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.
- Inside Signal Iduna Park the evening before the DFL-Supercup against Bayern Munich, August 2, 2019.
- The crowd outside the stadium on game day. A sea of Yellow and Black, with a few dots of Bayern red interspersed. Everyone was in good spirits. August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- Inside Signal Iduna Park on the day of the DFL-Supercup against Bayern Munich, August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
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!
- The original and later sections of the stands are clearly visible when the stadium is empty. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- The away section of the Nordtribüne, where a majority of the Bayern Munich fans took in the match. One of the corner sections, which do not precisely line up with the original stands is also visible. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- Dortmund’s legendary Yellow Wall viewed from the bottom. The noise from this section of the stadium, when 25,000 people chant in unison, is deafening. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
On the inside: the benches and pitch
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 home bench for Borussia Dortmund. The seats for the home team all sport the logo and the club motto Echte Liebe. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- The away unheated bench features only the BVB logo. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- The contrast between the sideline turn (at bottom) and the hybrid playing pitch is striking. Dortmund regularly boasts one of the best playing pitches in Germany. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- The groundsmen were still drawing the lines on the pitch for the DFL-Supercup the following day, when we toured the stadium. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
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.
- Booths are set up in the mixed for the primary television broadcasters at games, with sponsor backdrops appropriate to the event. The sponsors for a regular Bundesliga match would be different. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- A view of the mixed room inside Signal Iduna Park. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- The door to the BVB locker room at the side of the mixed zone. August 2, 2019.
Past the mixed zone, behind a door, lies the locker room itself...
Heja BVB! Dortmund’s spartan locker room
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.
- Captain Marco Reus’ “locker.” Interestingly, none of the current photos were centered, and screw holes could be seen next to them (as here), hinting at earlier arrangements. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- Marcel Schmelzer and Mario Götze are neighbors in BVB’s locker room. There was a single empty picture in the locker room when I visited on August 2, 2019. That space was perhaps intended for Mats Hummels, whose portrait had not yet been put up. John Dillon/SB Nation
- Kalle Riedle in his element in the BVB locker room. August 2, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
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.
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.
- The Yellow Wall gradually fills up for the DFL-Supercup, August 3, 2019. Normally the Yellow Wall is full of flag-waving ultras, but the ultras generally boycott games like the Supercup in protest of the commercialization of the game. John Dillon/SB Nation
- The away section where Bayern Munich’s fans were seated, August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- BVB hits the pitch to warm up for the DFL-Supercup with a traditional passing exercise, August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- Pregame ceremonies at the DFL-Supercup, August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
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:
- Sancho attacks Bayern’s goal on Dortmund’s right flank, after breaking away from Bayern’s defense. Manuel Neuer prepares to attempt a save. DFL-Supercup, August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- Sanco’s shot nutmegs Neuer, who looks back helplessly as the ball crosses the line into the net. DFL-Supercup, August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
- Sancho dashes to the Yallow Wall to celebrate while Neuer rises to his feet. Niklas Süle retrieves the ball from the back of the net. DFL-Supercup, August 3, 2019. John Dillon/SB Nation
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:
The scene after @BVB received the #DFLSupercup and approached the Yellow Wall to thank it for its support. Great impression of how loud the crowd is at Signal Iduna. #HejaBvB @Bundesliga_EN pic.twitter.com/JvrRUqXBf9— John (@john_dillon_BFW) August 6, 2019
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.