An unashamedly partisan post as I reflect on the Berlin derby.
|Red flames greet Union Berlin|
Make no mistake, this was a triumph for the red and white team from Köpenick. Naturally, in the aftermath, there was talk of two points dropped rather than one point gained. That's inevitable after being 2-0 up and leading the game for well over an hour. The convincing nature of Union's demolition of Hertha in the opening hour will live long in the memory. Again, to be clear, Hertha were restricted to play acting, moaning and did little to test the Union goalkeeper in the first hour of this game. As they became increasingly frustrated the Unioner rallied around their team, becoming increasingly louder as the first half drew to a close.
The day had started early for the 'Union in Englisch' crowd as we joined forces with the Danish Union supporters and took over the Oscar Wilde pub in Berlin's Mitte district. We were also joined by representatives of the Swedish Unioner and our good friends from the Eiserne Botschafter. Friedrichstraße station was awash with red and white. Even those who were in the 'home' end were wearing Union scarves and were later able to walk freely around the stadium with no hint of trouble. There was an estimated 25,000 Union fans in the ground. Around 30% of the capacity. Without the neutrals and the international fans, who had traveled en masse, the derby probably would not have sold out. As Erik from the Swedish Unioner fan club pointed out, 'Hertha Berlin have spectators and Union Berlin have fans.' That's not to decry the Ostkurve, who do their best to create an atmosphere. It's just difficult in such a large arena with a running track and music that's played when the home team score.
The differences between the two clubs are stark. Hertha have spent lavishly in comparison to their neighbours, possess a gigantic rented stadium and the 40th and 75th minute were sponsored by firms keen to advertise themselves to the clubs' fans. They also went into the game as clear favourites and were a massive 15 points ahead of Union, and to give some context to Union's achievement, had conceded only 5 goals at home this season before the derby. The best defensive record in the division. Union finished this game with the 3rd worst away defence, in terms of goals conceded, in the league. The top three have now scored a total of 9 goals against the Berliners. Union's advantage is whilst they have garnered only 2 points from these three games, they have scored an impressive 8 goals in reply.
Union made a mockery of the stats and were leading inside 10 minutes. I've no idea what happened as I was probably about a mile away from the action on almost the back row of the upper-tier. Terodde scored - I learned this from someone in front of us who had an app. The delights of modern day football and watching in an international sporting arena. The net bulged and 25,000 Union fans went berserk. Standard stuff at big football games. I was hugging the long haired German, jumping around with my mate Rob and trading high-fives with 'app woman' and her husband. When Union score, whether home or away, I get this feeling of being at one with my fellow fans. I may not be fluent in German but football transcends this. Barriers fall down like a wall as people lose their inhibitions and freely hug strangers. Much as they probably did in Berlin on November 9th 1989.
If you're reading this blog it is unlikely you need a match report. A blow by blow account is not what I can offer. The emotion and tension was that of a derby. You will the clock forward. At one stage in the second half I was sure that the seconds had started to slow down on the huge electronic scoreboard above the Ostkurve. I was worried. Half-time passed with much merriment as a home fan failed with his answer when guessing the amount of stations between Ostkreuz and Köpenick. It's 5 not 4. Ludicrous half-time entertainment from DB - the Hertha sponsors. As ludicrous as the situation on the S-Bahn post-match, as it took us over 2 hours to get back to our side of the city.
I'd seen Union away in Braunschweig and we'd surrendered the lead twice. The nerves were settled when Mattuschka put the ball on a plate for Nemec. We could see this time and I ended up in the row in front due to the euphoric celebrations. This was 'our time' I thought. I did not dare breathe this out loud to Rob. Don't jinx it I told myself. The atmosphere was incessant. The sound could not escape out of the 'Marathon Gate' as Union increasingly upset Hertha's rhythm and closed down the home side. Union's players were clearly beginning to tire. Mattuschka had put in a tremendous shift, breaking up play, spreading the ball wide to the impressive Zoundi and playing the role of leader. He rose to the occasion as top players invariably do. He left the field to a rapturous applause from one-third of the stadium.
The Brazilian, Ronny, had been shackled all game. The Union defence had spent an hour and a quarter brushing off their rivals with relative ease. However, they were undone by two set-pieces and it took something special and the help of the referee for Hertha to drag themselves back into the game. Union failed to clear the ball on a couple of occasions in the left full-back area. After the ball pinged about a free-kick was awarded. I was too far away to definitively tell if it was dubious. It appeared so and the referee had long since lost control of the game; brandishing cards at will and removing the ability to make a robust challenge out of the game.
As fate would have it the free-kick was a carbon copy of the Mattuschka effort that won the derby for Union back in 2011. 'He's too fucking far over,' I muttered as Haas, the Union keeper lined up his wall and stood two yards from his post. The gap was big enough to drive a Russian tank through, the wall failed and the ball ended up in the bottom corner. The Brazilian ran off to jump in the snow. The Unioner broke out in song. It was still a triumph though. We'd twice breached the meanest defence in the league. We'd shown it was not about resources but about team spirit, passionate fans and the pro-pyro lobby will have been happy. Union will likely be fined for the dramatic red flares that lit up the away end. Nonsensical stuff.
The nonsense was far from over though. The game was finished, we trudged off to wait silently together, red and blue, young and old, mother and son, father and daughter, 'auslander' (foreigner) and German. Then it happened. The nonsense. Rival fans were on separate platforms and took advantage of the mounds of snow that had been piled up. A few snowballs were thrown. All good natured. Then someone wearing blue - I won't dignify the idiot with the term fan - threw a glass bottle into the middle of the fans a mere 10 yards from where we were stood. The glass bottle rested near my feet and then we realised someone had been hit. Blood everywhere, the Unioner once again spilling blood for the cause. A sad and unnecessary end to a wonderful weekend. There were woman and children on the platform. Luckily there was no retaliation.
It was, whilst not in terms of points, a victory for Union and I was proud to be part of it. Nobody expected such a high quality performance. Whilst Union could not mimic the 2011 victory, the performance was a significant improvement and Hertha were made to look poor this time round. Union may not gain promotion this season but only a fool would bet against them making an incredible ascent to the top tier in the next few seasons. Perhaps the next time Union play Hertha, both teams will be in the Bundesliga 1.
For more images of the derby take a look at the superb www.facebook.com/groundhoppingetc