The Bundesliga club's hard-working approach and the spirit of their vociferous fans have attracted many admirers
Dortmund's Westfalenstadion holds 80,645 and of that number, 25,000 stand – yes, stand – on the Sudtribune terrace behind one of the goals (capacity is reduced for Champions League matches due to Uefa rules requiring seats). They are known as the Yellow Wall and they have the capacity to assault the senses with the noise that they generate. "Nobody has the atmosphere that we have," says the club's defender, Neven Subotic. "To have 25,000 fans behind the South Wall is the biggest difference to any club in the world." Dortmund could make more money by adding to their 25 executive boxes but they do not want to compromise the stadium's raw passion. "We have no place for more boxes because it would mean losing something else," Hans-Joachim Watzke, the chief executive, says. "There is no box on the south stand. We must keep our mentality." The club does not sell beer during the game to their VIPs so that even they are not behind glass for the 90 minutes.
Dortmund have the highest attendance in world football and they are determined to price their tickets fairly. The cheapest season pass to the Sudtribune costs €190 while the most expensive one in the main stand is €700. VIP packages range from €3,000-7,000. The club have 55,000 season-ticket holders and a waiting list that comprises 10,000. They must give 10% of the stadium's capacity to the away team. They distribute tickets on a match-by-match basis to supporters' clubs. Watzke says that he does not want to treat the matchday fan as a "client" and he tells the story of how the club's caterer wanted to increase the half-litre beer price from €3.70-€3.80. Watzke refused because "10 cents doesn't make the difference and it doesn't satisfy the people." Carsten Cramer, the marketing director, knows that Dortmund could make lots more money by raising ticket prices. "But then you lose credibility and loyalty," Cramer says. "Football is an irrational business and it comes from the heart."
It is a wishy-washy notion and Dortmund's detractors accuse them of being holier-than-thou but supporters, increasingly, have been drawn to the Westfalenstadion, not least from England. Between 800 and 1,000 make the trip for each home game and it is difficult to ignore the feeling that they have turned to Dortmund because they have grown disillusioned at English football. "Maybe they think there is something missing, that English clubs have lost a bit of feeling," Watzke says. "That's the great difficulty they face. They're not as in touch with the heart as over here." It is often cheaper, Watzke adds, for English fans, particularly those from London, to attend a Dortmund game, having travelled over on a budget airline. Cramer says: "When you have so many football roots in England, it's sometimes a little bit irritating that the football itself, which is what has to humble us, is not in focus."
The manager, Jürgen Klopp, emphasises hard work, which chimes with the values of the city, fuels the atmosphere at home games and makes Dortmund fiendishly difficult to outmanoeuvre. Quite simply, his players cover more ground than their opponents; in the away win over Arsenal two weeks ago, the statistics showed that they ran a collective 11.5km more than Arsène Wenger's team. Dortmund are extremely quick in the offensive and defensive transition, and the ethos provides the platform for their technical quality. There is plenty of that, with Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan among the continent's most eye-catching talents. Dortmund are a team that players want to play for. "Liverpool and Tottenham wanted Mkhitaryan [last summer from Shakhtar Donetsk] with all that they have and they have a lot more than us," Watzke says. "But he told me that he wanted to go to Dortmund and nothing else. He said it was because of the passion of the fans, the spirit and the football we play."
Dortmund live within their means, which is hardly peculiar to them but it reinforces the sense that they are to be admired, particularly as they have enjoyed success against their better-heeled rivals over the past three seasons. Watzke says that their budget for players this season is €67m – "I think in England, Stoke City has the same," he adds – and it leaves no margin for error on the market. "We must be very sure that every euro of our investment comes back and for that, Jürgen [Klopp] is very important," Watzke says. "He makes every player better." It is easy to paint Dortmund as the plucky underdog in the domestic battle with Bayern Munich. "Bayern live in the country of milk and honey, it is the richest region in Germany whereas we live in an area like Newcastle," Watzke says. It is impossible, he feels, to overtake Bayern but Dortmund can compete, and on their own terms.