by Paul Scraton
(Editorial Note: Guest writer Paul Scraton is a Liverpool fan resident in Berlin. Many thanks for this essay!)
It is Sunday the 21st August 2005. All eyes in England are on the early season 'title-decider' between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. In Germany the Bundesliga sides have entered the cup, and village teams dream of giant killing. But in Berlin there is only one game that matters: an Oberliga North-East North derby between 1.FC Union and BFC Dynamo.
The sky is blue and a relentless sun is beating down on the city. It is great early season football weather, but the police and the football authorities are nervous. It is less than a year until Germany hosts the World Cup, and already preparations have been marred by refereeing scandals and crowd trouble at a recent Germany - Slovenia friendly match. The powers that be are dreading any more negative press, but today they have every right to expect it. To put it simply, Union and Dynamo don't like each other very much.
Today's game may be taking place in the lowly confines of the fourth tier of the German football pyramid, but in East German times Union were arguably (East) Berlin's most popular club, although as any Newcastle supporter will tell you, fanbase does not always mean trophies. Union's solitary honour was winning the East German Cup in 1968, seven years after the Berlin Wall was built. BFC Dynamo on the other hand were the exact opposite, with success in the East German Oberliga coming thick and fast, including ten straight championships between 1979 and 1988.
Problem was, the majority of football fans in East Germany found little to admire about Dynamo. Like many teams sharing that name throughout Eastern Europe, Dynamo was the team of the secret police, which in East Germany meant the Stasi. The head of the Stasi was a nice chap by the name of Erich Mielke, and when he wasn't co-ordinating one of the most thorough spying operations by any nation against its own population he was enjoying the football. Mielke liked to win, and there wasn't a player in East Germany that Dynamo couldn't 'afford' or a referee that couldn't be bribed. Need a penalty in the last minute, Erich? No problem. Now, how about that travel visa? Of course, bribes were not always necessary. Even Mielke's staunchest critics could appreciate that Dynamo had the best players. It was just, when the best wasn't good enough, there was a helping hand behind the scenes, pulling the strings.
It would have been hard for Dynamo to lose in those circumstances, and the corruption was so blatant (and in any case the Stasi connection would have been enough without it) that most football fans were less than enamoured by the team they nicknamed 'the Eleven Shits'. There wasn't much they could do about it of course, but they haven't forgotten, sixteen years after the wall came down. Union fans, who can also add city rivalry in amongst the list of grievances shared by East German football fans in general, absolutely hate Dynamo.
Dynamo lost their 'sponsor' when East Germany collapsed and took the Stasi with it, but Mielke's favourite club gained something else during the 1990s: a bunch of supporters that make old school British hooligans look tame. 'No-one likes us, we don't care' could have been written for the drunk, shaven-headed, neo-nazi (allegedly) thugs that are waiting with us for a train at Alexanderplatz station. A section of society that is vilified by the rest of Germany couldn't have chosen a better club to identify with. They revel in the animosity, baiting opposition fans and the police alike.
They are out in force today, no doubt because it is nearly five years since they've had a confrontation with the old rivals Union. That was for a cup match and there was fighting both inside and outside of the stadium. Add the decades of injustice in the minds of the Union fans to these unsavoury characters, thirty-five degrees sunshine and litres of beer and there was a potentially explosive few hours ahead of us. No wonder the police were nervous.
As were we, standing on the platform, afraid to catch the eye of one of the tanked up meatheads in BFC shirts. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all. One of our party is late, so we let the first train go by. Our friends from Dynamo all get on and an entire station gives out a collective exhale of breath. Thankfully no more materialise by the time the next train arrives and we manage to make the twenty five minute journey in peace, as we pass through various Berlin neighbourhoods to Köpernick, home of Union, in the south-east of the city.
At Köpernick station the police are out in olive-green force, and doing their best to separate the two sets of fans at the bottom of the stairs in order to send them along different routes to the stadium. Union fans and the rest of the general public are sent to the right. Dynamo fans and anyone with a skinhead are sent to the left, which at least shows that the Berlin police have got a sense of humour.
We walk along a tree-lined avenue into the park where Union have their stadium, much more at ease despite the heavy police presence, which includes armoured vehicles and water-cannons. The atmosphere is relaxed, pleasant.
Closer to the stadium and there is a definite buzz in the air. This game is an event, more than just three points and a good start to the season. It is like a cup final and promotion playoff rolled into one, mixed in with history and politics and all the attendant baggage…for the Union fans around us it is clear that this is the most important game of the season.
