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Behind the Yellow Wall: Inside Signal Iduna Park at the DFL-Supercup

Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park is one of the most incredible soccer stadiums in the world. The club let us go behind the scenes for the DFL-Supercup. Check it out!

The famous Yellow Wall, the standing area that comprises the entire Südtribüne of Signal Iduna Park, seems to extend forever, at the DFL-Supercup against Bayern Munich, August 3, 2019.
John Dillon / SB Nation

You know Signal Iduna Park as the home of Borussia Dortmund and one of the absolute best soccer stadiums in the world. But as fans communicating in English from across the world, you might not have ever been there, or perhaps never seen this incredible stadium from the inside.

In conjunction with a media visit ahead of the DFL-Supercup between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, members of the international press, including SB Nation, had the opportunity to visit Dortmund in anticipation of the event. One of the highlights of the visit, besides the Supercup match itself? It was a guided tour of Signal Iduna with none other than former BVB star Karl-Heinz “Kalle” Riedle.

Come along for a look behind the Yellow Wall.

Kult since 1974

Signal Iduna Park was first build in anticipation of the 1974 World Cup. Then known as the Westfalenstadion, the venue had to be cheap, so it was built of prefabricated concrete sections, originally holding a crowd of 54,000. The interior reminded me of a renovated Oakland Coliseum (est. 1966): Signal Iduna is spartan in appearance, a mass of concrete, steel, yellow and black. The club’s history and passionate fans lend it an incredible atmosphere.

The first game ever held at the Westfalenstadion was a friendly between the women’s teams of TBV Mengede and VfB Waltrop — but the first goal ever scored there — by Waltrop’s Margarethe Schäferhoff — was not filmed!

The stadium was modified and expanded several times beginning in the 1990s, when the northern stands (Nordtribüne) were converted into a seated area. The long sides of the park were eventually extended, as were the north and south sides. The different stages of the work can be easily seen today when the stadium is empty. The final touch was the addition of stands at the four corners of the park, which rise somewhat higher than the original sections of the stands. The famous Südtribune, the Yellow Wall, was left as a standing-room only section, now holding some 25,000 people — the largest in Europe!

On the inside: the benches and pitch

The “Jahrhundert-Tor” by Lars Ricken as shown at Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund. August 2, 2019.
John Dillon/SB Nation

On our media tour of Signal Inuna Park, we were given a guided tour of the stadium by none other than former BVB legend Karl-Heinz “Kalle” Riedle, who scored the a brace in the first half of the 1997 Champions League Final to give Dortmund a 2:0 lead at halftime. After Juventus clawed one goal back in the second half, Lars Ricken scored the “goal of a century” to seal Dortmund’s 3:1 victory. That goal is immortalized on a wall mural inside the park.

Obviously the players enjoy a very different perspective on the stadium. They emerge onto the pitch from a tunnel with a surprisingly low ceiling, featuring flashing lights and invigorating music. Our group of journalists was given a taste of the atmosphere. Here you can see it in action for yourself, as I follow the group out onto the sidelines:

The sidelines at Signal Iduna are turf, but the playing field is a hybrid, one of the best in the Bundesliga. The home and away benches are on either side of the tunnel. The away benches, to the right of the tunnel, sport only the BVB logo, while the home bench, to the left, also has Echte Liebe printed on the seats. The seats themselves resemble the bucket seats of a high-powered sports car. Only the home bench is heated...

The Mixed-Zone

The “mixed zone” is the area of a stadium set aside for members of the press where the post-game interviews we frequently see on television or read in the news are conducted. After the game, or just before it ends, the reporters will come down from their seats in the press box, located between the regular stands and the suites, and wait for the players in the mixed zone. The players then pass through it on their way to the locker room. The reporters thus have an opportunity to ask questions or try to pull one or more players aside for an interview. Of course, the players might be unwilling to talk, especially after a loss.

Past the mixed zone, behind a door, lies the locker room itself...

Heja BVB! Dortmund’s spartan locker room

Kalle Riedle (center) talks to members of the press inside Borussia Dortmund’s locker room. August 2, 2019.
John Dillon/SB Nation

This is where the players come together, dress and undress before and after each game: the locker room. No other part of the park struck me as powerfully symbolic of the entire ethos of Borussia Dortmund as its deliberately simple, spare design.

Our guide Kalle Riedle said the locker room was practically unchanged from the days he himself played for Dortmund. It is a narrow room with benches along both long sides; a nondescript table runs down the center. Structural girders can be seen above, as well as runners for various cables that have been added since the stadium was built in the 70s. The room was kept warm, at about 26 C (= 79 F). The players each have two hooks for their jerseys with cubbies above them. A small portrait between the hooks is the only personal touch to be seen.

The locker room also has an adjoining office of sorts with a whiteboard and screen, where presumably the coach can show film and discuss tactics. There is also a side room for the physios, featuring a massage table. Riedle said that was new since he had been on the team. And finally, the showers and a tub could also be accessed off to the side.

Game time!

So what is it like to take in a game at the fabled Westfalenstadion? In a word: INTENSE! That starts before you even set foot inside. Before the game, the fans of both teams can be found out and about around the stadium, buying sausages, beer, and just having a great time. Here’s the scene I found as I made my way to the gates:

The fans filtered in gradually. About an hour before the match, the Yellow Wall remained sparsely populated, as were most of the stands. The away section, where the vast majority of Bayern Munich’s fans were seated, was noticeably fuller, but that’s not surprising, given the fact they had traveled to Dortmund specifically for the game.

Bayern’s Corentin Tolisso was the very first player to emerge from the tunnel out onto the pitch. He was met with a deafening chorus of boos from the Yellow Wall. In contrast, Marco Reus was hailed with cheers when he and a teammate later emerged. At length, both teams came onto the pitch to warm up for the game.

And the game itself? Intense! It’s hard to describe just how loud the Yellow Wall is when it chants in unison. But not only the Yellow Wall, the entire Dortmund faithful were incredibly loud whenever there was a controversial call, a hard tackle, or a nasty foul. The boos and whistles when Axel Witsel was fouled early on and especially when Jadon Sancho was fouled by Joshua Kimmich were deafening.

The game itself was a back-and-forth affair through the first half, but all hell broke loose in the second when Paco Alcacer and Jadon Sancho ruthlessly punished mistakes to give the home team a 2:0 lead. As it happened — and I’m not entirely sure how — I managed to capture Sancho’s goal in images. Check it out:

The stadium was on its feet. The home crowd was ecstatic, and chants of “Heja BVB!” rang out on all sides. The loudest section was the Yellow Wall by far, with its focused, synchronized chanting and clapping, but the entire stadium joined in — well, all of them except the Bayern fans!

The scene after the team received the DFL-Supercup and approached the Yellow Wall to thank it for its support:

In short, it was an amazing experience from start to finish. “Football as it’s meant to be,” as the DFL and Bundesliga itself put it. The place, the fans, the atmosphere, and even the game itself all made for an unforgettable night of German soccer.