Signal Iduna Park: a Special One Football Stadium

If you had told the people of Dortmund 30 years ago about a football temple with a capacity of over 80,000 in their city centre – a stadium boasting a glass façade, undersoil heating and the largest stand in Europe – they would have all smiled tolerantly at such a fanciful notion. Nowadays, though, the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK on Strobelallee is Germany’s largest football stadium with a capacity of exactly 81,365. The fact that the outlay for Borussia’s enormous arena almost crippled the club financially is another matter entirely – and one which was fortunately resolved at the end of May 2006.

The venue located on Strobelallee – known as “the temple” by fans and regularly dubbed “the most beautiful stadium in the country” by the press, professionals and VIPS alike – has been one of the largest and most comfortable stadia in Europe since the third expansion phase was completed. A long process of construction and conversion reached its peak when the stadium was renovated in the run-up the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Yet works are carried out on the stadium every summer, with BVB investing some ten million Euro in the renovation of the now-ageing arena in 2012 alone: both the grass and the drainage in the southern half of the pitch were replaced; the south stand was strengthened by support measures; concrete sanitation measures were implemented in the northern part; seven new VIP boxes were added in the part of the east stand where the press area used to be; new cameras armed with impressive digital technology provide greater security, with the away area and the lower tier of the south stand in particular under increased observation; and in the year before new scoreboards were installed.

The stadium story began some 40 years ago – on 5 April 1965 to be precise. After four long years of discussing the expansion and modernisation of the somewhat outdated “Rote Erde” arena, the city’s Central and Financial Committee “took note of the suggestion not to expand the Rote Erde stadium, but instead to build a new football stadium by incorporating the two western practice fields and the small surface area occupied by the air bath”. The first step on the path to building a completely new arena – named the “Twin Stadium” in official circles in view of its parallel construction to the Rote Erde – had been taken.

Yet the project did not gather full momentum until the city of Cologne decided against building a new stadium at the start of the 1970s, paving the way for Dortmund to apply as a host city for the 1974 World Cup – and for the construction of a new stadium. Without the federal and state funding provided, the financing of the Westfalenstadion would simply not have been feasible.

 

On 2 April 1974 – nine years after the official decision had been made – the Westfalenstadion was officially opened, with the stadium offering 54,000 predominantly standing spaces. The inauguration took place in a friendly match against Schalke 04. And the stadium has lost none of its aura since. Quite the opposite, in fact. Radio broadcasters rave about the “temple of German football” when they report from such a unique arena: the proximity to the pitch, the acoustics thanks to its complete roofing and the unique passion the fans in the Ruhr have for the beautiful game. All of this creates a crackling atmosphere, casting a spell over spectators and striking fear into opponents. An opinion poll in May 2006 saw professional footballers at the 18 Bundesliga clubs rate the grounds in Hamburg (28%) and Dortmund (27%) as their favourites.

To be precise, the history of the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK dates back to the year 1961. It was then that the Sporting Committee first discussed the expansion of the “Rote Erde Arena”. In those days, which were characterised by structural change in the Ruhr and the onset of the coal and steel crisis, money was no less of a boundary than it is today. That goes some way to explaining why ten years went by before the Council decided on 4 October 1971 to build the Westfalenstadion. Finances still proved problematic, though.

The German Football Association might have been awarded hosting rights for the 1974 World Cup in 1966, yet Dortmund’s plans for a new stadium to be constructed in a conventional design – thus costing 30 million Euro – threatened to fall apart. Despite the clear decision by the Council, administrative authorities were still exploring the option of expanding the existing arena in a bid to save costs.

The head of the sports department Erich Rüttel succeeded with his proposal to build a stadium based on the model of the Canadian Olympic City of Montreal (1976) using prefabricated construction methods. It was the decisive breakthrough. The costs were halved, with the outlay in initial talks estimated at 27 million Marks (almost 14 million Euro). By the end of the construction works, it came to seven million Marks more.

Just five months later, on 19 October 1970, the Council gave the plans the green light and decided to begin building the Westfalenstadion the following year. Over 80% of the 17 million Euro costs were funded by federal and state support, lottery takings and donations. The city contributed three million Marks to this sum, realising early on that the 1974 FIFA World Cup would offer them an unprecedented chance to construct a suitable arena for the future – without the World Cup there would have been no funding. After all, the provisional stand in the south curve of the “Rote Erde” already showed signs of damage and an internal paper by the Planning Committee revealed: “After the dismantling of this stand, the capacity will be reduced to 25,000.”

