Saturday, 6 July 2013

New Union Berlin Website!

To the few hundred people who took the time to subscribe to this blog, many thanks. My first season with an Union dauerkarte was fantastic. A group of 6 people (including myself) have put together the above site. Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, 21 June 2013

The State of the Union

Obama was in Berlin this week. You've probably worked that out unless you've been living under a rock. If you're reading this then I'm guessing you're probably not a cave dweller. He did not give a State of the Union address - he may as well have done though. His speech writers would have had an easier job in writing about the calm before the storm, which pretty summed up last nights stroll on the 'felde, than the bland message he apparently gave to 4,000 cherry picked loyalists. 

Pre-season is all about the new men. That and drinking beer and getting a closer look at the replica shirt. I'll discuss the new men after taking care of the other two topics. The beer was cheaper than at Union although a hefty €3 pfand for the Erdinger was a bit steep. I don't like the new kit. It's a bland affair and is neither modern nor retro. It's a halfway house of a kit that disappoints. In fairness, nothing would have been better than last years strip - aside from a red and white striped effort. I'll have to wait another season for that.

Of course I could wax lyrical about various passages of play and consult my notes on the first half and my half time overview of proceedings but it was a fucking friendly. Against a side that were there to give Union a work out. The opposition harried, attempted a high line but were probably unlucky to concede only 7 goals. Union were in 3rd gear. 

Martin Dausch is a name that we'll no doubt be hearing a lot this term. He's an attacking player and his interchanging with Silvio was at times impressive. However, Union often come unstuck at home when Mattuschka roves too far forward and the game becomes narrow with a 4-3-3 in action rather than the 4-4-2 that was intended. Dausch will have to be careful he does not fall into this trap although one suspects the energy that he possesses will be of huge benefit to the team dynamic. 

Quiring was hugging the right flank and the man from Marzahn did what he always does. Produced stunning effort (rescuing an over hit cross from going out for a corner just in front of the 400 or so Unioner) yet suffered momentary lapses of concentration (when he misjudged a simple ball and ran to get it back successfully from his man). He's a young bloke with fire in his belly and the scorpion (date of birth was printed in the programme - handy) was an impressive outlet in the first half. It was of no surprise that Dausch' goal came from good work on the west wing. The keeper could only parry and the debutant was able to stroke home a goal to celebrate his first outing in Union colours. All this in under 5 minutes. 

If there has ever been a more nervous debut then I've yet to witness it. Mario Eggimann, the experienced Bundesliga defender, had the first touch of a gigantic land mammal. He proceeded to pass the ball between his feet as if it were a hot potato just grilled at the ground. Perhaps he was quite literally just finding his feet after a short summer or else the surface was unkind to him. He's a big lad but I would not be expecting raking 40 yard balls out of defence from him - possibly a good thing anyway. He became much more comfortable as the game progressed and was always looking for the short ball. He was rarely tested defensively and the freak goal (it was drilled in from an acute angle and seem to take Haas by surprise as he deflected it off the post and into his own goal) had nothing to do with him so although he'll be disappointed his defence did not keep a clean sheet, he'll no doubt of enjoyed getting his first game out of the way.

There were over 8,000 police in the city centre on Wednesday for the visit of the American President. Apologies for all the 'key words' - just hoping the NSA pick up on this piece as could do with the extra readership! Union were bombing forward launching wave after wave of attack and made it 3-1 just after the half hour mark with Silvio adding to Terodde's earlier effort. I nearly missed the goal as about 20 coppers went marching by in full kit. Must have been hot but probably a good assignment. Why on earth you need that many police (around 50 in total) is beyond me. I resisted the temptation of taking a photograph of the fat policeman eating a burger with gusto in his van. It's rumoured that Joe Kinnear will sign 'Gusto' next week. 

Damir Kreilach was the third debutant and was operating in the centre of midfield. He was largely anonymous which as a defensive midfielder is a good thing. He has a neat touch and plays it simple and was like the fat plod - always hungry - but for the ball rather than greasy meat. Let's hope this occurs at the Alte Försterei as Union try to break down another side coming to sneak a 1-0. 

So, what is the state of the Union? I'd say there were a lot of positives judging by this work out. Clearly Martin Dausch will add an attacking option. He'll keep Mattuschka on his toes. The Union stalwart bagged a couple. A stunning 30 yard free-kick, that he placed with power rising high over the wall and nestling in the top corner, was the pick of the 7 goals. His penalty was put away with ease as he wrong footed for the keeper. 

