Union Berlin V Köln. Of course, a fixture of huge importance to both sides, as prior to the game, both were winless in the Bundesliga II this season. However, I’ll always remember it as the Friday night one of my good mates ‘got it’. He finally understood football.
My mate Rob was in Berlin with his girlfriend and was given the option of an alternative tour of Berlin street art or a Union match. Union were without a win this season and the street art tour was highly recommended – Cruise being Cruise chose the football. A decision made stranger as this was only his second ever football match. He does not really like football. Who can blame him, as a Colchester United home game, was hardly likely to get him enamored with the beautiful game.
I’d clearly done a good ‘sales job’ on Cruise. ‘You can drink beer, eat a sausage and have some banter with me while the game is on mate’ was all it took. He must love beer and sausage. He diligently took my advice as we took on refreshments at Ostkreuz where the purchase of a Berliner Kindl beer is mandatory. The train filled up with Union fans and we were sharing the carriage with some away fans. No sign of trouble - just a mass of red and white on display from both sets of fans.
The plan had been to go and visit a statue in Köpenick but time was in short supply so we abandoned that cultural idea and instead headed through the forest towards the ground. The game was Union’s third sold-out home game in a row and we’d arrived with precision timing at the busiest period – half an hour before kick-off. However, such is the efficiency of the facilities, we had ample time to get ourselves fed and watered.
“This was only the second match of football I've ever been to and the first one I've enjoyed. The crowd were electric, the chaps with beer backpacks were a welcome feature, and the whole atmosphere of walking up through the trees, the grills and bars outside the stadium and the friendliness of the crowd reminded me more of a festival than a sporting event.”
The game kicked off with the Eisern in good voice. Everything was going well for about 2 minutes until disaster struck. The referee awarded Köln an absolutely disgraceful penalty. The fans in the home end were seething. It looked harsh from our end of the ground but I had a sneaking feeling that perhaps the Union defender had scythed the Köln striker down. TV replays show it was a fair challenge from the side. Union were one down and had an uphill struggle ahead. However, their fans continued to show their support and there were still 87 minutes to reverse the score line. My 2-1 prediction was still on.
Union commanded large swathes of possession and Köln seemed content to harry and press without Union actually creating too many clear cut chances. The Union goal, poked home by Silvio on the half hour mark, had something a touch comical about it. Perhaps it was the defending or perhaps it was the way the way the ball seem destined to cross the line. It was akin to a game of pinball where you know finally you’ll hit the ‘high score thingy’ if you keep whacking the ball in the same direction. That analogy is especially for Cruise.
Union's youngest fan?
The second half continued in the same vein with Köln appearing happy to try and hit Union on the counter-attack. Köln were being made to look every inch the team without any confidence and it made sense that they were also chasing their first win. In a previous blog I cited Mattuschka as the driving force behind Union’s likely success this year. Due to being on the bench and struggling to find form he’s had a quiet season so far, but he rose to the occasion and after the ball was well worked to the left flank, he cut inside, before curling a delightful chipped pass in to the bottom corner to make it 2-1 on 56 minutes.
Rob and I went berserk and ended up chatting to some guys around us who had certainly been taking full advantage of the bloke selling beer from his backpack – as had we to be fair. The Dortmund fan was very impressed by the atmosphere. High praise indeed. The Union fans started hoisting their scarves aloft and chanting. Rob was trying to capture this on his phone. I stood surveying the scene. My mate who did not like football was in Berlin and was loving it. Union held on with crowd urging them over the finishing line to notch a valuable first 3 points of the campaign. Job done on all counts.
Hearing him wake up and sing 'Union Berlin' on Saturday morning was brilliant. I'll leave the final word with Rob. It says it all and is an equally damning indictment on the modern game in the UK.
"If football was more like this in the UK I'd probably be a football fan. For the first time in my life I felt like I 'got it'."