On 18 October 1971, what is commonly referred to as the ''first cut of the spade'' came from the mechanical digging of a large excavator; it’s now been 50 years to the day since work began on the construction of a new football stadium for Dortmund.

It’s the story of a visionary planner and a brave city council. On 18 October 1971, on the ground just to the west of the ''Rote Erde'', work began on the construction of a football stadium, one which to this day captivates people across the world. Steel and concrete have merged to form a legend. 

Football stadiums are the home of football clubs. They represent teams and cities, provide an all-important source of income and, and, and... they hold a very special place in the eyes of all sports fans, sometimes even a cult status. There are ground hoppers, who travel to stadiums across the world and pay visit to the game’s most legendary arenas: the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, the Giuseppe Meazza in Milan’s San Siro district, Wembley Stadium in London, Anfield in Liverpool and the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

Let’s have a look back at the beginnings and the development of our world-famous arena, which today forms the defining image of its home city of Dortmund. Since 2009, the British newspaper The Times has placed it at number one in its list of the world’s greatest stadiums. 

Let's go back 50 years

October 1971 was an important month in Dortmund city politics. On 4 October, the decisive council meeting on the potential construction of a new stadium next to the old ''Rote Erde'' was held at the Reinoldi-Gaststätten. Two days previously, a BVB delegation including Udo Remmert and Alois Scheffler had handed top officials at the city council a petition signed by several thousand football fans, who through their signatures demanded the construction of a ''twin stadium'' alongside the ''Rote Erde''. The stadium should be built regardless of whether or not Dortmund - and at the time it didn’t look this would be the case - was named as a host city for the World Cup in 1974. 

The meeting had to be moved from the old council headquarters at Betenstraße to the Reinoldi-Gaststätten in order to accommodate the large number of journalists who had come to Dortmund from all over Germany. This 4 October was the last possible date that a decision could be made on the construction of the stadium in time to ensure that it would be ready for its intended purpose by 1974.

In this all-important meeting to decide the future of the major project, differing opinions could be found throughout the council representatives belonging to the various political parties. A roll-call vote was taken - as an absolute exception - at the request of those opposed to the construction of the stadium. Council members were free to vote as they pleased, with no compulsion to toe the party line. However, the FDP representatives voted ''No'' as a block. In the end, the result was 40 votes in favour and 13 opposed. The proportion of SPD members in favour was considerably higher than it was among CDU members. The debate in the chamber, although lively at times, was always focused on concrete elements of the project. 

After the building permit was issued a few days later, 18 October 1971 was rapidly approaching and with it the first cut of the spade, pardon: the first dig of the excavator for the new stadium, which at that point did not yet have a name. 18 October, a Wednesday, was a glorious autumn day. As an employee of the information and press office, I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the event to mark the start of the large-scale stadium project. I was joined by my colleague, the photographer Margret Reimann.

Top representatives from the council were there, including Erich Rüttel, the ''father'' of the future stadium, Willi Spaenhoff, who would go on to be elected mayor, Fritz Kauermann, the elder statesman of sport in Dortmund, as well as the representatives of the structural engineering office and the companies carrying out the construction. First, the construction plans were laid out and the initial stages of the work were explained. And then the time had come: the standing tribune of the small ground was removed, right where I had so often watched the Black & Yellows train in the 1960s. The construction of the new stadium had officially begun.

The very next day, a consortium of several local construction companies started building the new stadium. First, 50,000 square metres of soil were excavated. There were slight delays in the early stages of construction, as the foundations had to be specially secured due to old mining tunnels from the previous century. Almost three dozen unexploded bombs were also found and had to be defused.

By the time the topping-out ceremony came around, 1,500 tonnes of reinforcing steel and 6,500 square metres of concrete had been processed on the construction site. The construction of the roof required 750 tonnes of steel. The four reinforced concrete stands were built as prefabricated structures. The heating centre for the water supply was built outside the stadium, next to the water filter system of the "Volkspark" swimming arena, so that the swimming pool could be supplied with hot water at the same time as the stadium. The outer dimensions of the stadium were 150 x 200 metres; the entire building site covered 50,000 square metres. The ground could hold a total of 54,000 football fans. The 17,000 seats in the east and west stands were 100% covered, while 80% of the 37,000 standing places were covered. The greatest distance from the edge of the pitch was 40 metres, while the highest seat was 17 metres above the pitch. The stadium was equipped with four floodlight masts with a lighting capacity of 1,250 lux. Booths for television and radio reporters were built above the stands. The press were given separate seats with writing desks and telephone connections. Everything was cutting-edge and ultra-modern. 

