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Taking a look at Union Berlin’s inspirational road to the Bundesliga

Written by Uttiyo Sarkar


Over the years, promoted Bundesliga sides have come and gone off the radar. A bunch end up getting relegated back into the 2. Bundesliga, a season or two later, while some hold on to it with dear life. RB Leipzig’s rise to prominence is probably the most promoted story in recent memory.  

However, their high financial stance gave them a natural chance higher than the average 2. Bundesliga side. One side which has had an opposite climb to the German heaven is that of new-comers Union Berlin. Nicknamed Die Eisernen (The Iron Ones) for their linkage with the working-class industrial factory workers, they are a perfect example of a middleman’s team.

Union Berlin recorded their first-ever promotion to the Bundesliga earlier this year, 56 years after being formed as an independent entity. However, their journey to the pinnacle is nothing short of a fairytale. They were originally formed in 1906 as FC Olympia 06 Oberschoneweide from the Oberschoneweide district of Berlin as a merger of two sides. It was changed to SC Union 06 Oberschoneweide four years later, as this side enjoyed quite a bit of success during the inter World War I period.

Moreover, after Germany’s downfall in World War II, one side split into becoming SC Union 06 Berlin (now toiling in the 8th division of German football) and FC Union Berlin was finally formed in 1966 following years of personality changes. So started a frantic journey which saw some remarkable ups and downs.

Situated in East Germany, Union Berlin went up and down from the DDR-Oberliga and DDR-Liga for the next few decades, with the East German Cup win in 1986 being their only title for a long period. After East and West Germany were reunited in 1990, the unification of leagues hit them hard. Playing in the lower leagues, they failed to promote into the 2. Bundesliga due to huge financial crunches.

The Union Berlin squad that went on to lift the East Germany Cup in 1986
The Union Berlin squad that went on to lift the East Germany Cup in 1986 (Photo by Union-Programm)

Despite finding little sponsorship with the help of those within, they failed to get the license to play in the second division on multiple occasions throughout the 90s. However, the turn of the century bore a sweet fruit, with the Iron Ones winning the Regionaliga Nord (third division) and moving into the second division. The 2000/01 season was a truly special one for them, as they even climbed up into the DFB Pokal finals only to lose agonizingly to FC Schalke.

The UEFA Cup braced the side who had never tasted top-level football, but Union Berlin did surprisingly well by progressing into the second knockout rounds. However, this euphoria was succeeded by several set-backs. A downfall led to them going right back into the NOFV-Oberliga Nord in the 2005-06 season. In 2004, more financial issues almost led to the club closing down.

However, their fans came up big to help them get their licensing done just so they can play throughout the season. Just like the club, the fans had a unique way of donating blood to blood banks and the consequent rewards to the club. Perhaps this dedication spurred the players later on, as they returned to the third division once the 3.Liga was formed in the 2008/09 season.

In that season, the fans also put in 140,000 hours of work just to help renovate the stadium. The Stadion An der Alten Forsterei has only a 3,500 seating arrangement, but the standing capacity of nearly 18,000! They believe in a very ‘pure’ way of experiencing the game, with a massive chunk of supporters showcasing ridiculous commitment at standing throughout games whilst singing songs or spurring on their players at a non-stop pace.

BERLIN, GERMANY – MAY 29: FC Union Berlin fans celebrate at their team’s stadium, the Alte Försterei, in the Berlin district of Köpenick after the promotion of the team to the Bundesliga, on May 29, 2019, in Berlin, Germany. After defeating VfB Stuttgart in the relegation play-offs 1. FC Union Berlin won promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in club history for the season 2019/2020. (Photo by Adam Berry/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Their support isn’t based on wins or losses. They believe in just having fun and always looking at the brighter side of life. When it comes to patience, there are probably not too many in modern football like them. That’s why when they finally received the promotion last season, it felt like heaven had descended over Berlin itself. 

The Iron Ones had to endure years of ‘so close, yet so far’ scenarios in the 2. Bundesliga. However, Lady Luck finally favoured them to oust the 16th place Bundesliga side Stuttgart in a thrilling playoff contest. Immediately after the final whistle blew, the whole stadium erupted into the field. The players were paraded around and pure joy could be felt in the atmosphere. However, more importantly, nobody was harmed.

So it wasn’t really surprising watching the festive atmosphere at the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei on the opening day of their Bundesliga debut. Their maximum capacity of 22,012 ended up adding 455 extra slots, due to the fans buying tickets for their deceased ancestors (of whom they brought memorabilia to the stadium) to witness this historic occasion. The club, thanks to their unity with the supporters, allowed this unique occurrence.

Despite an opening 0-3 loss to Julian Nagelsmann’s dominant RB Leipzig, the party wouldn’t stop. The whole arena was brimming with joy and an eruption could’ve been heard in Berlin had a goal been scored that day. Their fruit, however, was rewarded the next week.

BERLIN, GERMANY – AUGUST 31: Sebastian Andersson of 1.FC Union Berlin celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s second goal during the Bundesliga match between 1. FC Union Berlin and Borussia Dortmund at Stadion An der Alten Foersterei on August 31, 2019, in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)

 The Iron Ones held Augsburg to a 1-1 draw the next week, recording their first point in the Bundesliga. However, the biggest slice of their happy pie was served a week later. Giants Borussia Dortmund visited with another gigantic win insight. Little did Lucien Favre’s men know what was about to hit them.

Goals from Marius Buttler and Sebastien Andersson helped record a stunning 3-1 win over the giants. If a David & Goliath story was ever symbolized, this would be it. The intimidating atmosphere created by the fans got to Dortmund, allowing Berlin to pick up the biggest win in their history. For the fans, this felt as good as winning the Bundesliga itself. It ensured Berlin sleeps a happy sleep for at least a month.

Of course, just because they won one game did not mean they were now immune from relegation. Berlin must maintain consistency in picking up points to avoid another plunge into obscurity. However, even if they drop down to the 3. Liga once again, one can guarantee their fans will be jolly and maintaining their fiery passion the whole way through.


El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for One Football. Find more original features, Player Profiles and tactical analysis on www.elartedf.comIf you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support!


 

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Uttiyo Sarkar
Uttiyo Sarkar
An avid lover of the beautiful game. Love penning the wonderful stories as much as I love watching them. MUFC Fan and budding writer.
http://www.elartedf.com

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