Signal Iduna Park, known by some locals as ‘The Temple’, is one of the iconic sites of world football. Home of Borussia Dortmund, the buzzy yellow and black rivals to Bayern Munich’s dominance of German football, it was voted in a recent poll as the greatest stadium on European club football.
The centrepiece of the stadium is its south stand. One of, if not the, largest free-standing grandstands in Europe, it stretches back and back and back, housing a remarkable 25,000 fans. Kitted out in the club’s trademark colours, the stand is known as Die Gelbe Wand, or the Yellow Wall – a sight the Telegraph poll concluded that ‘every football fan should experience once before they die’.
Last Saturday afternoon, I settled down to watch the much-heralded return of football. The occasion was the Revierderby between Dortmund and local rivals Schalke. But rather than the usual cauldron of noise from 80,000 fans, the match was played out in near silence. Without any supporters present, the Yellow Wall sat hollow and empty: the only noise was the echo of the thud of the ball, the occasional shout of the German equivalent of ‘Man on’, and the ‘ching’ as the ball hit the post on its way into the goal.
Watching on TV, the match was a strange experience. Like many football fans, I’ve missed sitting down to watch a game. But seeing two teams prod tentatively against each other in an empty stadium, the subs sat masked and two metres apart, it didn’t exactly set the pulse racing.
Writing about the spectacle in Sports Illustrated, Jonathan Wilson gave the experiment a thumbs up: ‘With or without fans,’ he wrote, ‘football is football’. I came away feeling less convinced. For me, football is about the whole experience: the shouts, the noise, the atmosphere. I’ve never been to Signal Iduna Park, but I’ve been to some amazing grounds in my time: Anfield, White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge, Elland Road. I was once lucky enough to get a ticket to see an Old Firm game between Celtic and Rangers. That still remains the most remarkable footballing occasion I’ve witnessed: the sound so overwhelming you couldn’t hear the person next to you.
This week, the Premier League began preparations to restart football here next month. But if, as reports suggest, fans might not be allowed back in for a year, might it be better to wait? The old philosophical dilemma is that if a tree falls over and no one is around to witness it, does it make a sound? If Jamie Vardy goes down like a ton of bricks and no one is around to hear him scream for a penalty, is it worth it?