Then came the time to answer the question: "What should our new stadium be called?'' In April 1972, the head of the sports department, Erich Rüttel, noticed the result of a naming competition organised by the Westfälische Rundschau, in which the name "Westfalenstadion" had emerged as the winner. He duly proposed this name to the city council. Other suggestions were: Ruhrstadion, Tremoniastadion, Ardeystadion, Willi-Brandt-Stadion, Europastadion, Hansastadion and Reinoldusstadion. The city council approved Rüttel's suggestion, and in addition to the Westfalenhalle and the Westfalenpark, Westphalia's largest city now also had the Westfalenstadion. Little surprise then, that just a short time later, there was talk of the famous "Dortmund triplets".

When financial problems meant Cologne had to withdraw from hosting games at the 1974 World Cup, Dortmund put itself forward as a reserve host city for the tournament. FIFA accepted Dortmund's application on 10 February 1972, meaning the city could start preparing to host the biggest sporting event in its history. Erich Rüttel was named director of the Dortmund World Cup site. The people of Dortmund - in particular the countless football fans - followed the progress of construction, showing great interest in the project and visiting the site with regularity. In the end, the topping-out ceremony was celebrated on 29 March 1973, with a large crowd in attendance. 

The invitation simply read: "On Thursday, 29 March 1973, at 14:00, the topping-out ceremony for the Westfalenstadion Dortmund, Strobelallee, will be celebrated. We cordially invite you to attend this event, Reinke, mayor, Imhoff, chief municipal director."

There was great joy when Germany coach Helmut Schön and his star-studded team featuring Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Sepp Maier, Wolfgang Overath and Günter Netzer visited the not-quite-completed Westfalenstadion on 12 October 1973. The words of the national team coach were simple but effective: ''We congratulate Dortmund for this magnificent stadium!'' And: ''The only stadium in the world to surpass the Westfalenstadion is Mexico City's Azteca Stadium!'' These words proved a major coup for the city, and led to large-scale coverage in the international press. Dortmund was delighted to receive recognition from such a respected figure, whose endorsement also provided a huge marketing boost. 

The Westfalenstadion was completed on schedule by March 1974 and ready to be inaugurated. After discussions with the DFB, Erich Rüttel managed to secure two inaugurations for the stadium, which was also the case for the ''Rote Erde'' back in 1926. First there was an unofficial one on 2 April 1974, then came the official one on 17 April, with an international fixture which pitted Germany against Hungary. 


The Westfalenstadion cost approximately 32 million marks (the equivalent of 16.4 million euros). This meant the entire stadium was cheaper than just the roof of the Olympic Stadium in Munich, and also cost significantly less than the respective stadium reconstruction costs of the other eleven World Cup host cities. The stadium was financed by subsidies from the federal government and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia as well as contributions from the lottery, which was launched for the World Cup, so that in the end the city of Dortmund only had to contribute six million marks from its own coffers. Everyone involved had made excellent use of a unique opportunity! 

''Unofficial inauguration'' on 2 April 1974

"Round female calves and bouncing breasts caused jubilation among the established male world of football!" It was with these rather unusual words that the Westfälische Rundschau "praised" the inauguration of Dortmund's Westfalenstadion on 2 April 1974 by the women's football teams Mengede and Waltrop. Erich Rüttel, the city's sports director, had prevailed over BVB and the DFB. In contrast to the latter, Rüttel predicted a bright future for women's football. And so it was that at 18:18, a woman from Mengede with the lovely Westphalian name Elisabeth Podschwadtke scored the stadium's first ever goal after three minutes of play and thus wrote her name into the history books!

Several prominent figures were in the stands, including work and social minister Walter Arendt, Willia Daume, the chief organiser of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and Krupp CEO Bertholt Beitz. 50,000 excited attendees enjoyed a colourful entertainment programme and a festival of football. There were the obligatory opening speeches from mayor Günter Samtlebe and BVB president Heinz Günther, followed by performances from the ''Goldstar Majorettes'' from Arnheim and the police orchestra. Then there was the aforementioned football game between the women's teams VfB Waltrop and TBV Mengede (2-1) and a local derby of BVB vs. FC Schalke 04 (which Schalke won 3-0).

But the real star attraction was, of course, the new "Westfalenstadion". The stadium drew huge interest. The atmosphere, the proximity of the crowd to the pitch, the floodlights, the service for the fans - superb! Even the often critical press were effusive in their praise. "The so-called Dortmund triplets - Westfalenhalle, Westfalenpark, Westfalenstadion - is probably the largest and most important sports centre in the country next to the Olympic Park in Munich," wrote the FAZ. "A brilliant stadium with an English atmosphere" or "A stadium for the singers" could also be read.

FC Schalke 04 showed great generosity in appearing at the stadium inauguration free of charge. BVB pocketed a solid 300,000 marks in net profit - a good amount for a club that was by no means financially well-off at the time.

