The train from Hauptbahnhof was packed with the red and white of FC Union Berlin fans. It was standing room only for our group which meant that we got chatting to supporters from both clubs. The consensus from the young 17 year old Energie fan was that Union were one of the best supported clubs in terms of volume in the Bundesliga. He spoke disdainfully about the Hertha fans who really do "only sing when they're winning".
The 100 minute journey meant that we arrived in Cottbus for 11:20 where we were greeted by the Polizei. Some of them were very friendly and we managed to avoid an escort by removing any trace of Union, brandishing a press pass (handy) and explaining we wanted to see the sights and have a 'coffee'. There are few sights and we did not consume any coffee.
Armed with no map or clue as to where the city centre was we did what you always do in these scenarios. We followed people in the direction of the ground. After our negotiations, walking back to find what we thought looked a good spot, closed, we ended up in a Kebab shop. You can always rely on a Kebab shop being open and of course selling beers.
The scenic route we took was stunning and a far cry from the cobbled streets and terraced houses that used to hem in Roker Park. We ambled through a small forest parallel to The Spree river and had we been home fans we would have been in the ground to see the teams run out. As it was, we were in the opposite corner and due to The Stadion der Freundschaft having only one way that you could walk round the ground, this resulted in us forgoing a pint and missing the KO by 5 minutes. Poor form considering some of us were at the train station with 40 minutes to spare!
The opening exchanges were nervy and neither side were prepared to take any risks and expose themselves at the back with Union controlling large swathes of possession. The nerves were understandable for the home side, who came into the game knowing that if they lost and other results went against, them they would be relegated.
The game exploded into life just before half time with Energie having a goal ruled out after a bullet header passed the helpless Union keeper. The Berlin side charged straight down the other end and were awarded a disputed penalty when Cottbus full-back Ziebig was adjudged to have felled Union's Terrode, who looked to be going nowhere. The penalty was dispatched crisply by Markus Karl in to the bottom corner. However, the referee decided the "elf meter" needed to be retaken due to encroachment from several Union players. The follow up smashed off the cross bar and the ball was scrambled away to safety.
Zombie Natiion was played over the speakers at half-time and this became the adopted Union anthem for most of the second half. Reminiscent of when Sunderland played Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough and Roy Keane, the then Sunderland manager, was serenaded to a version of Hey Jude by the Mackem faithful.
Whilst the majority of the first half had been a pretty turgid affair, both teams appeared to have responded to the half-time team talk and came out with more purpose. Perhaps scores had been fed to the Energie team as the rumours on the terraces were that results were not going their way. On the hour mark Cottbus made the breakthrough but would not be in front for long as Union responded in under 90 seconds. The Energie goal was passed in to the Union net with aplomb, defying the skill seen up until that point, by Daniel Adlung. Ede headed in the Union equaliser after some neat play down the flank and a well delivered cross made it harder for him to miss than score.
The atmosphere in the ground was noisy, with the Berliners in good voice, as they had been throughout. However, it was the supporters from Cottbus who were singing just after 70 minutes when they were awarded a free-kick just outside the penalty area. The Union reserve keeper will have been disappointed that he appeared to be beaten by a well taken but not brilliant strike by Rangelov. The ball was almost in the middle of the goal. Union rallied and were unlucky not to snatch a draw that there possession merited. However, the game finished 2:1 and both sets of fans can now enjoy the 'sommerpause'.
The journey home was a strange affair as we had to go via Frankfurt. Luckily it was the Frankfurt in Berlin-Brandenburg and not the one down south. Uwe skillfully procured more refreshments with at least 5 seconds to spare when we changed trains. I also got the details of a Union photographer who has taken some good shots of the day - look out for the old train that some Union fans traveled on.
The highlight of the day was my travelling companions. The 5 of us supported Union but grew up watching football in diverse places - two of us from the north east of England, one from Jerusalem and Uwe, our new German friend who has a FC Union season ticket, who we sold our spare ticket to. This impressed a Union fan called Matthias who took delight that Union has an international fan base that is "multi-kulti".
We had a last drink in a cafe outside Ostbahnhof and managed to witness a Frenchman on his stag do. The opportunity was too good to pass up and so we got the obligatory photo. The result did not go our way this time but then supporting Union is about much more than the result. I even learned a bit of German that will come in handy. The chant "Auf die Fresse" was my favourite. Big thanks to my translation man - Eisern Union, eisern Union!!