The Westfalenstadion, on the other hand, would hold 56,000 fans. Ultimately, it was around 54,000, although only 17,000 places were seated. The fact that the majority of spectators (47,000) were covered by a roof received special praise from BVB’s then President, Heinz Günther. It offered “the average man in the street” a roof over his head, which was by no means usual at that time.

Zaire, Scotland, Sweden, Brazil and tournament runners-up Holland played their 1974 group stage matches at the Westfalenstadion as football fever gripped the city of Dortmund. All of the enthusiasm that had been present in the golden years of the ’50s and ’60s returned to the city during the World Cup, and could soon be felt at fixtures in the second tier of the Bundesliga. Regular attendances of over 45,000 fans – three times as many as beforehand in the Rote Erde – suddenly flocked to BVB matches as the club benefited considerably from its new stadium. Two years later, in June 1976, Borussia returned to the top tier of German football. In 1983, the club then celebrated its return to the European stage following a 15-year absence. The Black and Yellows won the DFB Cup in 1989, the German league title in 1995, 1996 and 2002 and reached three European finals, winning one – the most important one against Italian giants Juventus in the 1997 UEFA Champions League.

For the 18-year period up until 1992, the Westfalenstadion remained largely in its original condition. However, the 14 years that followed were characterised by drastic modifications – five in total. In 1992, the stadium capacity was reduced to 42,800 spectators when the standing places in the north stand were converted into seats. As part of expansion stage one, the capacity of the west and east stands was increased by 6,000 places respectively thanks to the addition of a further upper tier three years later. The second expansion phase saw the capacity increase to 68,600 in 1999 when the south stand – the focal point of Dortmund’s enthusiasm for football – was increased to 24,454 to make it the largest stand in Europe. For international matches, the standing spaces can be transformed into seats.

On 6 May 2002, the works on the closure and the expansion of the corner areas finally got underway. First of all, 15-metre-long foundation piles were inserted into the ground in the north and south area and placed in the corners of what later became the stairway, redirecting the incredible load of 3,000 tonnes per stand roof onto stable ground. The foundation work for the supports and staircases took place on these piles. Yet another highly demanding engineering challenge was the construction of the stadium roofing. As part of this process, the corner pylons inside the stadium which supported the roof and therefore obstructed the view of spectators sitting in the new seats in the expanded corner area were replaced by eight externally installed yellow steel pylons.

The third expansion stage, which was completed on 13 September 2003, did more than just increase the stadium capacity to around 14,000. BVB has now sets new standards when it comes to providing top-notch hospitality. With a total of 3,450 seats in its catering areas, SIGNAL IDUNA PARK is also home to the largest hospitality area in the German Bundesliga. However, everything is still in proportion in Dortmund’s ground, with the catering areas only holding a modest percentage of the entire stadium capacity.

The eight 62-metre-high yellow pylons have since become a landmark in the Dortmund skyline. In December 2005 they were joined by letters spelling the stadium name, which are up to 3.5 metres high and visible in the distance from main roads 54 and 1, appearing in black by day and glowing white by night.

Following the expansion, BVB fans readily accepted their temple with great pride. And the club’s marvellous attendance record in recent years attests to this. A breath-taking work of construction and phenomenal fans provide the club with the optimal conditions to host many great football spectacles in the greatest (and biggest) ground in the Bundesliga. To be exact, it can now hold exactly 81,365 spectators due to the reconstruction measures taken prior to the World Cup (including the removal of the last seat shells from 1974 and the demolition of the front sections) and the modernisation work carried out before the 2012/13 season.

Only one footballer has had really negative experiences in the “temple” on Strobelallee in this 32-year-period: ex-Braunschweig player Danilo Popivoda. On 23 April 1977, with worms plaguing the turf, Popivoda found himself unmarked just six metres from the Borussia goal, drew his foot back to shoot and slipped on a piece of grass no longer attached to its worm-infested roots. He landed on his nose, while the ball stopped in front of the line. Borussia and Braunschweig drew the match 0-0.