Tuesday, February 01, 2011

1. FC Union Berlin – FK Teplice (09-01-2011)

Berlin is one of the few capitals that lack a dominant football team (think also of Bern or, to some extent, Paris). At this moment, for the first time in many years, the city has no team in the 1. Bundesliga (First Division). Instead, they have two teams in the 2. Bundesliga (Second Division): Hertha BSC, the team from the former West that was relegated last year, and 1. FC Union Berlin, from the former East.

Being in Berlin with a group of US students, M and I made our way by car to the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. After a five minute walk over an iced and snowed path we arrived at the stadium. Created in 1920, and significantly removed in 2008-2009, the stadium has a capacity of just under 19.000, with a mere 3.014 seats (just over the minimum required for the Second Division). We bought tickets at €7 for the standing section of the stadium (only two stands were opened for this game). On the program was a friendly game (Testspiel) against FK Teplice, currently the number 6 in the Czech Gambrinus Liga (First Division), in preparation of the new season.

Union is a team from the former East Germany, which has a mostly local (district) and working class support. They still refer to themselves as Eiserne Union (Iron Union); in the GDR they were the team of the trade union (FDGB). Before the game the 1.021 fans, spread over just two of the four stands, sing their club song, sung by the famous German punk diva Nina Hagen, which creates a nice cozy atmosphere.

The fans are clearly happy that the new season is about to start and that they see their friends again in the stadium. This happiness is elevated by a freak goal in the 14th minute; a beautiful shot from 16 meter in the upper corner of the goal: 1-0. After that the game becomes pretty poor, as Union has the will but not the talent, and Teplice the talent but not the will. After a couple of half chances for the visitors, a Union player gets stuck at the edge of the penalty box, turns, and kicks the ball in the low far corner: 2-0. Half Time!

After our students have raided the fan shop, and joined us on the stand, the second half starts and continues the bizarre game. In the 48th minute, after a Union attack seems to have been stopped, the striker turns and kicks the ball in the cross of the goal: 3-0! After a couple of minutes, a Union player was brought down in the box: penalty!

With the penalty taken care off, and a comfortable 4-0 lead, Union no longer pressured for more and Teplice, while still unmotivated, created some small chances. However, very little exciting happened after that, and 4-0 was the final score. The fans said goodbye to each other, had a last beer or sausage, and went home happily.

Union is the third team I see in Berlin, after Hertha and TeBe, and it is clearly my favorite. Even with just over 1.000 people at a friendly, an Union game is experiencing football as it was meant to be, passionate, friendly, and local. Here people love their club, respect their players, and know their fellow supporters. Definitely highly recommended for every real groundhopper!

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