This past weekend saw me take in an alternative side in black and gold to the usual East Fife variety. With a baby on the way in June, ticking off “go and see a Borussia Dortmund game and if you can, get tickets in the Yellow Wall (the Südtribune)” from the invisible football bucket list suddenly became a bit more of a priority. When would I next have the opportunity to watch a game in the largest stadium in Germany, amongst the most loyal fans in Europe?
So it was that my dad and I decided to plump for Dortmund’s home game with Bayer Leverkusen on 21 April as an intriguing match to take in. The choice of opponent was also a weirdly nostalgic one for me in that Leverkusen were once my Championship Manager team of choice (to the point where I overtook Bayern’s number of league wins in the 01-02 version…). However standing in the home end to end all home ends, it was clear where my loyalties should lie.
Like every other vaguely significant bit of infrastructure in Germany, Dortmund’s stadium has its own railway station (and 4 local Metro stations too). My dad and I bought a McDonalds from the slightly shady surrounds of Dortmund Hauptbahnhof (main station) and hopped on the packed train to the stadium. The 6-minute journey over, we wolfed our MaccyDs down and went to find our place in the Yellow Wall.
I was a bit worried about my dad being in the Wall when I’d first booked the tickets – then I remembered that 4 years previously he’d gone to a Hajduk Split v Dinamo Zagreb game and thoroughly enjoyed himself among the craziness. Nonetheless, the initial queue to get in to the stadium was the worst and most unnerving bit of the experience – standing in a thousands-strong throng of half-cut football fans while you wait to get frisked isn’t the best of fun. In retrospect however, totally worth it.
We made our way into the stadium and up to section 80, which I had booked in the hope and expectation that it might be a wee bit less uncomfortable than standing at the front. I was right, though we did have to go about three rows from the back to get a bit of space. The definition of “safe” standing is maybe a wee bit loose too – there were people standing on the stairs or half in the row and half out; that said, nothing remotely unsafe happened, other than a few minor rail seat-related injuries when people in the row behind slammed them down in their excitement.
Anyway, the whole place looked amazing as the team warmed up – though our view of the ground was somewhat blocked by the roof of the Südtribune, the view of the pitch was fantastic and one got the impression of being in a massive modern stadium. I was then (second unfounded one of the day) worried that we’d be too far from the atmosphere standing where we were. The crowd then started to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, which I understand became a Dortmund anthem after Euro 96 in England. What a sight and sound that was. They didn’t use the Gerry and the Pacemakers version either – whichever German artist had covered the song had put in their own grace notes, particularly on the “alones”. Singing along and feeling the passion and the noise moving up the back of the terracing and round the stadium was incredible. I don’t think the sound of 81,000 Germans singing that song in English will ever get old with me.
Once the pre-match repertoire of German songs were completed, which we did at least clap along to, it was time for the football to start. And with that came more noise, relentless singing and just the general friendly boisterousness that came from standing watching a football match with thousands of other people. Like my previous experience in Portugal, there were a few folk with megaphones standing in front of the main bank leading the chanting, but they didn’t need to work too hard. One bit I particularly enjoyed was joining in with the tannoy guy says the first name of the goalscorer, crowd shout the surname game, as well as picking out when the fans were chanting “BVB” (or “bay fow bay” as it sounds auf Deutsch) or Dortmund and attempting to join in.
There were a couple of other notable things that really stuck with me. Firstly, when Marco Reus was subbed off late on so he could take the crowd’s acclaim for his two goals, the sound was something else. Organised cacophony is probably the best (probably contradictory) description for what was created – it was like the fans were trying to make the whole place take off. Again, that’s a memory that will stick with me for life.
Secondly was how friendly the BVB fans were, with each other, with my dad and me and with the opposition. After every goal there were folk walking along the row to high-five some of their fellow supporters, and once my dad got talking to someone on our way out there was the obligatory photo with some BVB fans who were delighted we’d made the trip to watch their team.
It was also striking that after the match, the Leverkusen and Dortmund fans freely mingled on their big walk back into town or on public transport with no trouble or threat whatsoever. I imagine a match with Schalke or Bayern might be a little different, but certainly the friendly atmosphere extended to the opposing fans as well, which was great to see.
In all, we had a brilliant day out and the Westfalenstadion/Signal Iduna Park is a predictably fantastic place to watch a game of football. Dortmund running out 4-0 winners in what was a vital game should they wish to guarantee Champions League qualification definitely helped.
As a brief aside, I seem to be a bit of a good luck charm for the foreign football sides I go and watch – my record is now P3 W3 F12 A1. I’ll take that, and look forward to my next football-watching trip to the Ruhr, whenever that might be.