Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Mein Erstes Mal / My First Time

The third installment of the Mein Erstes Mal / My First Time series. This article will feature on the new website but if you'd like to share your first time at Union via this blog then please get in touch. 

“The tears of Emil Kremenliev”

1. FC Union Berlin vs. Hannover 96 1:1 (0:0), att. 9,072, July 30, 2001

"You have to come to Union", Martin said, and at first I didn't think much of it. The first football games I had seen live were in the Olympiastadion in the late 1990s: Hertha played a very successful season; it was the only time they ever qualified for Champions League. I went along with my high-school friends, but we didn’t really get hooked.

I got into football late to begin with. Oliver Bierhoff’s golden goal in the Euro finals in 1996 sparked my interest and it was all downhill from there. I gorged on the vast array of statistics the sport offered and took a general interest in how the other Berlin teams were doing. Tennis Borussia played in second league, backed by a sleazy investor, convinced they’d end up in Champions League. That bubble burst quickly. Union were also in the headlines: as a third league team, they had a fantastic cup run with thrilling matches that propelled them all the way to the final. I did not see any of that in the stadium, though. I merely observed those teams from a distance.

"You have to come to Union!" When Union clinched promotion to second league during the same year they got to the cup final, and I had moved to a place close to my university that also happened to be two miles away from the Alte Försterei, I finally heeded Martin's call. My first Union match was their first-ever appearance in 2. Bundesliga, on July 30, 2001. It was a hot Monday night, I wore shorts and the mild evening breeze wafted through the unroofed terraces. I rocked back and forth on the crumbling steps as I waited for the game to start. I was able to satisfy my hunger for stadium sausage without even leaving my spot, thanks to the “Grillwalkers”, powerful half-man, half-grill cyborgs who roamed the stands plying their wares. If there is anything I miss about the “old” Union, it is these fellows.

9,072 people showed up that night, which was about the average home attendance for the season. Union played Hannover 96, who were the odds-on favorites to win the league (which they easily did in the end). They would not have an easy start into the season, though: Union fought and played well, motivated by a vivacious crowd.

I recognized some familiar melodies from my time at Hertha, but there were also several unique Union chants, like a call-and-response of “Eisern” and “Union”, bounced off the Waldseite (behind the goal) and the Gegengerade (opposite of the main stand). Songs that you just had to sing along to, some even told you to: “1. FC Union Berlin – und alle!” (“everybody!”). There was also a unique way to celebrate goals, though I had to wait 76 minutes to hear it, after Kostadin Vidolov entered the box from the right wing and gracefully curved the ball around the keeper into the far corner.

After you shout the player’s name, the stadium announcer says: “Und niemals vergessen…” (“never forget”) and the crowd roars back: “Eisern Union!” three times. That night I would have loved to shout it more often, but Vidolov (who was the Torsten Mattuschka of the time) only hit the crossbar with a cracking free-kick. When one of Hannover’s men was sent off with a red card in minute 81, everything pointed towards a big surprise. But only sixty seconds later, the ball crossed the Union goal line. The tabloid headlines next day would scream “The tears of Emil Kremenliev” – the unlucky Union defender who accidentally headed a rather harmless high cross into his own net.

It was a bit disappointing, as I felt Union had deserved to win. But it was not disheartening. People in the stands were still in good spirits. I was filled with a feeling of comfort and community that never, ever left me. It was probably just as well that they didn’t win, I got to experience early on that winning is not necessarily what Union is about. A lot of Union fans are in it out of conviction, no matter how the team plays. Many of them are also strong advocates for the team, telling their friends and families about the good time they had at the Alte Försterei. Today, I am proud to count myself among their ranks. And I will tell you what Martin once told me all those years ago: "You have to come to Union!"

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The chase for 3rd place

Win a game at home and Union find themselves in the media glare as play-off contenders. Lose a match away and their mental strength is questioned when away from the Alte Försterei. The players know their away form has not been good enough. Why else moot paying for travel to loyal supporters for the forthcoming long-distance away games?