These are tough times for 1.FC Union. Three seasons ago they were in the Bundesliga 2, jostling for a place at the top table of German football. But two successive relegations have them playing in a league with teams that attract home gates of a couple of hundred, the majority of which are clubs in and around Berlin that most people in Germany's capital don't even know exist.
Indeed, these are tough times for teams from the former East Germany in general. The last remaining representative in the Bundesliga 1, Hansa Rostock, were relegated last May. The top flight has kicked off without a representative of the former East German states for the first time since reunification. The German Football Federation called a crisis meeting but there is not much that can be done. Tough times indeed.
Today however, the level of football is unimportant. 14,000 fans have packed into Union's picturesque 'Alten Försterei' stadium, an increase of 8,000 from their previous home game a fortnight ago. That was another Berlin derby, and there will be a lot of them this season, against a team by the name of Berliner AK 07, but that was nothing compared to this. A couple of characters seem as distinctly shady as the guys we had encountered earlier at the train station, similar hairstyle and tattoos, but in the main this is a mixed crowd, undoubtedly for Union, with a fair sprinkling of day-trippers such as ourselves who have come to check out what all the fuss is about.
Inside the stadium we come face to face with the mass ranks of Dynamo again, around two thousand behind one goal, fenced in from the front, back and sides, surrounded by coppers. It is big game for the Dynamo fans as well, a public act of defiance from the despised. They stand against the railings and send macho gestures out towards their opponents, across the expanse of terracing that Union have sensibly left free. The Union fans, the hard lads at least, reciprocate. Newspaper reports tell of ticket applications for the Dynamo end from other eastern cities, such as Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig. Even the Dynamo fanclub is bemused. 'Why do they want to come,' a spokesman is quoted as saying, 'and where are these guys normally?' The thousand-strong police force at the game is probably asking the same question.
Kick-off is scheduled for 2pm, the sun is high in the sky, and there is no roof or other means of shade. It is roasting, and to add to the tension the kick-off has been delayed. Everyone is not in the stadium yet. The terraces fill up but the delay continues, well beyond the ten minutes that were initially announced. We can see the Union players at the mouth of the tunnel and a cheer goes up, but they disappear again. The Dynamo fans have unfurled a huge banner that says 'Berliner Fussball Club Dynamo - Censored' and have all sat down on the terraces. It is uncomfortably hot now, and there is nothing to distract people from the heat. In an attempt to entertain us, and possibly alleviate the tension that has been building all day, the DJ elects to play a steady stream of eighties metal, Nirvana, and Rammstein. Good choice.
A rumour goes around that the delay is being caused by a protest from Dynamo. Apparently the police raided a fanclub event the night before and arrested over a hundred people. The club are upset as the fans are still locked up and won't be released until after the game. The delay continues. Tomorrow we will discover that although the raid story is true, and 180 'known troublemakers' were kept behind bars for the duration of the match, the reason for the delay was much more comedic. Dynamo forgot the shorts for their away strip, and the referee wouldn't let them play in their home ones. The kitman had to drive across Berlin to get them, and got caught in the Saturday traffic.
Eventually the players, all in correct, non-clashing shorts, appear on the field and the game can begin. From the off it is a tetchy, scrappy affair. The first thing you notice at this level is how much slower the pace of the game is, although it could also have a lot to do with the heat. Not much happens for the first quarter of an hour. The players engage in misplaced passes and hopeful punts. The fans trade insults. Then, with 16 minutes on the clock, Union remember that sometimes playing the ball to feet can pay great dividends. Their first fluid move of the match cuts through Dynamo's defence with a series of quick, accurate passes, that leaves goalscorer Mattushka six yards out with an easy finish into the bottom corner. Twelve thousand fans go wild. Two thousand sit down on the terraces again.
Union dominate the rest of the half, and the few breaks that Dynamo can manage do not even threaten the goal. On 34 minutes Union add a second, that is almost identical in its approach as the first, and whenever they get the ball on the ground they cause havoc in the Dynamo defence. Just before halftime though and Union haven't managed to add to their two goals. Dynamo have a freekick on the edge of the area after the lineman adjudged that Union's goalkeeper handled it just outside. It is a good chance, but a goal would be wholly undeserved. Luckily for footballing justice the ball flies over the bar into the grateful arms of the Union spectators, and the referee blows for halftime.
