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Sports

FC Buffalo invited to city's 'sister' municipality in Germany

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An amateur men's soccer club based in Buffalo has been invited to play exhibition matches next spring in Germany, including one in Buffalo's sister city Dortmund. The tour, scheduled for next May, will bring the team to Dortmund just in time for a festival celebrating that region's diversity. They'll also face the reserve team of a German club well-known for its socially-inclusive policies.

The cities of Buffalo, New York and Dortmund, Germany formally entered into their "sisterhood" in 1978. But the inspiration first came as far back as 1972, when an exchange of professors between the US and then West Germany brought a man named Herbert Morgenroth came to Western New York.

"Herbert Morgenroth was a citizen of Dortmund at the time, who came and taught at the University at Buffalo," explained Greg Engel, president of the Buffalo Dortmund Sister City Committee. "During his time in Buffalo he noticed the similarities of the two cities: former steel-making towns, breweries and just the blue-collar feel of that time."

He decided to explore the possibility of uniting the cities in a formal partnership. After several exchanges of messages, a delegation from Buffalo visited Dortmund in 1976. A Dortmund group came to Buffalo soon after and then in 1978, a second Buffalo delegation - led by new mayor James Griffin - went to the West German city to sign the sister city agreement into effect.

Forty years later, in April 2018, a delegation from Dortmund led by Oberbürgermeister Ullrich Sierau came to Buffalo to celebrate the anniversary of the municipal friendship. While they were in Buffalo, the delegation had one request: they wanted to watch a soccer match that was being played back home, between their hometown Borussia Dortmund and their archrivals, Schalke 04. The Buffalo Dortmund Sister City Committee arranged with Hertel Aveue-based soccer pub Mes Que to screen that match. 

"Word got around town," said Engle. "To our understanding there was a Borussia Dortmund fan club. We had about 150 people representing the city and the fans of Borussia Dortmund coming out to meet his crew."

Among those meeting Sierau and his group were the leaders of FC Buffalo, which competes in the National Premier Soccer League, a league in the fourth tier of the US men's soccer pyramid. FC Buffalo co-owner Nick Mendola recalled how the team presented their German guests with their own team scarf.

"For whatever reason, he was impressed by the motto on the scarf. Our motto, for a long time, has been 'For Our City,'" Mendola said. "We went back and forth, he was talking about how we should visit. I think he meant us more as people, not the team."

But Mendola and his peers did suggest the idea of an FC Buffalo visit. They learned just a few weeks later, the German delegation was interested in hosting them.

"It was one of those things where you plant the seed and see what happens," Mendola continued. "We got contacted by Greg Engel ... saying 'they're really interested in having us at the Dortbunt Festival.'"

That festival celebrates the diversity of the local population. In a written message forwarded to WBFO from the office of the Oberbürgermeister, a spokesman said the following about the event: "On 11 and 12 May 2019 Dortmund shows at the city festival "DORTBUNT! A city - many faces" its colorful facets in many squares, stages and locations throughout the city. At "Dortbunt" institutions, associations, associations, initiatives, churches, trade unions, cultural workers, authorities and many more present themselves. Those who come to the city center on these days can celebrate, marvel, learn and experience Dortmund.

"The city festival will take place for the fourth time and in 2019 all partner cities of Dortmund will be invited again to discover the diversity of the city. The highlight of the visit will be the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the partnership between Buffalo and Dortmund."

Lord Mayor Sierau added his own thoughts in a written statement: "I firmly believe that partnerships are the foundation of interconnectivity in the world. Especially with Buffalo we have a fruitful exchange on different levels and I am truly confident that our friendship will last for many more years. It was an honor to visit the city of Buffalo in April 2018 and celebrate our 40th anniversary. I hope to welcome representatives of the City of Buffalo and the Sister City Committee to the festivities in Dortmund in May 2019. I am particularly pleased that our trip is already bearing fruit and that it is planned that FC Buffalo will visit Dortmund on the occasion of the festivities and play a match against a selection of the best clubs in Dortmund."

FC Buffalo's opponent in Dortmund is not yet finalized. Engel explained that the city's top club, Borussia Dortmund, would involved in their Bundesliga season schedule and even their reserve team might not necessarily be ready to play a friendly. Although more information is expected to be announced in coming weeks, it was anticipated FC Buffalo might face  a side made up of stars made up from other Dortmund-area clubs.

The team will also travel to Hamburg and has its opponent there secured, FC St. Pauli II. That's the reserve side of FC St. Pauli, which competes in Germany's second-tier league. It's a program which is known throughout that country, and across Europe, for its socially-conscious policies both on and off the playing field. They include stances against racism, fascism and homophobia.

It's a culture Mendola finds compatible with that of FC Buffalo.

"It really ticks all of our boxes: a community-based club, a club that views itself as very much a club for everybody in Buffalo, whether you're extremely into the sport or just extremely into the community," he said. 

Kendell McFayden, FC Buffalo's captain, played previous in Europe, in Austria in 2008. He was there during the Union of European Football Associations' European Championship, or simply the Euro, which plays once every four years, like the FIFA World Cup. He was caught up in the excitement of Euro fever at the time but also mentioned the challenges playing abroad including language and cultural barriers.

He is pleased that his side will face FC St. Pauli II, for their reputation of inclusion and acceptance in their club's culture.

"With what's going on in the world right now, to be as aware as they are from what it sounds like, it sounds promising. You like to hear that stuff," McFayden said. "I've played in front of large crowds before. It's not always been the best environment."

Next spring's planned trip is not the first international venture for FC Buffalo, which enters its tenth season of operations in 2019. Their first international exhibition match was in 2011 against semi-pro English club Bedlington Terriers, which plays in one of England's lower-level leagues. FC Buffalo played host for that match at the city's All-High Stadium and was arranged in cooperation with Buffalo businessman Robert Rich, Jr., who has family roots tracing back to Bedlington and whose company Rich Products sponsored the English club.

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