A wise man told me you can prove anything with stats. Union are therefore the 5th best team in the league.

A blog I read recently highlighted the fact the players are not machines - very true. At only the very highest level can players perform consistently.  I'd argue that the truth about Union's season lies not in home or away form, nor in their defensive frailties but in their squad size. Union are a team punching beyond individual weight. Collectively Union - players, manager, scouts, backroom staff, fans, stadium - form a colossus that no team in the league can rival. Union's 'us against them' mentality turns what should be guaranteed losses into points. They've taken 4 points from Kaiserslautern. The retort - we'll buy one of your best players. They've traded 3 points a piece with Köln, who are genuine play-off contenders after a slow start this term. They went to rivals Hertha and were unlucky not to take all 3 points back to East Berlin.  

The Union squad has been assembled, not on a shoe string budget, but on a thread, dangling from the coat tails of the clubs that have paid them handsomely for the likes of Ede, and to a much lesser extent in terms of revenue, Markus Karl. Every club below FC Hollywood is a selling club in Germany. It's just to what extent they are a selling club. Union, mindful of not sliding into financial ruin once more, are speedy to sell and must pontificate before making a signing. Many of these involving no transfer fee. 

What do Union look for in a new signing?  In the youthful Nemec they looked for raw talent and a player that would strive to reach the 'next level' whether that be with Union or another club. He's slowly found form this season. Time, good coaching and now goals have put him on the brink of the Slovakian international squad. Judging by his early displays for Union, few would have predicted such a rise. Whilst the rise has not been meteoric, he's grown in strength and his positional play has improved. He also looks confident. Whether from 25 yards out against Braunschweig or 6 yards out against Pauli. His header at the Olympiastadion perhaps the pick of the bunch. Exquisite positioning, brute strength and fillip of good fortune at Mattuschka's beautifully angled cross. He's a signifier of Union's intentions and the club's potential. If they can cling on to such players whilst balancing the books then they can be expected to start strongly next season. They'll move from rank outsider to a bookies favourite for a top 3 finish. Coping with the expectation will be a new experience.

I've dreamed of Union putting a late run together and finishing third. I've also studied the run-in for the teams in and around Union. However, it's Kaiserslautern who the chasing pack must catch. The match against Köln will go a long way to deciding who gets the chance to play for a place in the top flight. After that game Kaiserslautern have a relatively easy run of games. Conversely, Union face tricky away games and only three more home games. The weight of those last eight fixtures precludes Union from entering the race for third - this year. Five away games and three at home would suggest making up the 6 point gap is a bridge too far.  

A stronger start to next season, a couple of extra signings, key men staying free from injury and the club have a solid platform to challenge next year. As ever, football is about momentum, hard work and that element that nobody can predict, luck. I've always thought you make your own luck. Union have the necessary ingredients. Let's hope it's a promotion cake we're all scoffing in 2014! 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Mein Erstes Mal / My First Time

The second installment of the Mein Erstes Mal / My First Time series. This article will feature on the new website but if you'd like to share your first time at Union via this blog then please get in touch. 

By Tim Hobden

Forgive me for breaking with convention, but my love affair with 1.Fc Union wasn’t forged by the cracking atmosphere.  Nor was I wooed by the defiant fan culture.  Shockingly, it was the team, the players, and one game in October 2008, which means I now nervously wait for Tweet updates from the Alte Försterei.

It was a standard lads’ weekend away. I’d managed to lure a small band of mates away from the confines of an Irish bar – don’t ask me which one – into the drizzly Prenzlauer Berg afternoon.

I didn’t intend spending four hours mainlining Berliner Pils while gawping at Soccer Saturday, as it excitedly told me Rotherham were drawing nil-nil with Macclesfield.  Nor did I want to don a sweaty helmet and put my dignity at risk on a city Segway tour, while an American tourist repeatedly shouted: “So, where’s Hitler’s bunker?”