With rumours of more additions to the squad this season should be an interesting one. The big challenge for Uwe Neuhaus will be finding a way to accommodate so many attack minded players. The 'we'll score one more than you' style worked at home last year but this mentality was non-existent on the road. Pfertzel and Parensen at full back won't work against better opposition. One wonders if Union are chasing the right targets or with the potential signing of Brandy, simply taking advantage of Duisburg's misfortune and ushering Silvio out of the door. He only has one year left to run on his current deal. It's unlikely that it will be renewed next year.

Whatever happens on the pitch the Unioner will continue to follow their side. The few hundred that made the trip across the city for the very enjoyable opening friendly will have had to get home quickly if they were to have avoided last night's storm. I was in 7th heaven as I jumped in a taxi - just as the Unioner will be if Neuhaus' tactics can be repeated on the opening day for real.

FT.  FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin 1:7 FC Union Berlin 

First half: Haas – Pfertzel, Eggimann, Schönheim, Parensen – Kreilach – Quiring, Dausch – Zejnullahu -  Silvio, Terodde

Second half: Glinker – Kopplin, Puncec, Stuff, Kohlmann – Koch – Köhler, Razeek – Mattuschka - Nemec, Skrzybsk

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Mein Erstes Mal / My First Time

It’s two weeks now since the last game of the league season at the Alte Försterei. Enough time having passed for some reflections on that game, and some of the contrasts between the British and German experience of football. As UnionBerlinMan has chronicled, a season that at times threatened the glimpse of play off glory stuttered to a halt through March and April, and as Duisburg arrived on the banks of the Spree, the decent and boisterous crowd seemed prepared for an enjoyable but not over-taxing kick around in the sun.
The Duisburg faithful – sporting blue and white inflatables that made them look like Smurfs – were not the only exotic visitors to Köpenick that weekend, however.
A small delegation of British supporters, anxious to rediscover the joys of standing, enjoying a social ale, and a refreshingly Robbie Savage-free match day experience, had been wooed by the Wilson’s blog posts – and the promise of disarmingly cheap beer – to understand and digest the Union match day experience.
We Are Back For Attack
Without being over-analytical, and also without particularly having consulted the others, save for a few hours of rambling post match banter in the bars of Neukölln, after a couple of weeks reflection, I thought I’d offer some ideas of what felt familiar and what was different.
In many ways, the match day experience itself was very familiar. Even for two of our party who are long term and ‘proper’ fans of the two of the English league’s big boys (The Guv is a west London Chelsea, Geoff a United supporter from Timperley) the sight of thousands of people cramming into boozers, decked out in replica kits, the security searches at the gates and necking of beers on the train, were all pretty par for the course.
And the ground itself – given that Union are second tier – was not that different from some traditional British grounds. Two of our number – the Hatton brothers – are born and bred Fulham fans, and the Cottage with its wooden stands and steep home and away ends is perhaps the closest of any major English grounds to the Alte Försterei (of course with the major difference being the seats – or lack of them in Berlin).  But my memories of watching Sunderland at Barnsley, Burnley, and other lower tier grounds, where until recently at least you could stand where you want, were very much in line with the Union set up.  Geoff, who is increasingly following Altrincham when he can, would probably felt the most familiar with the idea of 90 minutes on concrete steps, surrounded by moustachioed, well rounded men. Though I think the terraces at Alty are a little more sparsely populated.
So lots of things to make us feel at home. And even the stuff that was different was different in a quirky way. We could see why Wilson, Jon Darch (he of Safe Standing fame, no less) and the other expats we met had really taken the place to their hearts.
QPR Mike, a despondent season ticket holder if ever there was one, recounted the tale of some poor Norwegian sap, over at Loftus Road for a taste of the “EPL”, being warned by a rotund female steward for having the temerity to sip on a warm plastic bottle of Carlsberg within sight of the pitch. Watching Rangers this season would have driven anyone to drink, presumably, but Mike and the rest of us were relieved – and delighted – to be able to tuck into a few lagers while watching the match.  A helpful chap with a keg on his back even brought it right to us (NB it is possible there will be Germans reading this who are thinking “what is so radical about allowing grown-ups to drink a beer?”. Enough said).
And of course the atmosphere, and the fans – though similar, actually felt really different. Like Wilson, I’ve been following Sunderland for many years in the UK. Often, parts of the experience – while bonding and uplifting in many ways – has left me despondent about people. The negativity, refusal to respect other opinions and the frankly unimagintative nature of much of the singing (“he scores when he wants...” ; “Your support is f**king shit” etc dragged out ad nauseum by fans of all teams) felt in stark contrast to the actions and passions of the Union fans. The genuine warmth with which fans greeted the “out of contract” players in their pre-match lap of honour, which was reciprocated by the players themselves, was a superb touch. And the hearty, positive and robust singing throughout the game (OK my German is scheisse, so they COULD have been singing “Union till I die...”) really did make the hairs stand on end – even for a neutral with no interest in the result, and even less knowledge of the players.
Some of the lads and Union's Mascot
Pretty much the same group of us had – in 2011- been to Hamburg to watch St Pauli v Wolfsburg (1-1 draw) and before that to FC Bayern v 1.FC Koln (2-2 draw). So it was nice to see a positive result this time. But our overall impression of German football support, and in particular the way the FC Union fans and club conduct themselves, was incredibly positive.
Keep the red flag flying high
Post match, of course, the rituals were mostly the same – copious ales, amusing banter (to us anyway), a “sing-off” with some random St Pauli fans – our homages to Owen Hargreaves, Mark Schwarzer, Fitz Hall and Anthony le Tallec bamboozled them – and of course a late night kebab. I’d definitely recommend a visit, and we shall certainly return. Thanks Wilson, Jon, US Matt, and of course all the Union Fans we met and who made us feel very welcome. If any  of you are ever in the UK get in touch and we’ll return the hospitality.

