Third Year History and German student, Tim Cole, reports from Berlin for Impact Sport on the experience of watching football in foreign climes…
Though it may seem sad to some, one of my main concerns upon travelling to Berlin for my year abroad was from where I was going to get my football fix. Watching the next instalment of scintillating Premier League football unfold on some grainy, jittery stream was far from the ideal option (albeit a necessary one).
Hertha BSC in West Berlin are the city’s flagship side; their home is the vast and highly impressive Olympiastadion, they play in the Bundesliga and, because of that, they draw support from far and wide. That said, for their capital city status, they’re pathetic. Your nearest English equivalent would probably be poor old Newcastle United – swanky stadium, glowing history and robust fanbase, yet an interminable air of frustration and decline.
On the other hand, Union Berlin proudly languish in the depths of the two. Bundesliga, a stalwart against the tide of consumerist bullshit which currently plagues the modern game. Ticket prices are gloriously cheap, you can drink good, strong beer while watching the game, the fans all look like some strange Rastafari-cum-satanic-worshipper fusion, and the atmosphere is unrelentingly superb. The close proximity of the stadium (Stadion an der alten Fösterei, Köpenick) to me in East Berlin was also a big plus, though the club’s core values of anti-establishment, anti-authority, and strict fan-rule were also a major attraction. With my ten euro ticket wedged firmly in my wallet, I headed off on a pleasant late Friday afternoon to get my first taste of German lower-league football.
Union Berlin proudly languish in the depths of the 2. Bundesliga, a stalwart against the tide of consumerist bullshit which currently plagues the modern game.
The atmosphere around the ground was decidedly low-key despite the disproportionate police presence at every turn. The visiting Nuremberg fans were treated to a warm reception for making the journey to Berlin (must have been such a laborious trip knowing that you can make a weekend out of it), and the club’s pre-match lullaby served to add a certain warmth to the occasion. As I waited for the teams to emerge, an inebriated old man to my right tried to engage me in some general football chat, to which I obliged. However, he soon found out I was English, and as the general stadium din developed into a resounding roar, he suddenly proceeded to spit and scream the days of the week in English into my ear, even missing out Thursday and Friday just to add to my growing discomfort.
He soon abated though as he refocused his dwindling attention span on the ritualistic player name-call. The game kicked off in unspectacular style, and the level of the football on display soon became apparent. But for a few flicks and tricks, the game would have barely been acceptable for some washed-out lower League 1 clash. Union Berlin fell behind within minutes and the game trundled along in pedestrian fashion, Nuremberg netting 3 more at various key points of the match so as to consistently extinguish any distant hopes of a comeback which may have arisen.
It wasn’t about the score line though. Whereas English crowds split their time between silently cursing, loudly moaning and hurling abuse at the away fans, the Union fans (led by their loudspeaker-wielding ultras) contrived to sing and dance throughout the whole sorry affair and only occasionally lobbed pint cups at the referee as a sign of disgust. And while I spent most of the first half being unwittingly barged by the aforementioned pissed-up granddad, the stadium’s mostly standing terraces offered a prime example to the English nay-sayers of how to stand and watch football in safety: regularly spaced handlebars, sensible ticketing, competent stewards and ultimately mature adults there to support their team. The result was a lower-league atmosphere nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced back home.
Whereas English crowds split their time between silently cursing, loudly moaning and hurling abuse at the away fans, the Union fans (led by their loudspeaker-wielding ultras) contrived to sing and dance throughout the whole sorry affair
I spent the second half at the back of the terrace as several scary-looking men had stepped into my previous spot after I went to get another beer. There I got talking to a young ‘Unioner’ who labelled Hertha fans ‘pussies and tourists’ while also preaching to me the importance of the 11-men versus the value of one after I asked who the best Union player was. Either the guy had a reflective philosophical side to him or he was just trying to avoid the fact that all the Union players were shit.
What’s more, I was genuinely surprised by two other things at the match: the first was a bearded old-man in biker gear bizarrely stumbling about with a Leyton Orient bag and the second was the post-match tradition of singing the team off the pitch with raucous gusto. Bearing in mind that Union had just whimpered to a 0-4 defeat, the fans’ spirits remained undimmed which was deeply impressive compared to the fickle cynicism you’d find in a lot of English football grounds.
With that in mind, I will certainly be attending the next Union home match and I can highly recommend the experience for anyone visiting Berlin who fancies doing something a little different as part of their weekend for a bargain price.
Follow Tim in Twiiter: @timcole93
Image courtesy of ufasports.com