I wanted earthy city culture. Not post-modern attempts at art in a derelict warehouse. I wanted proper sights and sounds. And, I won’t lie, a decent bratwurst.  A simple scan of the interweb informed me of a third division tie between FC Union and SC Paderborn. That’ll do.  A rallying clap of the hands gathered two semi-enthusiastic pals and one who clearly misheard the activity on offer, while four still found Jeff Stelling more appealing.

I strode purposefully towards the U-bahn with a finger stuck to the Kopenick stop on the map and my less than merry band in tow.  The thongs of red bobble hats, scarf skirts and sleeveless denim jackets bubbling out of the station suggested we were headed in the wrong direction.

On the assumption they weren’t all bound for a 40th birthday party where the theme was ‘random third division football club’, we about-turned and followed.  Unfortunately, my first experience of Union was at the less-than-grey Jahn Sportpark. A Soviet-style complex with huge floodlight pylons arching over the oval.

Cordons of disinterested police stood stony faced as we purchased bottles of one Euro beer from vendors lent over shopping trolleys… we all wondered how Rotherham were getting on.
For the record, I got my sausage (two). And we filed into a block behind the goal. Fans packed into one side, the rest of the stadium was sparsely populated at best.  It was nice to see a series of vehicles parked on the running track in a flashback to a 1980s Stamford Bridge.

Meanwhile, Paderborn fans obviously hadn’t got the email and almost universally forgotten to turn up, despite the fact they topped the league and were facing the second placed team.
As initial impressions go, it was less than inspiring. I was about to be proven wrong.

A Kop-style display of unfurled scarves and a grumbly choir shouted out the Eisern anthem. The chants began in earnest and we would get a taste of Union fans in full flow.

It was, however, all about the game. To be as brief as possible, Union were two nil down and had a man sent off. They looked dead and buried.  The ten men were beleaguered with a little over 20 minutes left and we started mulling drinking holes to head to.  But, in a script Roy of the Rovers writers would declare too fanciful (and, yes, they would use that word), Union turned the game on its head in spectacular fashion.  Three goals, including a winner at the death, fired the team to the top of the league, leapfrogging Paderborn in the process.

A more spirited comeback I don't remember seeing and haven’t seen since – especially with top spot at stake.  And that was it. I was hooked… all over 20 minutes of football.

By the time we reached the bar, the late afternoon Premiership match was about to kick-off. We couldn’t have cared less.  Talk was about a stunning football match, warming shots of Jaegermeister to toast each ripple of the net – and, where the hell is Paderborn?

We had been collared by a supporter in the stadium who told us all about the fans redeveloping the ground, the rivalry with Dynamo etc. Yes, it all added spice.  But, in truth, it didn't need tarting up. This was my new team… and to think Soccer Saturday almost got in the way.

Here is a decent snapshot of the afternoon – listen to the cameraman is the video (for some reason I am picturing a man with a huge beard).

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Union narrowly edge 'Kult-duell' as they hit 4 past Pauli

It was billed as a 'cult duel' by portions of the Berlin media and on paper it had the makings of a classic. The game was sold out with standing tickets being sold on Ebay for around four times face value. I did wonder whether the game would live up to the atmosphere or crumble under the weight of expectation. I've only witnessed one goalless game at the Alte Försterei - against Vfr Aalen back in November. A game so forgettable, I had to research when it occurred. Since that game, and prior to the Pauli fixture, Union have taken part in  games that have yielded an astonishing 43 goals in 12 matches. 

It does not take a statistician to see that Union have major problems defensively. Only five clean sheet in the league this season must make for depressing reading for Union's backroom staff. Uwe Neuhaus had uttered the classic refrain in his midweek press conference that it's common knowledge that 'you don't change a winning team' and after a defeat Neuhaus always rings the changes. 

