In reality, the great Yellow Wall is a bit of a misnomer. Its name implies a sort of barrier, a bulwark against an advancing horde that would shut them out from the fleshy business of everyday life in a population center. Walls are defensive structures, built at their core for the business of shielding.
Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall is not an imagining of defensive engineering. It is a weapon. And it is perhaps the greatest monument to fan culture in all of Europe.
The Yellow Wall is of course the heaving south stand at BVB’s Westfalenstadion. At 25,000 strong, is the largest free-standing fan section in Europe, which long ago moved to insert seats in place of standing sections to eliminate safety hazards and, perhaps more closely to the matter at hand, more completely monetize their efforts. Every Bundesliga stadium has standing sections, a relic of the past the nation has refused to abandon. Cut free of monetization concerns (many season ticket packages still run fans under $200/year), Bundesliga clubs simply have fold-out seats to comply with UEFA regulations during continental competition. But during domestics, entire swaths of stadium are standing room only.
In BVB’s case in particular, this makes the Yellow Wall look more like the Yellow Scud Missile. When I talked with Bayer Leverkusen CEO Michael Schade earlier this year, he didn’t even attempt to hide his admiration.
“Nothing is comparable to Dortmund,” Schade said. “Eighty five thousand people getting crazy, it’s unbelievable. If you go in to that stadium as the other team, you’ll get afraid. It’s so hard, it’s fantastic, unbelievable.”
The root is the standing-room nature of the thing. Removing the prospect of sitting is such a simple thing, and yet it has such far-reaching implications on the atmosphere. The lack of a seat is as much of a symbol as it is a concrete measure. It’s an agreement; we will stand, generate noise, lean on our relentlessness. On the other end of the spectrum it is perhaps why, say, the Emirates feels so much like a library these days.
Whether or not Orlando City set out to emulate BVB specifically with its in-construction stadium (judging by the hashtag you’re about to see, it’s a pretty good bet), it is following that well-worn path into the beautiful madness of the Yellow Wall.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) December 14, 2016
I don’t have the specific numbers on the angle of embankment here versus the south stand at the Westfalen, but I’d wager this is a sight steeper than what you’d find in Germany. It is significantly smaller, to be sure (BVB’s supporter’s section is about as large as the capacity of Orlando City’s entire stadium), but the angle ensures the noise should sweep down and across the field during a game like Mongolian horsemen advancing across the steppe.
You’ll also notice the lack of seats. In the Q&A on the team’s site, they answer this question fairly succinctly.
Q. Will the Supporters Section have fold down seats?
A. No, it’s standing room only.
The section will reportedly have some sort of imported seat scheme to comply with FIFA (during hosted internationals) and CONCACAF (during Champions League games) regulations. Which is, you’ll note, exactly how Germany does it. Leverkusen, for instance, doesn’t have fold-down seats, but it does have a way of importing seats for international matches. In any case, it has schematically ensured a full wall of standing room fans in what was already one of the rowdiest supporter’s sections in the league.
In reality fans only beg authenticity. It is why Vice writes vapid article after article about the American aping of English fan culture, and why the ensuing response is so heartily defensive. MLS fans believe (quite rightly) that like their American forefathers they took pieces of what worked from other cultures and appropriated them into a unique goulash that was only their own. It is perhaps why MLS fandom is so hard to understand until you are standing among their ranks. It is unlike anything else, and it makes sense only when you are, as Bill Buford might say, among the thugs.
In this sense Orlando City is only doing what the league knows to do; incorporate what works elsewhere into a unique domestic framework all its own. And if Orlando City’s new stadium is as mad as it’s beginning to look, there’s little question the gameday experience will rival just about anyone.