I was stuck on an aeroplane so missed the biggest game of the season. Luckily my partner in crime was there and has kindly written an excellent blog - thanks Rob, pints on me next time!
If you ask me, football fans are far too keen to panic. Whether it be a fumbling goalkeeper or a misfiring striker resulting in a poor run of form, the default setting is to panic. It may be true when looking at Union’s points tally (1 from 12) to reach for the panic button, but Monday night was about much more than simply getting three points and climbing up the table
The “Stadtmeisterschaft” really means something. I’ve never lived in a city where two teams dominate the footballing landscape. For the uninitiated, Union in the east, the other lot in the west. As an east Berliner I’ve loved going to see Union over the years, but this was going to be my first derby experience.
One of the first and most interesting things I saw was the presence of a few Hertha fans getting a pre-match beer and sausage at an ostensibly Union meet-up point. There was no trouble, no lingering mendacity, just a couple of blokes in the wrong shirt enjoying their wurstchen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there could (or maybe even was) some trouble between rivalling ultras, but from my limited derby experience I can’t imagine that this image is replicated at similar matches.
Just under an hour to kick off and the main stand is RAMMED. I emphasise this because usually you can rock up say half an hour before kick-off and still wiggle into a fairly decent spot on or around the half way line. Instead the Unioner were there in force, flags, scarves and voices at the ready. When the Hertha players came out to warm up, the whistling was deafening. Like I said, this game really means something.
After an inspiring display of choreography from the Union Ultras, the game was finally underway and for the first quarter of an hour or so, things were looking good for Union. I’m not entirely sure if they had a detailed, tactical plan, but the high-tempo up and at ‘em approach seemed to be working. I’ve maintained that Union are one decent striker away from being a consistent top 6 finisher in Liga 2, and the inability to take (or even create) clear cut chances continues to be a problem.
Once Union had huffed and puffed for a bit, Hertha started to settle in to the game and after a slick passing move, Wagner stuck away the first goal after half an hour. The first half rather fizzled out after that, but after two minutes of the second half Union had their first clear cut chance – a header at the back post which Nemec headed wide. A chance none the less, and this gave us some hope that more was to come. Which it did.
Although not before some Unioner with whom we were standing marked us out as a couple of foreigners and asked us how we ended up at the game. In our Denglish we told them our stories and in no time at all they were educating us about Leipzig’s Liga 4 team. Unlike much of Berlin, where an English accent is an invitation to holding a conversation in English with a German in possession of an American twang, Unioner are always more than welcome to put up with a litany of grammatical mistakes.
After 69 minutes a cross found its way to the diminutive Quiring at the back post who forced the ball in with a crouching diving header. And the crowd went nuts, I mean really nuts. We were jumping and hugging our new mates from Leipzig and I can honestly say it was one of my most euphoric moments watching Union. With twenty minutes to go it was honours even and with the momentum of the goal, Union were looking good to at least make sure it was honours even.
Hope is a funny emotion; I suppose the antithesis to panic in many ways. Whilst panic induces blind pessimism, hope allows a form of unfounded optimism to wash over the soul and increases expectancy to the point where you truly believe that anything is possible. Well, for at least three minutes last night I had hope, and then after conceding a free kick following a nothing foul, Ronny drilled a low, left foot shot from around 22 yards that squirmed under keeper Haas.
And that was that really, the game ran away from Union, and despite the introduction of Silvio, we were unable to convert pressure and desire into chances or even shots on goal.
Still, come full time the Union fans were in full voice. We believe in our club and players and despite the result remain dedicated to the cause