Dortmund's Asian reach continues to grow with the help of some famous silverware

Borussia Dortmund’s evolution as a Southeast Asian powerhouse took another leap forward this week following the Bundesliga club’s first tour of football-mad Vietnam.

While Dortmund have been one of Germany’s most successful clubs over their 107-year history, they have historically lacked a little of the glitz and fanfare that follows teams such as Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona or Liverpool – and that suits the club and its working class background just fine.

Dortmund are fully aware they aren’t at that level, instead modelling themselves as the archetypal ‘people’s club’, an accessible, friendly, open football entity.

It’s been an overwhelming experience. We could feel the love as soon as we landed in Vietnam

And it’s a policy that is clearly paying dividends.

The German giants, who are also known by the initials BVB, added another chapter to their history in May this year when they won the prestigious DFB Pokal, or German Cup, which is regarded as the second most important honour in German football behind the Bundesliga.

They came from 2-1 down to stun Bayern Munich – another of the world’s cashed-up super clubs – 3-2 in the semi-finals, in Munich no less, before overcoming Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 in the decider.

In another indication of the way the club interacts with its fans, soon after the victory plans began to take the trophy on a tour of Southeast Asia, with Vietnam the first stop ahead of Thailand and Indonesia.

BVB's Vietnamese fans meeting Letchmanan and the Cup

Upon its arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, the trophy wasn’t cased in glass, stationed behind roped-off bollards and handled by armed security guards wearing white gloves, as might be expected.

Fans were allowed to get up close and personal with the prized golden asset inscribed with German football history, in another small insight into the way the club conducts itself.

At every stop, fans dressed in the club’s distinct yellow and black colours were there to greet the delegates and ask for a photo or autograph

BVB recently acquired data that revealed they have just under 608,000 fans and followers across Vietnam, making it a logical next nation to visit, having established an office in Singapore in 2014.

From the moment club officials, including former German international Joerg Heinrich – a club ambassador and member of BVB’s Champions League-winning side back in 1997 – landed in the country on Thursday morning, the response was incredible.

“It’s been simply amazing,” Suresh Letchmanan, Dortmund’s Asia managing director, told FourFourTwo.

“I think it’s been a wonderful experience, an overwhelming experience. We didn’t expect 50, 60 fans to wait for us at the airport. We could feel the love as soon as we landed in Vietnam.

Conducting a training session with local young footballers. Photo: Zing.vn

“We’ve been really, really looking forward to this trip. We’ve been planning it ever since we won the trophy in May.

“Vietnam was the first destination because the fans here are amazing.”

Winning a trophy and taking it to Asia just seems to put you on a level probably similar to some of the top European clubs

Dortmund arranged the tour with Vietnam-based sports marketing company Blitz Asia, with a number of events packed into their four-day stint in the country.

A reception with Vietnam’s deputy sports minister and members of the Vietnamese Football Federation, a number of clinics with youth footballers and even an exploration of local Vietnamese cuisine were among the items on the agenda.

At every stop, fans dressed in the club’s distinct yellow and black colours were there to greet the delegates and ask for a photo or autograph.

The doors have not always been wide open for such events to take place in Vietnam in the past, but that is changing in the rapidly developing country, which has a population of almost 93 million people.

Heinrich learning to cook some local cuisine

“Vietnamese people are in love with football and Blitz Asia want to link the world’s top clubs with Vietnamese fans through events like this trophy tour,” Blitz Asia chief executive Huynh Thi Huong Tra said.

“We hope to give fans and the football community in Vietnam some more meaningful football activities in the future.”

We let the Cup be accessible to the people. We even took it on the plane and the pilot and aircrew were able to touch it

Dortmund brought their first team to Singapore and Malaysia back in 2015 and are working on plans to bring the squad back to the region again in the not-too-distant future.

But with the new season in full swing, the club’s message was spread this time around with the help of Heinrich, Letchmanan and the impressive piece of silverware.

“In Asia it’s a popularity contest. Winning a trophy and taking it to Asia just seems to put you on a level probably similar to some of the top European clubs,” Letchmanan said.

“It’s all about success and we need to share that success so we can bring in supporters, fans and potential partners eventually.

“We had a little trouble in China when we first took the trophy back to Singapore. They said it was worth too much money and they wanted us to get clearance or provide a letter or a regulation permit.

“After that, we let the Cup be accessible to the people. We even took it on the plane and the pilot and aircrew were able to touch it and they said ‘you’re the only club that would allow us to do this’.

“That made it so special for them. We got the pilot and the aircrew to take the Cup out through immigration and that was so special. Singapore Airlines were very cool.“

It’s all part of a strategy that is helping Borussia Dortmund become one of the best supported clubs in a region with an extraordinary thirst for football.

“It’s been three years now,” said Letchmanan, who has been on board with the Asian expansion from day one.

“The progression has been very stable and we’re sustaining it. It’s a long-term project. All I can say is there’s more to come.

"We have a couple more markets to go with the trophy, but we’re all very happy with how we’re developing the club.

“Trust me, it’s only going to get bigger.”