FC Union, unsre Liebe, unsre Mannschaft, unser Stolz, unser Verein...
Union Berlin 0
RB Leipzig 4; Halstenberg (16.), Sabitzer (31.), Werner (42.), Nkunku (69.)
Well that serves me right for trying to be prepared I suppose. I’d actually written an introduction to this blog entry ahead of time. Given the proposed 15 minute atmosphere boycott at the start of the game I wanted to try and address it in what little eloquent way I could. But to be honest, they aren’t the 15 minutes I want to talk about now. If you asked me for my favourite Union moments, it’d be easy to talk about the play-off last season, or the numerous late comebacks, or any number of the away trips over the past 2-3 seasons, but the first thing that always springs to mind is Dortmund away in the cup last season. Specifically the 15 minutes at half time where everyone stayed standing, singing the same song until the players re-emerged for the 2nd half. Now there’s another 15 minutes that I want to add to that. Namely the 15 minutes after the full time whistle on Sunday. Having been convincingly beaten 4-0, practically the entire stadium stayed behind and sang that same song again, long after the players had left the pitch. It even prompted captain Christopher Trimmel to walk back out onto the pitch and applaud.
In a rather pissed up tweet after the game I said, “Might've lost 4-0 but even with a full away end you couldn't hear shit from Leipzig. If that's your version of football you can fucking do one“. I honestly cannot ever remember going to a game, losing 4-0 and yet walking out of the stadium with such a great buzz. I left the game last weekend with sunburn, this time it was practically no voice and a large ringing in my ears. It appears I wasn't the only one as Anthony Ujah spoke after the game saying the same thing. Before the game, stadium announcer Christian Arbeit mentioned a small part of the statement put out by Das Wuhlesyndikat with regards to the protest. In particular the following, “We have not won every fight, but we have never given up. On Sunday, on such an important day for 1. FC Union, we’ll do what we have always done: retain our composure”. They might not have had it in mind when they wrote it, but I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than staying behind and singing as loud as ever. I don’t want to romanticise football, but I grew up in a country where even if you’re winning, the stands empty with 10 minutes to go so people can ‘beat the traffic’. Those 15 minutes after the game remind me why I wanted to move to Germany in the first place, and why quite simply, I absolutely fucking love football.
Speaking of football, welcome to the Bundesliga(!!). I suppose that could’ve gone better. Actually it could’ve gone a lot better. Certainly the players will have quickly realised that mistakes are punished to a far greater degree in the Bundesliga. I’d wager in the 2. Bundesliga, the poor throw from the usually reliable Gikiewicz would 9 times out of 10 not result in a goal. Likewise a few poor touches or misplaced passes in midfield can lead to you not seeing the ball again for the next 3-5 minutes. There are however positive elements. Not least of all this was a Champions League level opponent who have one eye on a title challenge. Only those wearing the largest of red and white tinted glasses would have expected Union, in their first ever Bundesliga game, to play against such a team as though they have been at this level for years. Just as it would be important not get carried away had we won, its equally as important not get carried away with such a loss. Both Becker and Ujah showed when they came on they can make a contribution this season and should arguably be in the starting XI against Augsburg this coming Saturday. Despite the 4-0 loss, I wouldn’t call this a capitulation and the team kept going right up until the full-time whistle when it would’ve been easy to just throw in the towel. There’s obviously the question of goal difference but games against Leipzig, Dortmund et al are not going to decide Union’s fate this season. It’s games against Paderborn, Freiburg and Mainz that will do that and I saw nothing against Leipzig both on the pitch and from the noise from the stands that changes my opinion that Union can pick up enough points at home throughout the season to be safe. And in some ways, a far greater test awaits Union this weekend away at Augsburg - themselves on the end of a battering at the weekend - than the Leipzig home game.
And as for that protest….
There was an awful lot discussed and even more written about the proposed atmosphere boycott ahead of the game against Leipzig. Before the publication of the Bundesliga fixtures back in June, Union’s Sporting Director Oliver Ruhnert said, “That [an opening game against Leipzig] I wouldn’t want, because then a different topic and many other things would come into focus”. As it was, not only did Union get lumbered with Leipzig in the opening game, but other things have definitely come into focus. I’ve yet to run into Mr Ruhnert and ask him if he’s got the lottery numbers for the end of November.
I warned last week that this blog might descend into me listing reasons as to why I love Union. I don’t particularly want to retread over all the conversations, but there was something particularly uplifting about reading not only the first original statement from Das Wuhlesyndikat, but the discussions online between fans, and then players, and eventually the management which ended with President Dirk Zingler proclaiming, “the fans have the club on their side”. During the whole process, despite the varied viewpoints, it never felt like real division was setting in. It simply highlighted the relationship between all parties involved and throughout all the back-and-forth, there was a respect shown towards dissenting views that often seems lacking when people get together and discuss difficult topics. Fact is, whatever your views regarding this protest, it’s a credit to Union that thousands of members, the players and the club management were able to discuss what to do with a construct like Leipzig - whose entire internal structure is set up to discourage this exact sort of thing - so openly.