As a footnote, toward the end of the Duisburg game, a Union supporter, impressed at our interest in his club, gave me his scarf as a reminder of the occasion. It was a great gesture. The following week, watching Sunderland lose to a late Bale goal at Spurs, I happened to be sitting next to young German lads who’d bought tickets for the game on the internet, not realising they’d be in the middle of 2000 heavy drinking and boisterous mackems. They were a bit perplexed, but seemed to be enjoying themselves, even though they had no idea about Sunderland or even where it was. I told them of our trip to the Alte Försterei and they were impressed, and complementary about the club (even though they themselves were Bayern Fans). But given the generosity of the Berliners, I felt I should complete the exchange – sort of – so gave one of them my SAFC London Branch badge, which he sported with pride for the rest of the match. I still think he was pleased when the final whistle blew.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The last day of the season - Bochum v Union

On occasion, to understand the present, you must revisit the past. To understand today's clash against Bochum I must first recount 'Spieltag 1' against Kaiserslautern. From the 'diary'...

Spieltag 1

1. FC Kaiserslautern v 1. FC Union Berlin

Sky TV had decided to televise Union’s opening fixture - on a Monday night. It must be a 1500km round-trip I thought (I was only about 100km off). North-east v south-west. What a distance to travel. Last year Kaiserslautern were in the top flight. A huge test for Union. Whilst Germany does not quite shut down in the manner of France or Spain in August, it’s a quiet time of year for the worker. Would there be a 'factory fortnight' where factories shut down as they did in the north-east of England? Would the Unioner be on holiday? Would the match being on TV reduce the away attendance? I had nobody to ask. I’d have to watch and try and discover how many fans had made the trip and decipher the German commentator.

A blunt summary of the first half would be that it was terrible. Goalless at half-time. I sat on my sofa in Neukölln fairly happy with 0-0. I was surprised to see Union’s club captain on the bench. I’d written rave reviews on my blog about Mattuschka. Shit, is he on his way out I thought? Whilst this was my first year with a season ticket I’d watched Union since I arrived in Berlin in the summer of 2010. Mattuschka was the most likely to cause the opposition problems. He was only just over 30 - what was going on? Again, I had nobody to ask. My German was OK but I’d not discovered message boards at this stage and anyway, the ‘eisern virus’ had not caught hold of me at this stage. Not to the extent that I’d later find myself scratching around the club website trying to read as much history about the club as was possible. If I put as much effort into learning the language as I did with Union I’d be fluent. Understanding Union and learning German went hand in hand I always told myself as I wasted more hours searching for news about the club I was becoming addicted to.

Back on the sofa I was sat with my Ringtons tea - flown in via a parcel from my Dad - and was hoping for a point. I’d managed to understand that there were over 30,000 fans in the stadium although the commentator was too quick and I did not catch the exact figure. Fucking German numbers, everything’s backwards - my excuse. With Mattuschka ‘benched’ the midfield included a player I’d rarely seen - Tijani Belaid. The youngster appeared a cut above the rest in the second half which was less than 10 minutes old when Union were 2-0 up. This was brilliant. The season was going to get off to a flyer - momentum is key I told myself. It was just a shame I had nobody to watch the game with. I’d hoped that Union would help ingratiate myself into the city and that I’d meet more Germans. II was delighted but the euphoria was tinged with that lonely feeling that only true football fans will appreciate. Sitting on your own watching your team winning with nobody to celebrate with. I explained to my girlfriend that Union were two up. She humoured me.