It was a surprise to see Christian Stuff on the bench as he made way for Schönheim / Kohlman - as Menz was also a casualty of the defeat in Cottbus against 10 men. One wonders if that match will play a crucial point in determining Union's fate this season.

Pauli came in to the game on the back of three straight wins and Neuhaus has talked up the visitors defensive capabilities whilst almost marveling at how well they have done of late - dragging themselves in to contention for a late challenge to the play-off spot. The Bundesliga 2 is a tight league and is impossible to call as most of those attempting to displace Kaiserslautern in 3rd are inconsistent. This was again demonstrated on Friday night as both Energie Cottbus and Frankfurt dropped much needed points against mid-table sides. 

As is worryingly becoming the norm I had a few tasks to take care of prior to the game. The photography exhibition needed to be taken down so that the Eiserne Botschafter could use the room for a screening on Sunday night. I also had some tickets to shift and sold 2 tickets in Sektor 3 for less than the lad I was with had paid a tout for his solitary 'karte.' Love football hate ticket touts and all that. My journey to the 'other side' of Köpenick brought with it good fortune though, as when a mate turned up and informed me the Pauli team bus was parked outside the hotel opposite, I darted over, ignoring the red man much to the bemusement of the locals and gave the bus a small make-over. The manufacturers logo was now hidden by an 'Union in Englisch' sticker. All good fun.

The Pauli team travel through Köpenick advertising the English fan club

As we walked up the stairs at the Alte Försterei I heard Christian Arbeit say that Köpenich would 'stay red and white' and understood what he was on about when I saw one of the St.Pauli banners - 'Köpenick ist Braun und Weiss.' Again, all good fun. The atmosphere was up there with the best I have experienced pre-match at Union. Arbeit was unable to read out the Union team due to the incessant chanting from the home faithful. The place was unevenly packed with Sektor 3 (the gegengerade runs down one side of the ground) looking sparse at the corner near the visitors and overflowing into the aisles near the home end where we were situated next to a couple of St.Pauli fans decked out in their colours. 

I'll apologise now for getting on my high-horse but it is stuff like this that makes going to watch Union special. Two blokes, sharing jokes with the home fans and completely at ease with wearing club colours surrounded by rival fans. There is of course a bond between the two clubs. However, it is moments like this that the media will never pick up on. Preferring to talk of an increase in fan violence and other such nonsense. The two sets of supporters had actually chartered a boat to arrive in Köpenick together - a 4 hour trip from Friedrichstraße on a cold March afternoon. Rather them than me! I'll wait until August when the Botschafter organise their annual trip along the Spree to the match.

The atmosphere had been cranked up for this one. The first time Fortress Försterei had been completely sold out since the building of the new stand. Over 21,000 were there to witness what transpired to be a pulsating duel. The game living up to expectations. Naturally the opening stages were tentative with both teams battling it out in the middle of the park. The game and party atmosphere that has become a regular occurrence when Union play on a Friday night, kicked into life bang on 20 minutes. I imagine the Pauli coach would have been pleased at the age old football mantra of going away from home and 'keeping it tight for the first 20 minutes' and wondering whether Pauli could extend their winning streak. 

Simon Terodde, quickly becoming Union's star striker these days, was the man who broke the deadlock. 

Andrew Cherrie describes Union's opener as part of his excellent live Twitter coverage
Mattuschka, a thorn in the side of St.Pauli this term was instrumental again and as the result suggests won the midfield battle. He was shackled, often by 3 Pauli midfielders, but appeared to always find that extra yard. He's a quick thinker and always a step ahead of the opposition - if not literally then certainly mentally. When in this sort of form he's a joy to watch. Play of this quality is not always part and parcel of the Bundesliga 2. 

The live tweeting is always good when you've actually been to match. I always re-read the tweets and this next 'passage of tweets' shows clearly the passage of play that led up to Pauli's equaliser.