No doubt plans are afoot in the Dynamo dressing room, probably about containment, patience, and how to get back into the game. They came out with purpose, and for two minutes they manage more completed passes than the whole of the first half put together. Sadly they are caught on the break, and with 47 minutes on the clock they have gone three behind. Dynamo heads go down, and what follows is a collapse so complete and total it reminds you of the East German regime following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Goal after goal thunders into the back of the Dynamo net, and with each strike the levels of delirium amongst the Union fans increases. The songs and chants get louder and louder, mostly directed at the Dynamo fans rather than for their own team. Of course there are regular outings for the club standard, 'Eisern Union' ('Stay Strong Union'), but the two most popular, for today at least, are 'Scheiß Dynamo' (which the Union fans have also printed onto thousands of cards which they wave at regular intervals) and the amusing 'Without Mielke, You've Got No Chance'.
For a while the Dynamo fans try and counter but as the goals pile up they quickly grow disillusioned. Four, five, six - a sweet strike from ex-Germany international Jörg Heinrich - seven, eight…the Union fans are in absolute heaven as their heroes on the field rack up an 8-0 scoreline against the old enemies. Without Mielke, it seems, they really do have no chance.
Unlike in most routs, where the players and fans often get bored of the ease of victory and hardly celebrate the seventh or eighth goals, here at Union each goal is cheered even louder than the last. They came to the stadium today hoping for a victory against the hated Dynamo, and not only were they getting it, the archrivals are being humiliated.
The passion is impressive, if slightly un-nerving. One man, a middle-aged, academic-looking chap has spent most of the game chatting amiably to his equally respectable looking friends. But with each goal he climbs the crush-barriers and for a moment or so launches an impressive volley of invective across at the Dynamo fans. This has nothing to do with the players on the pitch, but everything to do with history, with long-held feelings about Dynamo and everything they have stood for. After he has exhausted his supply of swearwords and turned slightly purple he climbs down to resume his chatting with his pals, until the next goal, and the next unloading of distaste and disgust that the intended recipients can't even hear.
We are enjoying the game, cheering every goal along with the locals, enjoying the entertainment, but with the full time whistle comes a sense of trepidation. The Dynamo fans understandably don't look best pleased. The train ride home could be interesting. Thankfully, as we wouldn't want to run into these guys when they were happy let alone after an eight-nil drubbing, they are kept in the stadium, and by the time they finally let them out we have long gone. The Union fans, on the streets and on the train are understandably happy. They are singing, '8-0, 8-0,' as if they can't quite believe it. They have started the season well, two wins and a draw. Maybe their stay in the fourth league will be a short one.
For Dynamo on the other hand this is a third straight loss to start the season. The Chairman gives the embattled manager a vote of confidence, which if wasn't ominous enough, is followed up with a 'we'll see how the next few results go'. For the German football authorities there is relief as the evening passes without further incident. It also turns out that it is the police that need to do the apologising for the events of the night before. Heavily criticised for their actions in the nightclub when they rounded up Dynamo fans, an apology was not enough, and as more details emerged from what had happened it became clear that had Dynamo protested, it would have been well justified.
The 'hatred of generations', as one Berlin newspaper describes the match the next morning will no doubt continue, in the return match at Dynamo and beyond. But for Union fans the 21st August 2005 offers a new story to add to the memories of stolen championships and bribed officials, a chapter in their shared history where Union came out on top, even if it was an Oberliga North-East North match that most of Germany didn't even know was happening…
'Do you remember the day we beat Dynamo - spit - by eight to nil?'
Date: 21.08.2005 (Sunday)
Stadium: An der Alten Försterei
1. FC Union Berlin:
Glinker - Ruprecht, Heinrich, Kurbjuweit (46. Wunderlich), Kaiser, Bönig,
Mattuschka (85. Kovulmaz), Grubert (71. Prokoph), Benyamina, Bergner, Persich
Brändike - Lenz, Rudwaleit, Dehnert, Zöphel, Schmele (66. Brychzy), Benthien, Jarling,
Manteufel (66. Marjanovic), Lau, Jakowitz (77. Kayser)
Referee: Helmut Bley (Sehmatal)
Linesmen: Lutz Rosenkranz, Jens Oehme
Yellow cards: Glinker, Mattuschka, Grubert - Jarling, Manteufel, Lau
Scoring: 1:0 Mattuschka (16.), 2:0 Mattuschka (33.), 3:0 Grubert (47.), 4:0 Grubert (68.), 5:0 Benyamina
(77.), 6:0 Heinrich (80.), 7:0 Benyamina (82.), 8:0 Benyamina (89.)
(c) Abseits Guide to Germany www.abseits-soccer.com