How Borussia Dortmund’s “Yellow Wall” became the item of envy in European football

It is just not entirely clear when Europe's largest grandstand received its now famous name, but it surely actually happened later than most individuals think.

German writer and author Uli Hesse described the Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund's Westfalenstadion in 2018 as something that Bayern Munich, the country's most successful and powerful club, didn’t have: “a huge grandstand that seemed like a throwback to the golden era of football.”

This architectural behemoth can accommodate 24,454 spectators for Bundesliga matches – greater than twice as many as Celtic's fabled “Jungle” within the Sixties and only barely lower than the utmost capability of the Kop at Anfield in the course of the same period, a golden age in Liverpool's history.

“Unlike Jungle or Kop, the term Yellow Wall is not very old,” Hesse stressed, pointing to Kicker, Germany's hottest football magazine, as a reference point for its relevance. It was only in May 2009 that the outline “Yellow Wall” appeared there for the primary time, based on the thoughts of then Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller when he learned that 10,000 of the club's fans had traveled to a match against Eintracht Frankfurt.

“It’s unbelievable, even when we play away, the Yellow Wall is there,” said Weidenfeller.

Another 21 months would pass before the expression was used commonly in “Kicker” and thus established itself as a term in the worldwide football language.

This was across the time when Dortmund, under the leadership of Jürgen Klopp, won the Bundesliga for 2 seasons in a row, having transformed an unsuccessful giant right into a club that competed for domestic and even European titles.

His Dortmund team lost the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium against Bayern in May 2013.

This weekend, the club has the prospect to win the identical trophy at the identical venue in London for the primary time since their only triumph within the competition in 1997. This time, their opponents are Real Madrid and Dortmund, who finished fifth within the Bundesliga this season and are 27 points behind champions Bayer Leverkusen, are a talented team but not quite as fit as they were 11 years ago.

Klopp's charisma and success helped make Dortmund the second biggest club for a lot of football fans across Europe, but iconography was also a key aspect of Dortmund's appeal.

Their popular former manager, who left Liverpool in May after almost nine years, described the sight of the Yellow Wall as one emerges from the bowels of the Westfalenstadion as an almost out-of-body experience.

Dortmund fans say goodbye to Klopp and thank him in 2015 (Patrik Stollarz/AFP via Getty Images)

“This dark tunnel is exactly two metres high (just under 2.00 m), and when you come out, it's like being born,” said the 6'3″ Klopp. “You come out and the place explodes – from darkness into light. You look to the left and it looks like there are 150,000 people up there within the stands, going completely crazy.”

Weidenfeller was a leader in Klopp's team: “When you’re the opponent, it crushes you, but when you have got him as a goalkeeper behind you, it’s a implausible feeling.”

This view was also supported by Bayern's Champions League and World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, who later played for Manchester United and MLS team Chicago Fire. When asked if he was more worried about the Dortmund players or their coach Klopp, he replied: “The Yellow Wall scares me probably the most.”

The sheer size of the structure alone offers a number of vantage points. “From the front of the lower tier, you possibly can almost scratch the goalkeeper's back – and right at the highest under the roof, where it has an angle of inclination of 37 degrees, it resembles a ski jump,” concluded the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

According to Hesse, Daniel Lorcher, born in 1985, was “roughly responsible” for inventing the term “Yellow Wall”. In 2004, when Dortmund was on the verge of collapse on and off the pitch and its financial situation was getting increasingly dire, the club's largest Ultras group created a mosaic that paraphrased an aphorism by Oscar Wilde: “Many walk down dark alleys, but few take a look at the celebrities.”

Lorcher was a leading member of The Unity and stood in the middle of what was then known simply as the South Stand, just behind the goal. Their job was to make as much noise as possible, but Lorcher felt this was better possible in Dortmund due to the size of the stand. If the Ultras could involve other fans, for example by persuading them to dress in bright yellow and hold up flags and banners of the same colour, the effect would be surprising and would help Dortmund's players and potentially create a more intimidating atmosphere for opponents.

Not only was a huge amount of fabric needed, but it also had to be the right shade of yellow.

Lorcher and other ultras contacted a Danish retail chain that had branches all over Germany. “They sold us greater than five kilometers of material and we produced 4 thousand flags,” Lorcher told Hesse. “We rented sewing machines for weeks after which needed to learn the best way to use them. It was labor, but we had plenty of fun.”

As the 2004/05 season drew to a close and Dortmund escaped oblivion, “the flags bathed the entire grandstand in yellow” before a home game against Hansa Rostock, Hesse wrote in his book “Building The Yellow Wall.”

One of the banners read: “At the end of the dark alley the yellow wall shines,” and another read: “Yellow Wall, South Stand Dortmund.”

Since 2005, the Westfalenstadion has been called Signal Iduna Park after the club decided to reduce debts through a sponsorship contract, which it finally repaid to the bank Morgan Stanley three years later.

Many factors contributed to Dortmund's precarious financial situation during this period. One of them was the demand to convert the stadiums into all-seater capacities after the Hillsborough disaster in England in 1989.

In the summer of 1992, the north stand of the Westfalenstadion was converted into a seating area, reducing the total capacity from 54,000 to less than 43,000. The club management realised they could charge more money for a more comfortable experience, but they were reluctant to subject the southern Südtribüne (as it is still called by older Dortmunders) to the same treatment after having discussions with fans which made them realise that the stand was the club's only real marketing tool.

After Dortmund beat Juventus 3-1 in Munich in May 1997 to win the Champions League title, the south stand was doubled in size. As the stadium became bigger and safer, Dortmund spent more money than ever on players. But success failed to materialise and by 2005 there was a real danger that the club could go bankrupt.

Today, Dortmund's stadium is the largest in Germany and its average Bundesliga attendance is higher than any other Bundesliga club – including Bayern: this season, an average of over 81,000 spectators came to Dortmund and 75,000 to Bayern's futuristic Allianz Arena. Between Dortmund and the third and fourth placed teams (Eintracht Frankfurt and Stuttgart), the difference was almost 26,000, which is just a little more than the capacity of the Yellow Wall alone, a stand that could accommodate the inhabitants of a medium-sized city.

The Yellow Wall greets Marco Reus at his last home game this month (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Although the stadium's capability is reduced to seated only on European nights, the three clubs with the bottom attendance figures within the Bundesliga (Union Berlin, Darmstadt and Heidenheim) could easily fit all their fans into the south stand. However, the clubs have probably not tried to capitalise on this directly.

Hesse even claims that the “Yellow Wall” “harms” Dortmund on this sense because the doorway prices are kept so low.

On average, season ticket holders pay 14 euros per game. However, if Dortmund created seats there and charged more, the club would lose its soul, based on Hesse.

The incontrovertible fact that Dortmund should not even among the many top 20 clubs in Europe when it comes to matchday revenue, based on financial experts at Forbes and Deloitte (despite having considered one of the continent's biggest stadiums), is a mirrored image of the attitude that prevails of their region, Germany's industrial heartland. Instead, there’s a financial co-benefit from the Yellow Wall, with corporations resembling chemicals giant Evonik, brewery Brinkhoff's and pump manufacturer Wilo wanting to be related to a creation that’s authentic to a working-class region of the country.

The Westfalenstadion has develop into a tourist attraction, however the Yellow Wall stays untouched in the intervening time.

The biggest decision for visitors, says Hesse, is whether or not to affix the party on the terrace or watch her smile from afar.

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