Cherrie describes the build-up to the first Pauli equaliser
The goal always looked likely. The defensive re-shuffle had not made Union appear anymore stable than usual. To give credit to St.Pauli they defend from the front and it was an evening devoid of time on the ball. Short, sharp and 'schnell' was the order of the day.

At 1-1 Union again put pressure on the visitors as they attacked the goal containing the noisy Pauli contingent. Union restored their lead just before half-time although Mattuschka almost contrived to miss what was a simple tap in. He hit the ball with such force that it flew into the back of the net via the underside of the crossbar. His muted celebrations were perhaps more to do with playing his 'get of jail free card' than effortless nonchalance. 

The game remained 2-1 until the 76th minute which saw a peculiar spell of 3 goals in a mere 7 minutes. The goals were always coming and it was simply a matter of which team would tire first. The money was on Union. 

Cherrie predicts the Nuehaus substitution
The equaliser eventually came for St.Pauli in the shape of an absolute rocket from the full-back.

2-2 heralds the start of a 7 minute goal fest
Union seemed to discover the tank was unlike the beer sellers backpacks and in fact not quite empty. They immediately launched wave after wave of attack in an attempt to restore their lead for a third time.  They were rewarded in front of the home end with young Nemec adding his name to the score sheet after Zoundi had fired spectacularly wide when only a few yards out and one on one with the keeper. It was again the mercurial Mattuschka who created the opening with a beautifully weighted ball slipped into the path of the Union striker. The Försterei was bouncing and the 3-2 win that had been predicted at half-time by our resident tweeter was looking good. 

Union were not finished and even had time to substitute Mattuschka and replace him with Menz before adding to their goal tally. It was Terodde again who gave the scoreline a touch of class. A 4-2 win sounds comfortable. This was anything but. It was a hard fought victory and a very valuable 3 points as Union only have 3 home games remaining. Union won't finish 3rd due to their poor away form but bettering last term is certainly achievable. Terodde's goal was of his own making. He received the ball with his back to goal and held of his man whilst swiveling and unleashing an unstoppable shot. He kept it low and it sped past the keeper to make it 4-2. The game had certainly lived up to expectations both on and off the pitch.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

I'm in the middle of reading a Charles Dickens biography.  I'm not usually big on literary references within the blog but I was reminded of this quote and thought it too good an opportunity to miss. This passage says it all about Union on a Friday night in Berlin followed by Sunderland on a Saturday afternoon in the north-east of England.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,it was the season of light,it was the season of darkness,it was the spring of hope,it was the winter of despair.”  Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

The best of times on the pitch were at Union as we demolished Aue 3-0. The worst of times was the sad realisation that in almost a year without a Sunderland home game, I'd drifted so far from the club, that I was not bothered about the match - just seeing my mates. 

The age of wisdom can be found in the two club's balance sheets. Union remain solvent, admittedly after a turbulent past. Sunderland continue to spend Millions of a Billionaire's personal fortune on chasing a dream of mid-table security and the odd European away day. The Premier League is driving away goodwill, if not fans; appearing to be a great signifier of the age of foolishness.

Belief, as I have argued before, is paramount to the football fan. Always believe, we must 'still believe', even when the German fans are taunting us with 'It's coming home', as they did against Arsenal at the Emirates recently. The incredulity was seeing three penalties in two games. It should have been at least four.

Spring poked his nose out at the Alte Försterei and the team responded with an equally dazzling performance. The Stadium of Light offered only the coat tails of winter darkness. The clouds loomed over the spaceship looking stadium. The place is a far away galaxy compared to Union's quirky home in the midst of the forest.

