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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXNpiw2d-HI – listen to the cameraman is the video (for some reason I am picturing a man with a huge beard).