The “yellow wall”, the 25,000 capacity southern terrace of Borussia Dortmund’s home stadium, is also a face that charts the club’s emotional well-being.
European football’s largest standing terrace wails in frustration when strikers fresh-air the ball inside the box, screams with red-hot anger when the referee overlooks a stone-cold penalty, and goes soppier than the most loved-up teenager when the team scores, breaking out into the club’s dewy-eyed hymn Echte Liebe, meaning True Love.
On Wednesday night, 24 hours after Dortmund’s first team were directly targeted by a terrorist attack that injured one of its players, a new emotion was briefly added to the yellow wall’s palette: vulnerability.
“It’s difficult”, said Matthias Steger, 38, walking to the stadium with his 10-year-old son, draped in Dortmund’s yellow and black. “I am not entirely sure if it’s right for our team to play so soon after a shock like that”.
As stadium announcer and former player Norbert Dickel said the club was going “through the most difficult situation we’ve experienced in decades” and led the crowd to chant the name of Spanish defender Marc Bartra, absent from the starting lineup after sustaining a hand injury in the attack, the yellow wall looked pale, thinning into grey on its edges.
It took one of Dortmund’s famed fan choreographies for the yellow wall to regain its fierce composure of old. After draping the entire terrace in a yellow and black sheath, the home support re-merged with warpaint on its face: coloured plastic ponchos recreating the club’s BVB crest – short for Ballsportverein Borussia – in gigantic letters.
After a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, long ago appropriated from Merseyside, the ultras facing the crowd at the bottom started banging their drums and the wall looked as insurmountable as ever. Banners were unveiled, complaining about the re-scheduling of the match: “7:45 kick-off: are you kidding? Fuck Uefa.”
Supporters of French club Monaco, whose regular home game attendance is less than half of the capacity of Dortmund’s southern terrace, looked briefly intimidated. Luckily for them, Dortmund’s team took longer than their supporters to shake off the shock of Tuesday’s events.
Goalkeeper Roman Bürki, who had sat next to Bartra on the team bus, and defender Matthias Ginter, the Spanish international’s replacement, misplaced passes in the opening exchanges. And while Dortmund’s strikers hastily placed the ball inches left and right of the upright, Monaco’s counter attacks were ruthlessly efficient: at half time, the French visitors were leading 2-0.
“The grass was too wet, the goal was too small, the ball was too round: it’s easy to find excuses”, said Heiko Schulz, 47. “But after what happened last night I think anything can be forgiven. Whether we win or lose, what’s most important is that the match took place”.
Schulz and Sabrina Fege, 37, had both spontaneously bought tickets after hearing what had happening to the team. Where they worried? “Not at all, now we have to support Borussia more than ever!” Eventually, their team took their motto to heart too, with an energised, rousing second-half performance, scoring two even if Monaco managed to add a third.
For many of the French and German fans inside the stadium, such as Monaco supporter Olivier Pourcel, the match’s emotional significance had already transcended its score at that point. “After what what happened last night, the fans of our two teams will have a close relationship for years to come”, he said.
Fabian Rustemeier and his friend Simon Ballmann had been on the way to the stadium on Tuesday night when news of the attack and the cancellation had flashed up on their phones. Over a bottle of beer at a corner shop in Dortmund’s Kreuzviertel district, Ballmann commented what a shame it would be to watch their team play to a half-empty stadium on Wednesday. “Can’t we find beds for all the Monaco fans for the night?”, he suggested.
Rustemeier, 28, thought up the hashtag #bedsforawayfans and sent out the first . Within minutes, responses poured in. “I believe, I hope, that Dortmund stands for humanity and openness, and that maybe subconsciously last night’s spontaneous action worked as a statement against the kind of mindset that led to the attack”, he said.
Pourcel, 36, a sales manager for a Paris-based paper company and lifelong Monaco fan, had already tried in vain to find a hotel room for the night and started to considering heading back to France when he picked up the #bedsforawayfans hashtag. Within an hour, he had found a room with Dortmund fan Henning Krüger, who lives less than a kilometre from the stadium.
“We were both shocked at first, but it didn’t take long for us to start talk talking about our teams’ line-ups, our players’ strengths and weaknesses”, Pourcel said.
“Of course the possibility that it was a terrorist attack was on my mind”. In November 2015, he had been due to go to the Stade de France to watch a friendly between Germany and France but pulled out because of work commitments. One hundred and thirty people died and another 368 were injured in attacks claimed by Islamic State across the French capital that evening.
“They want that buzz, they want to say: we can hit everybody at any time. That’s their message. But I am not worried about going to the match tonight.”
Walking to the stadium on Wednesday, Pourcel was stopped by an elderly German lady with a yellow and black scarf: “Bonne chance, monsieur! Votre équipe est mon équipe”. Good luck sir! Your team is my team.