Hope springs eternal at Union for a 3rd place finish. However, the Unioner also hope for progress. That would be 6th and quite an achievement. It's been a winter of despair on Wearside as Martin O'Neill's men have steadily slid down the table. Inching towards the Championship - at least the rest of the season will be interesting. Was life better in The Championship, one friend asks.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The Press Conference

I board the U-Bahn at Schönleinstraße which straddles the border of Neukölln and Kreuzberg - two different worlds. Kottbusser Damm separates them, but one wonders for how long, as estate agents brand northern Neukölln 'Kreuzkölln', in an attempt to drive up yield for foreign investors.

The U-Bahn usually snakes its way through the city but I won't experience that today as I alight one stop before Alexanderplatz. I'm heading north to Jannowitzbrücke where I'll take the S-Bahn, changing once to board the Erkner bound train, on a familiar route to the Stadion An der Alten Försterie. Today is different though; it is I who will attempt to straddle two worlds. It is I who wonder what I would even call myself if anybody asks. Am I am fan? Most certainly. Am I a writer? Hardly.

At Jannowitzbrücke I glance left at the top of the stairs as is my custom. I'm fascinated by the TV Tower. The view from the platform Jannowitzbrücke captures Berlin beautifully. An odd mix of the new (Alexa Shopping centre), the old (Soviet Style apartments) and the ugly (a Lidl sits directly underneath me). The 'fernsehturm' is obscured by a grey helmet of mist, reminiscent of Union's mascot - the Knight. There is no red and white today; neither on the tower’s top nor on the S-Bahn to Köpenick. Today is not a match day.

Two days prior to a game Union always train behind closed doors and at noon they hold a press conference. I've somehow invited myself and it beats my usual lunchtime activity of buying delectable Turkish food, just. I'm crossing the divide though; I've been a Sunderland fan for 30 years and never been to a press conference. I'm a fan not a journalist. I wonder how to act. I can't very well work the room introducing myself. This is Germany. The British may be reserved but the Germans are - and I must generalise - cautious folk. I tighten my grey scarf and remind myself to at least appear professional. I'd thought better of wearing my Union scarf. Later I spot a chic black and red number with a very small Union logo. Subtle. I'll have to get hold of one of those.

There is a security guard at the gate before I have finished explaining I am here for the press conference. I turn left, walking behind the new stand, gazing at the yellow bricks that are being installed on the exterior. Christian Arbeit later tells me the yellow bricks are used to deliberately and are pertinent to Köpenick and the industry there. Fucking brilliant. They think of everything. An emphatic nod to their roots when building, what could have been, a ghastly all seated grandstand.

The press conference takes place in a grey portakabin. Everything is grey today. I expect Neuhaus to be grey, bored by the questions of two points from nine and a defeat last weekend in Köln. He's far from it. Before all of this though, I take my seat on the back row. I text a couple of people. Count thirty two red seats for the press and 16 hacks and mull over digging in to the sandwiches. I'm eager to gobble one down but decide against it. I don't want to blow my cover.

It's almost noon when Christian Arbeit pats me on the back. I'm slightly lost for words but manage to say hello and then come out with, 'exciting.' He humours me, he's done this many times before yet still says, 'I hope so.' For Arbeit, Neuhaus and the press pack it is another press conference. I'm taking in every detail. Only two women and one seems to be involved with ensuring the TV camera is in the correct position. The rest blokes. My cover has been blown. I'm every inch the fan scribbling notes before a word has been uttered.

Arbeit is all smiles and handshakes. He's clearly a pro and has a good rapport with the press. He's an imposing figure and would not look out of place on stage swinging an axe. He's a huge music fan and back in his office we discuss his favourite bands and tales of pints necked with the Manic Street Preachers in Huxley's round the corner from my apartment. Brilliant.
Neuhaus enters and a hush descends on the room. He walks purposefully to his seat on Christian's right and takes up his position; hands clenched, elbows on the table and his face scanning the room. I look down at my notebook.

