Rob, Matt and I had convened, as ever, at Ostkreux mid-afternoon. The joys of freelancing. We were knights without masters. Just without a lance - something the policeman in Newcastle probably wished he'd had! We were not looking for any trouble and there was far too many police around to risk it. Perhaps they should brief the police better when they drop them in Köpenick though. It's best to at least know the team colours the fans are wearing.
After our leisurely beverages in the 'Offside Trap' bar we headed towards the ground. The sun had come out, we fancied a decent spot on the terraces and we knew we'd get a drink inside anyway. €1 per beer more expensive but well worth it. Unless the match is deemed a 'security risk' and the sale of alcoholic beer is banned. Shite. Oh well, we soon discovered that Glühwein still had alcohol in it. Just what you want on a balmy Spring evening.
I used to work with Rob in London and it safe to say that football has always united us. We've played in the same (pretty average) team and we now go to Union with our dauerkarte's. I met Matt when another mate Rob was visiting Berlin. We got chatting at the train station after the Köln game and my one season blog did not frighten him off and we've slowly developed a friendship aided and abetted by Union - and Eddie Izzard last week. But chiefly Union. That's what blokes do. They go to football as a way to socialise. Girls do it as well. Just blokes do it more.
Why all the stuff about Union and my two mates? I'm not entirely sure but I think it is two fold. I'm not in the business of offending people (if I was I'd have recounted our take on Mormons) so don't take this the wrong way if we've met or we meet in the future. It's just football becomes ritualistic quite quickly.
Ostkreuz pre-match. Abseitsfalle for a drink. Union Tanke for a drink when the weather is awesome. You get into a pattern of behaviour astonishingly rapidly. The football at Union is often criticised as being secondary in importance to the fans after the atmosphere. I'd go a step further. The atmosphere is a by-product, and thus also secondary to a bunch of people meeting up with their mates. Whether English, German, American, male or female. It's not about the result, it's not just about the atmosphere and it is certainly not about success.
I'm fortunate to come from a one club town. It was a town when I grew up and Sunderland's city status was conferred upon it. It has no cathedral. The football club is its Mecca I've always thought anyway. Whilst Union are a capital side the club does not have the look, feel or style of a team from the capital. Boundary changes welcomed in Köpenick as part of Berlin for starters. Adding to this feeling - for me as an Englishman - is that Germany is not at all 'capital-centric' due to many factors. All fairly self-evident if you open a history book. The Alte Försterei is situated on the edge of the forest and encapsulates the community feeling with Union's ticket office and press team still being housed in the Old Forester's house. I'm as at home at Union with my mates as I was at Sunderland with my mates. One teams results always has and always will mean a whole lot more to me. I can say that after a 3-0 derby win on enemy territory.
|The Gegengerade bathed in Sunshine|
As we strolled along the back of the gegengerade with our strange tasting beer in hands we ruminated on how funny it was that we were now able to recognise the regulars. It was the 15th home game of the season and we looked out for Chris and his mates from Marzahn. Rob chatted away as we stood in the dazzling sun with well over an hour to go before kick off. Later we finally saw Simon and managed to catch up with him during the second half. Everyone has their ritual at Union. Felix was down below us photographing the fans - and a bit of the match. We were looking forward to the game, the atmosphere, but above all just being at the match together and sharing drinks, sausages and jokes. I also had my first pretzel at Union. I strongly suggest trying a Käse covered beast. Tremendous. Must taste even better with a beer.
The game finished 0-0. Turgid. Dull. I read a few adjectives on Twitter. I've seen worse games. I'm not sure if I have seen worse at Union. Dresden came to not get beat. It's probably what the Newcastle v Sunderland game would have been like if Martin O'Neill had not been dismissed by the brave Sunderland Chairman, Ellis Short. A defensive one up top from Dynamo stifled the home side.
|Classic Union choreography|
Anyway, this is no match report but it is my final blog post after a home game. I'm at a wedding for Union's penultimate home game so Rob will man the fort. The last game of the season will see a guest post from another good friend as he tastes Union for the first time. The blog and twitter moniker were designed to be a 'one season only' affair. I've made no firm decision on the @UnionBerlinMan account after bumping in to a couple of people on Saturday and Sunday that I was connected to on Twitter. I quite like the name and don't think I have the energy for another blog about a different subject matter - the old kneiper's of Neukölln do need to be checked out and what better excuse! In the name of research. A few match reports for the new Union in Englisch website perhaps? That will be with you in the summer. We'll keep you all posted of course.
The evening ended via one of Friedrichshain's best pizza restaurants and a Späti. Whilst it was not classic Union on a Friday night we all kept up our side of the ritual. Saturday morning was a struggle. In my defence I was still drinking an Irish coffee in Mitte just after noon the next day. Union surrendered their 5 home Friday night games played, five won record. We cemented our friendship the way blokes so often do.
I can only apologise for the lack of football involved in this blog post. I could have never predicted what my first season at Union would entail. It's been about the people. My mates Rob and Matt. Everyone else I have met at Union. People who have sent nice messages via social media - from America, Canada, Finland and of course the UK. All of these components have added up to create a story I'd never have envisaged. Certainly not when walking out of a Neukölln bar and being asked if I was the Union Berlin man! The blog post is sounding like the season is over. Well, after Union's 1 point from 6 away from home and the subsequent draw against Dresden it genuinely is in terms of relegation or promotion. It's fitting though for this narrative.
Union is about more than the result. Union is bigger than Köpenick. It's bigger than Berlin. The spirit of Union lives inside every Unioner. That is what a club is. A combination of people, friendships and memories. From those no longer with us - many asked for their ashes to be scattered at Roker Park and I can only guess this happens at Union - to those who are the current day spine of the support.
A club may be defined by statisticians by the results. By the money men by the balance sheet. For me it is the people. Managers and players are rightly part of the history and are a fabric that weaves between the fans. The fans are always the strongest though. They invest the most in their club. Their time; often at vast expense in relation to income. I'll always go to Union as long as live in Berlin. I'll always be a Sunderland and Union fan for as long as I live. Thanks for a great season everyone. Einmal Unioner, Immer Unioner!
As ever, pictures are from Groundhopping Etc. A big thank you to Felix for the season's images. Like his page to make sure you don't miss any Union snaps.