Sunday, 17 February 2013

Mein Erstes Mal / My First Time

When we have a proper website there will be a section about 'Mein Erstes Mal.' As a pre-cursor, have a read about how Newcastle fan, David Ellison, popped his Union cherry. If you'd like to write about your first time (or anytime at all come to think of it) at Union get in touch - we'd love to share your story with everyone.

In the Summer of 2011, myself and my good friend Scott had planned to go on an InterRail trip for a month starting in July in my favourite city of them all, Berlin. As it happened, the trip was postponed for a year, but we were still going to Berlin so all was not lost.

About a week or so prior to departure, I half-heartedly checked the fixtures of a certain Hertha BSC, only to find they weren't playing. In the back of my mind, probably as a result of too many games on Football Manager,  I was sure there was another team in Berlin. 'I'll heck FC Union Berlin,` I thought and indeed I was right. Having fumbled my way through their website using my A-Level German skills it turned out they were playing Greuther Fürth at home on the day of our arrival. Happily, our budget airline flight pitched us up at Schönefeld at 9am, meaning we could attend. All I knew was that the Stadium was called 'Stadion An der alten Försterei'; when translated, this means 'stadium near the old forester's house' which didn't instill me with confidence with regard to finding the ground. It would be fine, we knew the S-Bahn station we needed and from there we'd be OK, or so we hoped.

We arrived in Berlin with no problems and dropped our bags at our hostel near Friedrichstraße  and returned to the station, bound for Köpenick, a town-cum-suburb at the Eastern edge of Berlin. As the train headed east, we picked up ever more fans and slowly the buzz built inside me for my first game beyond the confines of mainland Britain. Piling off the carriage and down the stairs we began to follow the flow of fans towards the ground, buying a beer off a man with a trolley, which we now realise is standard Berlin practice. We passed a flare under a bridge and a rather busy looking bar before walking through the forest on the approach to the ground itself. I made reference to the name of the ground previously but I hadn't realised the ground was actually in the forest! Sensational stuff.

We paid for our 'stehplatze' and treated ourselves to a 'schal' (scarf) before devouring the steak roll which to date remains the best food I've eaten at a football match. Taking our places on the terrace I was immediately drawn to the words above the stand behind the goal.

Our love. Our team. Our pride. Our association.

One hell of a contrast to the vile '' badge emblazoned upon the home of my team at St James' Park. It was becoming increasingly obvious that this was one hell of a club, one that's not just for the people, but with the people.  As kick-off approached, so the terraces filled and suddenly everyone raised their scarves with the loudspeakers beginning to bellow out a song. We obliged with the scarf raising but we could not partake in the vociferous rendition of the song which we now know as Nina Hagen's Eisern Union, but I did manage to pick out a few of the lyrics, which were clearly hugely emotive.

Wir aus dem Osten gehen immer nach vorn // We from the east always go forward
Wer lässt sich nicht vom Westen kaufen// Who will not be bought by the West? (thanks KiWo)
Wir werden ewig leben//We will live forever

Taken aback by this, it took a while to register the way in which the Unioner were heralding the team sheet.  It's fairly standard practice in Germany and increasingly elsewhere for the announcer to shout out the player's forename with the fans to belt out their surname. This is also the case at Union, however  there's a little addition on the end - 'FUßBALL GOTT'. Football god. The game hadn't even kicked off and already we were absolutely loving it.

The game was soon underway but unfortunately the quality of the atmosphere was not reciprocated on the pitch, with it being a largely scrappy affair with Fürth being two up by the half hour mark. The support remained unwavering from the Unioner whilst the small pocket of Fürth fans were going absolutely wild, clearly enjoying their day out in the capital. All the while an affable elderly gent kept chatting to us, albeit in German and with it being three years since I'd spoken the language the conversation was rather lop sided in his favour, with my responses mainly being 'Ja' and 'wir brauchen ein Tor'. Half time came and went without incident aside from a fresh Berliner Pilsner and after 50 minutes Fürth as good as sealed the win with the third. Union had been creating good chances but conspiring to spurn them all with incredible disdain. The forward line of John Jairo Mosquera and Silvio was far from dynamic, prompting the crowd to come out with my favourite chant of the day.

ein Tor, dass kann doch nicht so schwer sein
a goal cannot be that difficult

With the game sliding towards a defeat, I began to leaf through my programme, where there was an article about the previous season's win over Hertha at the Olympiastadion and Union's 25,000 away fans which was yet more reason to love this club from the East. In the 80th minute Fürth got themselves a fourth, which made no difference at all; Union fans still wanted a goal and the Fürth fans remained crazed. 

It was bizarre to us that the crowd never once turned on the team; it was evident that these fans will follow the team whatever happens without ever really getting angry. At a typical Premier League game, be it Scottish or English, a game will never pass without fans hurling abuse at a player, yet this never once happened. Indeed after the final whistle the vast majority of the crowd stayed behind to applaud the team. Another extraordinary moment on an extraordinary day.

As we and the 15,000 others headed back through the forest we wore our scarves proudly, despite the fact it was a lovely summer's day and the S-Bahn was like an oven. Since that day I've followed Union closely, having been back to see them twice more, most recently paying £200 for flights to see the Berlin Derby whilst my browsing history is dominated by watching videos of Union fans on YouTube. Some people have questioned my love for Union and my reply is always a simple one; just go. I defy anyone to go and see 1. FC Union Berlin and not fall in love and equally I defy anyone to visit Berlin and not be mesmerised by an incredible city.

Einmal Unioner, immer Unioner
Once a Unioner, always a Unioner
David Ellison


  1. I love this article. If I may, just one little thing: "Wer lässt sich nicht vom Westen kaufen?" is not referring to buying 'from' the West but rather means: "Who will not be bought by the West?" Implying we won't be. Therefore the next line: "Wir werden ewig leben./We will live forever."

  2. Yeah, I should have corrected that for David. Great point. Thanks and glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Hope that David can make a permanent move to Berlin soon, as he told us he'd like. Maybe as a Europa League winner?

  4. One of those things would be nice.