Christian Arbeit

The press conference begins and Herr Koch (I missed which organisation he represented) says something, almost by accident, in response to Christian. Arbeit, at ease with the room, laughs and asks him if he has something to say. It's a relaxed atmosphere and Herr Koch half apologises and Arbeit resumes and explains that there is an empty seat to his left as there is no player attending the press conference today. The journalists are probably disappointed. Perhaps players are less guarded and easier to get a good sound bite from. As a fan I am pleased. No player means the Friday night game is being treated as huge and a must-win. I've made noises on the impossibility of 3rd place for Union. Of course, I always hope. I always believe we can get a couple of results and maybe lady luck will join us in the forest. Or does she just hang around with the Old Lady?

Neuhaus expertly deals with the press and has his script prepared. The audience seems largely local and it's not exactly a jousting match. It's more like watching two tennis players warm up before a big game. Neither plays their strongest shots. After the introduction from Christian, Uwe explains that there are two different types of people. Optimists and skeptics. I remind myself to look up 'skeptisch' in my dictionary. I imagine it's akin to an English manager saying pessimistic. Always best to be sure though; my German teacher often tells me to beware of the 'false friends' when learning German as an English speaker. Nuehaus proceeds to deliver a master class in saying a lot but saying very little. Union have only taken two points from nine is one view. The other is that they went to league leaders Hertha and played them off the park and have only been beaten once this calendar year. Last weekend was a bad day at the office, nothing more.

Mattuschka was unavailable due to a bout of flu against Köln and the press open with an obvious question alluding to Mattuschka's importance to Union.  Neuhaus explains he is club captain and of course important. You can probably guess the rest of the answer. The second question delves a little deeper although it's a practice serve and only at half-speed. The journalist opts for a two part question. Why was Silvio preferred to Özbek last weekend and is Özbek fully fit. Neuhaus returns the classic answer that he has been set up to give. The question has been dinked over the net so he can smash a neat volley - he obliges. 

My view is that Özbek is a new signing and probably short of match practice. Union conceded a goal in each half and whilst looking more comfortable on the ball in the second period, never really posed a threat. Silvio or Özbek - take your pick, the result would have been the same as too many players had an off-day. Silvio is fast losing currency at Union. He tries though and when a player gives 100% at Union, much is forgiven. The press clearly sense this.

The third question is more intriguing and the contract of Menz is enquired about. Neuhaus talks a lot and appears to say, 'who knows?' I make a note to follow this up with Christian afterwards but fail miserably. I'll find out what is going in the papers like all the other fans.

The questions move back to Köln then on to the second string and a journalist asks about the fitness of Felipe Gallegos. What fans don’t always realise is the hard work that goes in to signing a decent young player on a season long loan. Union had many targets and for their loan signing to be injured all season is a cruel blow for those that had worked so hard on securing his signature. 

We then move back to Mattuschka and the training session earlier in the day. If you can learn a lot from language used, which I think you can, it is clear that Neuhaus rules the court. 'Deutlich' is his word of the day and he 'clearly', no pun intended, calls the shots.

The rally ends with Arbeit answering a question on ticket sales. Around seventeen to eighteen thousand are expected on Friday evening when Union face Erzgebirge Aue he tells the room as he concludes the press conference.

It was an interesting experience and I feel privileged to have been invited. I'm hampered by two aspects and only one of these I can cure. My German was not good enough to follow everything that was said. The other aspect, which I can do nothing about, unless I fancy being Neuhaus' arch enemy, are the media questions. They're doing a job and they need copy. They can't serve too hard - this is a face to face knock-around. I guess the harsh words are delivered by the pen. Looking at the authoritative Neuhaus, this is perhaps wise. Above the journalists heads the club have produced warning signs. Much like a ‘mind your head’ sign although it says ‘Caution, headline area.’ The signs face both ways and act as a comedic nudge to journalists and Union staff alike. Arbeit explains that this went down well with the press and you can’t help but feel, as Union slowly progress, that the press conferences that will be held in the new media centre below the almost complete main stand, may soon attract a much wider audience.