Borussia Dortmund host safe standing group

May 2013. On the final day of the Bundesliga season, just seven days before their Champions League Final, fans and staff of Borussia Dortmund took time out to show a group from the UK around their stadium, explain the German club ownership model and give us the opportunity to watch a game from the rail seat area at the back of the famous Yellow Wall. One of the group in Dortmund that day was Norwich City fan David Wiltshire of the 'Barclay End Projekt'. Here's his report:

Barclay End Projekt visits Dortmund

Over the weekend the Barclay End Projekt were present in Dortmund as part of a group of supporters from England to view the facilities on offer at the Westfalenstadion and to speak to fan leaders and club employees about the relationship between the club and its supporters. The group, organised by The Safe Standing Roadshow and consisting of supporters, fan group leaders and club officials, was representative of clubs in all four of England’s professional leagues as well as the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct. We were also very privileged to be able to watch Dortmund’s last league match of the season against Hoffenheim from the rail seating of the famous Yellow Wall.

Amongst the Dortmund supporters we met was Marc Quambusch, a TV producer who is a leading voice in the campaign to keep ticket prices affordable. Under the slogan ‘Kein Zwanni – Fußball muss bezahlbar sein’ (No Twenty Euros – Football must be affordable) the campaign aims to keep ticket prices for safe standing areas in all of Germany’s stadiums under €20 in order for the stadiums to remain socially inclusive. The campaign has already had some success, with Borussia Dortmund announcing that they will no longer charge visiting fans a premium for big matches in the hope that other clubs will follow their lead. Marc is also very passionate about clubs being controlled by the supporters rather than individuals and why it’s imperative that the fans have a strong voice and are included in all decisions which affect them. For many years he has worked and campaigned with fellow supporters to ensure that this is the case at Dortmund. He was also extremely interested to hear about the Projekt we have started at Norwich.

Together with Marc, our other main host was Janni, who in 2001 formed the Ultras group The Unity on Dortmund’s Yellow Wall and who are responsible for the incredible choreographies which the Dortmund fans put on. He was able to explain the dynamics of the group and the structure which they work within, along with how it’s possible for them to organise the main vocal and expressive support. The group has 348 active members, a similar number of secondary members who are slightly less involved, and then 5000 supporters who join in with the vocal and colourful support on match days. They maintain good relations with the club and other supporters groups at Dortmund, enabling them to put all their time and effort into creating a passionate, colourful and expressive support.

Like Marc, Janni is also passionate about fans having a voice in all dialogue and decisions surrounding the game and is a leader in preserving supporters freedom to support their team. He took time to explain to us why the safe standing areas in Germany’s stadiums, along with their affordable ticket prices, are so fundamental in how active supporters can operate and group together in these areas to produce the strongest and most passionate support possible for the benefit of their team.

When the German FA last year proposed new stadium regulations which would suppress some of the freedoms which fans enjoy, Janni was the spokesman for a series of protests at grounds across the country to ensure the fans views were heard. The German FA’s meeting was set for 12/12/2012, so to demonstrate their disapproval to the proposed new regulations, German stadiums fell silent for 12 minutes and 12 seconds at the beginning of every match in the weeks leading to the meeting to emphasise that ‘football without fans is nothing’.

Dortmund Fan Projekt

On the Saturday morning and in the hours prior to the match, we were able to meet with Rolf-Arnd Marewski who, along with a fellow supporter in 1987, set up the Dortmund Fan Projekt. Their role then was to be a link between the club, the authorities and the hooligan element of Dortmund’s support at the time, with the aim of reducing the amount of violence through an understanding of why these fans were involved in such activities, and to produce a more positive environment at Dortmund matches. The Fan Projekt made progress and grew through a combination of gaining trust within the fanbase and a constructive relationship with the club. From their office in the city centre, they are now involved in many activities with the younger elements of the Dortmund support, including the creation of the Learning Centre at Dortmund which was inspired by similar initiatives at English clubs. Rolf describes much of his work within the Projekt as being like social work with younger supporters, though they also provide logistical support to the Ultras so they can carry out their activities successfully, as well as running trips for Under 18’s to away matches, which typically cost €15 for travel and ticket.

Our last stop before the stadium was at the Dortmund club offices, where we met with Jens Volke, one of six full time Supporter Liaison Officers employed by the club. Jens was able to explain some of his work to us and why it was so important that the club maintains a positive and constructive relationship with the supporters. Before becoming an SLO for the club, he was for many years a leading fan activist and co-founded the online fanzine Schwatzgelb. This has enabled him to remain a trusted and respected figure amongst fans whilst being employed by the club to be a link between them and to involve them in all decisions which affect supporters. He also took time to detail Dortmund’s complicated ownership model and how control of the club is able to remain in the hands of the fans.

And then there was the stadium. The Westfalenstadion is Germany’s largest stadium, with a capacity of 80,552, consisting of seated and safe standing accommodation for both home and away supporters. At the South end of the stadium is the magnificent Südtribüne, known as the Yellow Wall. With a capacity of 24,454, it’s Europe’s largest standing area. All fans enter through the electronic turnstiles before heading to their designated block of the stand, where their ticket is again checked by a steward to ensure even distribution of supporters across the Südtribüne. The bottom sections of the stand are more open standing areas, whilst the higher areas of the stand are made up of rail seating, the type of standing accommodation which we believe should be used in English stadiums.

Rail seats on the Yellow Wall

As with rail seats throughout Germany, there is a rail every two rows, eliminating the threat of crowd surges, and Jens was able to confirm that no supporter had ever suffered an injury here since the rail seats were installed in 1999. The ratio between seats and fans is approx 1:1.7, meaning that even when the Yellow Wall is full, there’s no threat of overcrowding. This type of accommodation is not only safe, but also welcoming and hospitable for all supporters. By our estimates, around 30% of supporters in our area were women, and many children were also present with their parents. A supporter in front of us explained that he’d been standing behind the goal in this area since he was 6.

Positivity and enthusiasm

Sadly, despite an impressive Yellow Wall being in constant voice throughout the match, we weren’t able to bring the team luck, with Dortmund suffering a surprise 2-1 defeat. However, we returned to England with a huge amount of positivity and enthusiasm to push forward our respective supporter campaigns, and with a far greater understanding of how the German football model works to encompass supporters into all aspects of the game.Finally, a huge amount of gratitude must be expressed to Jon Darch of The Safe Standing Roadshow for organising the trip. We must also acknowledge all the above mentioned people at Dortmund who, despite being ridiculously busy prior to the Champions League Final, gave us a huge amount of their time and expressed enormous generosity to make our visit the success it was.

This report first appeared on the Barclay End Projekt website.