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Kann Union wirklich Meister werden?*

Well over a decade ago fellow Samizdatista Michael Jennings and I walked into a bar in Berlin. There was a game of German Second Division football on the telly between Ingolstadt and Union Berlin. Union scored and the place went nuts. Other than ourselves and the bar staff there were 3 other people in the bar. Clearly, this was no ordinary team.

Indeed it wasn’t. Union had been reasonably successful in the East German league – although – perhaps wisely – not as successful as Dynamo Berlin who were backed by the Stasi. Now you might have thought with reunification teams from the East would have been welcomed with open arms. Not so. West German teams didn’t really fancy the competition. If you have ever wondered why Celtic and Rangers don’t play in the English Premier League much the same reasoning applies. So Union found themselves playing in a regional league. They almost went bust. At one point fans gave blood to keep the club in business. At another they found themselves rebuilding the stadium.

Just to get into the German Second Division was an achievement. A few years later they got themselves into what the Germans call “Relegation”. This is where the third best Second Division club plays the third worst First Division Club to decide who gets to play in the superior league. Usually, the First Division team wins but on this occasion – inspired by the club song written by Nina Hagen no less and one of the most fanatical sets of supporters to be found anywhere – the boys from Köpenick – yes, that Köpenick – triumphed.

Of course, it is one thing to be promoted to the top division, quite another to stay there. It is not as if Union is overburdened with advantages. Berlin is not a particularly rich city. Their ground has a capacity of a mere 22,000. Their Berlin rivals (Herta) get the Olympic Stadium – yes that Olympic Stadium – to call their home. Union’s utter refusal to depart from the fan-owned system means they have no sugar daddy to spoil them. And yet, at the time I started writing this post this was how the table looked:

Oh, I don’t think this will be how it looks at the end of the season. I suspect they’ll fall away in much the same way I suspect the EPL’s own temporary over-achievers will fall away over the next couple of months but even so, given where they’ve come from this is a hell of an achievement.

*Headline in Bild.

9 comments to Kann Union wirklich Meister werden?*

  • Chester Draws

    Leicester came out of nowhere to win the EPL, so why not?

  • Bulldog Drummond

    Oh that’s funny, I was going to write almost exactly what Chester wrote 😀

  • Patrick Crozier

    The Bild article specifically mentions Leicester as a precedent.

  • Chester Draws

    The Bild article specifically mentions Leicester as a precedent.

    But very unhelpfully for me, they insist on doing so in German.

  • John

    This is no flash in the pan. In the 3 previous seasons Union finished 11th, 7th and most recently 5th in the Bundersliga qualifying for increasingly important European competitions in the last 2 years. Remaining in the top 4 would see them in next years Champions League where real money can be earned by a small club.

    This month will be vital with league games against Bayern (currently top) and Leipzig (4th) along with two legs of the Europa League playoffs against Ajax. Get through those unscathed and the dream lives on.

  • Paul Marks

    I support the right of this club to be owned and managed in this way – just as I support the right of a billionaire to own a club and have all the players play with his name on their shirts.

    It really is none of the business of anyone else how a sporting team is organised and paid for – as long as no taxpayer money is asked for.

  • Union’s utter refusal to depart from the fan-owned system means they have no sugar daddy to spoil them.

    To be fair, Bundesliga teams can’t really go get a sugar daddy, which is why the financial maneuvers Red Bull did to buy Lepizig were so controversial. It’s what’s going to put the Bundesliga teams on a better financial footing when the next crash comes (of the sort that doomed Leeds 20 years ago), but also what’s relegating the Bundesliga to #4 in the UEFA coefficient.

    Leverkusen and Wolfsburg are different because they were founded a century or more ago by big companies (Bayer and Volkswagen respectively) as sports clubs for the employees, and then were good enough to be in the Bundesliga when it was founded in the 1960s. There was even the case of a Wolfsburg player fined by the team for posting social media photos of him showing off his Mercedes.

  • Jim B

    I became a Bundesliga fan back when “Soccer Made in Germany” (with Toby Charles and Alan Fountain doing commentary) ran on PBS (that was about the only soccer that appeared on US TV at that time). I’m also a longtime Borussia Monchengladbach fan, but I have to admire Union for their play so far. Nice to see someone else other than Bayern Munich on top, even for a short time!

  • Sam Duncan

    If you have ever wondered why Celtic and Rangers don’t play in the English Premier League much the same reasoning applies.

    Scottish fans with their heads screwed on tell me precisely the opposite: it’s the Old Firm themselves who don’t want the competition. They’ve got a pretty sweet deal going on up here; why risk that against some of the best clubs in the world?