The official inauguration took place on Wednesday 17 April, with a meeting between Germany and Hungary in a rematch of the 1954 World Cup final. For the organising committee of the 1974 World Cup, headed by Erich Rüttel, the occasion was an excellent trial run for the big event. The team of Beckenbauer, Müller and Co. put in a fantastic performance on their way to a well-deserved 5-0 win. The goalscorers were Herbert Wimmer, Bernd Hölzenbein, Erwin Kremers and the recently deceased Gerd Müller (2).

Netherlands vs. Brazil - the big hit of the World Cup

In appreciation of the achievements of Erich Rüttel, the father of the Westfalenstadion, we'll use his own words to describe the 1974 World Cup:

''And then, in June and July 1974, the most memorable and spectacular games of the World Cup were held in Dortmund:

Zaire 0-2 Scotland
Netherlands 0–0 Sweden
Bulgaria 1-4 Netherlands
Netherlands 2-0 Brazil


Our Dutch rivals played three games against strong opposition in Dortmund. Their game against Brazil, which pitted the two most fancied teams against one another in a match described as ''worthy of a final'', drew global interest. No wonder then that so many people wanted to attend the game: 17 heads of state and government ministers from all over Europe were welcomed to Dortmund on 3 July 1974 by Mayor Samtlebe and myself as 'World Cup Chief' - headed by the American secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who was a big football fan, and his host, minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

A fantastic win over Brazil on an unforgettable summer evening meant the Netherlands qualified for the final, where they would face Germany in Munich. In the end, Germany were crowned World Cup winners. After the tournament was over, Dortmund's stadium drew praise from around the world. Hosting the most interesting games in the competition meant Dortmund was the most important World Cup city after Munich.''

The difficult issue of floodlights


''The floodlights caused a bit of bother, but everything else ran smoothly!'' This was the headline in the Westfälische Rundschau on 21 June 1974. The reason? Dortmund's Westfalenstadion had undoubtedly been the big hit of the 1974 World Cup. Just one issue, a rather big one at that, had given the organising committee sleepless nights: the floodlights. They were brilliant and met international standards in every regard, but there was just one problem: they cut out at several points during the first few matches. With the eyes of the world watching, it was safe to say it caused embarrassment. 

The first outage occurred at the unofficial inauguration event, when the floodlights stopped working at 20:53 during the BVB vs. Schalke match. Fortunately this was during the half-time pause and was considered nothing more than a minor blunder. Nonetheless, the municipal building department was tasked with sorting out the problem. They fiddled around with the floodlights, held trial matches, they did all they could. Everything okay, problem solved it seemed. Then came the Germany vs. Hungary match on 17 April. The floodlights once again cut out at 20:53 CET. Again they were tested, again they were found to work fine. But the issue occurred once more during a BVB match held in the evening as a trial run, as the players were plunged into darkness. The first game of the World Cup held at the stadium - Scotland vs. Zaire - also suffered from the same problem. Erich Rüttel flipped out, the experts were at a loss. Then, at the second World Cup match, the commentator on Dutch television made the following prediction at 20:30: "Ladies and gentlemen, rejoice! In a few minutes the floodlights here in the stadium will go out!" 

But he was wrong! The problem had been recognised and resolved. Back then, the streetlights in the whole of Dortmund came on at approximately 20:50. This caused excess pressure in the fuses at the Westfalenstadion, which then caused the floodlights to cut out. Problem recognised, problem solved. Nonetheless, this was an unpleasant side issue which affected the first four matches and did slight damage to the otherwise excellent image of the new super stadium.

A special experience in Brazil

I have particularly fond images of an experience in Sau Paulo, which has remained unforgettable for me, the author of these lines. There, next to the old Corinthians stadium, is where the Brazilian football museum - the home of countless treasures from the golden epochs of the Selecao - can be found.

I was travelling with a high-level delegation, and we made a stop to visit the museum. As I stepped through the entrance, I saw a huge video screen which was separated into 20 individual parts. A member of the delegation came over to me and told me that the 20 greatest stadiums in the world were shown on the display in front of me, and he then asked me to choose my number one. I had a closer look and was taken aback. There, in the top-left corner, I saw a familiar sight. The south stand of our stadium, our SIGNAL IDUNA PARK. A clip from a game against Schalke had been selected and put on display. There I was, thousands of kilometres away from Dortmund, and experienced the reaction of the people around me, who stood open-mouthed in amazement at our south stand. 

Everyone present was impressed, and soon broke out in spontaneous applause at our football cathedral. In Brazil, the world's leading football nation, our home stadium was deemed one of the greatest. I stood with reverence and pride in front of the incredible image and felt like a little boy standing under the Christmas tree, experiencing the most incredible gift.

Author: Gerd Kolbe 
Photos: Gerd Kolbe archive