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The home dressing room at Signal Iduna Park is not very big. Nor is it fancy. There are no floor-to-ceiling mirrors or boutique lockers, or even any suggestion that the last 30 years have happened.

When Borussia Dortmund’s players sit in there on Saturday afternoon, ahead of the game against Mainz that could confirm them as German champions, they will take their places on rows of wooden benches, underneath simple metal pegs. Edin Terzic will stand at one end, running through the last set of instructions, before it’s time for his players to seize what they’ve wanted for days, weeks, months and even years.

Some of those players will get that chance again. Jude Bellingham will spend much of his career in that thin air. Mats Hummels already has. But for others, even those who won the DFB-Pokal two years ago, the chance to win a league title will come once and once only.

Paul Lambert knows what it’s like to sit in that dressing room. He likes that it’s never changed.

“That’s what makes it what it is. You don’t get players coming in there and being aloof or snobby.”

The former midfielder is an adopted son of the Ruhr Valley. By chance, really. When his Motherwell contract ended in 1996, opportunities elsewhere never materialised and instead of ascending into the Old Firm rivalry or moving down to England, he found himself — via a failed move to PSV Eindhoven — on trial at Dortmund.

Ottmar Hitzfeld liked what he saw and signed him but with the intention that Lambert would sit on the bench and provide back-up for Paulo Sousa, not that he would start almost every game, nullify Zinedine Zidane in a Champions League final and become an indelible part of the club’s history.

When Lambert describes those days and the scenes in the Dortmund dressing room before big games, it sounds magical.

“It used to be quiet before we played. Mr Hitzfeld would use small words and we’d all join hands, and then wait for the captain to speak.”

The dressing room, then, was the eye of the storm, a place of refuge as the occasion banged at the walls.

The more Lambert describes his Dortmund career, the more it sounds like a voyage of discovery. Understandably so, because in 1996 the Bundesliga atmosphere was yet to be mythologised. Tales of it weren’t told on television or on YouTube, or even really in print, and so he would have experienced the cultural differences fresh and first-hand.

They struck Lambert the first time he stepped out for a competitive game at the Westfalenstadion.

“I went out for the warm-up and thought, ‘Oh my god, it’s nearly full’. The crowds were singing and the music was playing and I just thought, ‘Jesus, what’s it going to be like when the game starts?’ It was incredible.”

Today, he stands shoulder to shoulder with any of the players from that team. Nevertheless, when he arrived, it was as a relative unknown within a squad full of stars. In his first home game in the Bundesliga, he started alongside Andreas Moller in midfield, in front of Jurgen Kohler in defence, and behind Stephane Chapuisat in the forward line. That was no place for any inferiority.

BVB would beat Fortuna Dusseldorf 4-0 that day, in front of 48,000. In those days, the stadium’s pitch was not what it is today — the tall tiers stopped the grass from growing properly — and so after the game, an exhausted Lambert, his legs cut to pieces, hauled himself back into the dressing room.

“I went into the baths and I couldn’t see anything. And then the steam rose off the water and Julio Cesar, the great Brazilian, appeared and was just sitting there with his cigarette, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Paul, well done’.”

It’s not difficult to understand why Lambert was appreciated. He was a terrific player, he would prove that at Celtic and for Scotland too, but he was the right player in the right place. Dortmund is industrial and working-class — an arbeiterstadt — and the hard-working values that he exhibited are, allied with his performances and achievements, what gave him the status that he still enjoys today.

“I could relate to them, and they could relate to me. If you give the Dortmund fans 100 per cent effort then they will absolutely love you.”

He did and they do. He’s a frequent visitor, to both the club and the place, and even though a quarter of a century has passed, he’s still recognised and hugged by strangers, and treated as one of their own.

In the present, he has a great admiration for what the current side are doing. He speaks fondly of Bellingham, whom he describes as grounded and humble, and of Sebastien Haller, who has overcome a cancer diagnosis to score the goals that have BVB on the brink. He talks also of just how well Terzic has done and what a story it will be if a head coach born in Dortmund and who grew up a fan can steal the Meisterschale away from its permanent residence in Bavaria.

Lambert isn’t just hopeful of a win on Saturday, he’s convinced. He’s not worrying about what Bayern Munich may or may not do at the weekend, because he believes wholeheartedly in this Dortmund team, their young coach, and their temple of football.

“I’ve never felt any negativity there. What I’ve sensed watching them play this season is that there’s no fear factor. The kids are playing really well and the older lads have done great. There’s no fear in the crowd, either. They believe they can do it and that’s been unbelievably significant in how well they’ve done.”

But what happens then? What if BVB get the win they need and finish the job? What happens to a city that, in Lambert’s words, “celebrates football from the moment it wakes up until well after the game finishes”.

He knows better than most having seen the effect that winning that 1997 Champions League had on Dortmund.

“The other players said to me, ‘If we win something here, wait until you see the city.’

“I knew how big the club was because of the fanbase we had. What I never realised was what was coming. After we won (the Champions League), we flew into Paderborn, a small airport just outside Dortmund, and even by the time we got to Borsigplatz, all I could see was yellow and black. There were people hanging out of windows, they were on traffic lights, and on top of cars. But that was just the start. When we got to Dortmund city centre there was a stage there and the crowds just got bigger and bigger. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He might be about to once more. In the days before the Mainz game, the city is getting ready to party. Even though the mayor has confirmed that Sky Deutschland has not agreed to a public showing of the match, 400,000 people are expected on the streets of a place that’s only home to 500,000.

The German media are also reporting that tickets are changing hands for over €3,000 and that many Mainz supporters have already sold theirs off. On Wednesday, Bild carried the story of a very modest Airbnb property that, apparently, has been rented to a Dutch couple for over €1,000 a night.

So, Dortmund is ready. It has been for 10 years now. And at 2.30pm on Saturday, when the songs are being sung and the fires are burning above, that dressing room will need to be ready too.

One more win.

(Top photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)



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