As a Sunderland fan I’d seen countless promotions and relegations. I had actually lost count and I was only in my early thirties. Every season we seemed to have something to play for on the last day of the season. However, even if the last day had been spent narrowly avoiding relegation there was almost an optimism. Things would be different. Here Union were two goals to the good against decent opposition and I started to feel optimistic. What a time to start writing about the club. Union were more similar to Sunderland than I thought. They conspired to squander the lead and then the sucker punch - Kaiserslautern scored in the 86th minute to make it 3-2 to the home side. Always the way, I consoled myself. I’d hoped for a draw. That would have only been one point so a defeat is not that bad.

‘Fucking get in’, I screamed. Luisa just looked up and smiled. She was now used to my outbursts at a screen that could not hear me. Nobody who cared about the result could hear me. I did not care though. We’d sneaked a draw - 3-3. It felt like a win. That’s how it starts. They reel you in, they wow you, they disappoint you and in the end everything is as it was. The same. I was getting those same feelings for Union that I got with Sunderland. I just had nobody to share them with apart from Rob who I had bought my season ticket with. I’d said to Rob that as long as we went to about 10 games the ticket would be worth it. I was beginning to realise that I would not want to miss a game. I had to find more people like me.

Ergebnis: 1. FC Kaiserslautern 3:3 1. FC Union Berlin

Date: Friday 3rd August 2012

That was my personal account of the first day of the season and for the last day of the season I'll be watching the game in Zur Traube - or as I call it, The Union Kneiper. I've only been a handful of times but already I'm on first name terms with the staff and a few of the locals. I've written over 60,000 words about Union this season. Some of it published, some of it saved for my book that I'll write one day about the club. I've decided I'll keep a few years worth of diaries and write the book when 'something' happens. The blog was designed as a way to chart my first year with a season ticket. Keep an eye on for the Union news in English and a big announcement in early July...

Oh and if you were wondering - over the course of the season I have found there are plenty more people like me!


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Preview for Minton & Co - 1. FC Union Berlin v MSV Duisburg

A short and self-indulgent blog post previewing the last home game of the season for my good mate Minton and his gang of reprobates. 

1. FC Union Berlin host MSV Duisburg on Sunday afternoon in their last home game of the season. In the history books the season will go down as one where Union regressed, albeit marginally. In 2011/2 Union finished in 7th place and amassed 50 points. Even with back to back victories in their final two games they can't surpass this total. They can finish one place higher should 1860 slip up. Unlikely. Last weeks 3-0 away defeat came as no surprise as Union's miserable away form continued - they are yet to beat the Bavarians in ten attempts. 

The Home End

Duisburg sit one place behind Union and 3 points adrift of the Berliners. Whilst it's a dead rubber, with neither team having anything to play for, the game promises goals as jointly the clubs have shipped over 90 goals. If there is a repeat of the Union v Rostock match, which ended 5-4 at the end of last term, the leaky defences could breach the hundred mark. 

The form guide would suggest a score draw. The Alte Försterei has been a happy hunting ground for Duisburg though, as they have won twice in the capital. One of Union's two away victories in the league came against Duisburg. Could they be the first team that Union do the double over? I'd back Union to win 2-1 or go draw HT and home win FT.

The old grill walker - now you get your sausages from the Kiosk

Daniel Göhlert and Christoph Menz will be bidding farewell to the Union fans and will no doubt receive a warm send off from the supporters. I'd like to see Terodde and Nemec up front reeking havoc. Whilst it is good to give youth a chance I'd rather see the young striker Skrzybski on the bench and given a run out for 30 minutes. He was withdrawn just after the hour mark in the reserve fixture on Wednesday evening. You'd assume, to save his legs for Sunday. 

For those fortunate enough to be going to the game you'll be treated to some Clash covers (amongst others) by the band, 'Kiez Germs' after the game. The team will stick around after the match and sign autographs. It promises to be a sunny day in Köpenick on Sunday - let's hope for a performance that mirrors the support from the Unioner this year!

Und Niemals Vergessen...Eisern Union!!!