in a lion park in Gelsenkirchen and figured he was probably mad too so went along with it.

Günter Siebert was the president of Schalke and was it is fair to say that he had a colourful personality. Nicknamed “Oskar” after a popular TV character at the time, Siebert spent his entire playing career in the Royal Blue of Schalke and helped the club with the National Championship in 1958. A man of good humour, Siebert contacted our imaginary ranger in order to exact a bit of good-natured payback on Schalke’s local rivals Borussia Dortmund.

The plan for the lion was as ingenious as it was petty. Before kick-off in the forthcoming home fixture against BVB, the on-loan king of the jungle would be the unofficial mascot and be paraded in front of an appreciative crowd and bemused assortment of players and officials. And so it was, on 31st January 1970 that one of the Gelsenkirchen lions, complete with handler and choke chain was paraded around the pitch. In fairness, it was not a fully-grown lion, but a lion it was.

The reason for this stunt, beyond that fact that there’s not much else going on in Gelsenkirchen was as a good-natured riposte to an incident that occurred in the reverse fixture, the previous September 1969 at the Stadion Rote Erde, then home of Borussia Dortmund. 

The Rote Erde still exists today. It’s the athletics stadium next to the Westfalen Stadion and BVB still play their youth and second team fixtures (and hopefully their women’s team) at this ground. Safety regulations being what they are today, the stadiums capacity is only 10,000 for football matches. However, back in the 60s you could, and did, squeeze as many as 42,000 onto those terraces. It was packed to the rafters on that September afternoon in 1969 for the Revierderby between Dortmund and Schalke. 

Back then, the Mother of all Derbies as it is known may not have quite the same intensity as it does today. German football fan culture was not as developed in 1969 as it is now. That said there was still a tremendous rivalry between these two sporting and economically competing cities in the Ruhrgebiet district of North Rhein Westphalia. So when Hans Pirkner scored the opening goal for the visitors on 37 minutes the travelling Schalke fans over exuberated and stormed the pitch. There was were no perimeter fences back then. Just intimidating security types usually in thick coats with German Shepherds on leashes.

In the minutes that followed the pitch became a mass of fans and player from both clubs plus the odd guard dog. One of which, a feisty pooch called “Blitz”, got over excited and took a bite out of two Schalke players, Friedel Rausch and Gerhard Neuser. The latter withdrew to the dressing room with a bite on his thigh. However, Rausch was bitten firm on the backside and needed a tetanus shot before bravely playing on like the hard-arsed defender of which he was reputed to be.

“There were no substitutions back then” Rausch told DW Sport “so I had to play through. I got a bandage and a Tetanus shot against infection at half-time. That was it. Then I continued to play." 

The owner of the roving rover was initially thought to be the Polizei. However, it’s been reported elsewhere that the hound was in fact owned by a Dortmund fan. I went searching for a podcast series investigating the true owner of the dog but to no avail. Someone missed a trick there. Anyway, the hund left more than a physical mark on Rausch, which he bore for years after the event. Rausch would frequently be greeted on the streets by locals making barking noises. He was compensated by Borussia Dortmund with some flowers and 300 marks in cash. 

The match finished 1-1, by the way. Because of the pitch invasion and subsequent hi-jinx, the German FA ruled that all guard dogs, presumably including ones masquerading as such, should be muzzled. Another consequence was that a lion had to be dragged from the idyllic location of the Löwenpark to be paraded in front of thousands of Schalke fans at the Glückauf-Kampfbahn stadium the following January. Siebert considered the gesture a gentle gibe and it was taken as such. 

If there were any animal rights activists that raised any objections to the treatment and exploitation of this magnificent beast then presumably, they were told to sod off and come back in 2021 when someone might give a damn. 

The Löwenpark stayed open until 1988. After its closure, its residents relocated to a zoo in Spain. The old buildings in the park where my imaginary ranger worked are now a Chinese Restaurant who, I sincerely hope, accept far more orthodox take-out orders.

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