You Won’t Get Me I’m Part of the Union – A Rough Guide to Union Berlin

Full Name:     1.FC Union Berlin e.V.
City:     Berlin (Berlin). Pop: 3,388,434 (2002)
Colors:     Red and white
Nickname:     Eisern (iron). In the old days, the players used to be in blue, same as their mechanics and other working class fans.
Stadium     Alte Försterei. Capacity: 22,000
Built around 1923, the old ground was nevertheless a “cult-classic”. The fans would fall onto the field if it weren’t for the fence. Celtic will hensel the last phase of the stadium’s redevelopment with the opening of their new stand.
Supporters     Smallish in number by German Bundesliga standards but dedicated. Averaged about 16,000 last season (2.Liga). Their battle cry, Eisern Union! (Iron Union) is always present.
Friends:    Hertha BSC and Hansa Rostock
Foes:    BFC Dynamo, a loathing that harks back to the GDR days.
Heroes:    8 GDR internationals. The best was probably Reinhard Lauck, 33 caps, although he “transferred” to BFC Dynamo.

Here you get a two-for-one deal, as there is not one, but two clubs named Union in Berlin!

Founded 1966 in its current format, but the roots are much deeper. In 1906, SC Olympia 06 Oberschönweide was created. It took 14 years to give up the Olympics and they became SC Union. In 1923, they were defeated by Hamburger SV in the finals of the German championship. In the interwar period, Union was one of Berlin’s premier clubs, winning the local championship and playing on the larger German stage.

In the post WWII period, Union was split. The players and coaches fled to the West, and created “Union Berlin”, whereas the eastern part of the club remained SG Oberschönweide. The Union team was a powerhouse in Berlin, and big matches drew huge crowds. In 1953, a playoff against Hamburg drew 85,000 into the Olympia stadion, and a decisive game against Tennis Borussia drew 75,000. However, with the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961, things began to go downhill rapidly. Today Union 06 plays in the lower divisions before crowds consisting of players girlfriends, wives and kids.

The eastern branch of the club finally gave up the district name, and became 1.FC Union Berlin in 1966. Now there were two “Unions” in non-unified Berlin, but with the collapse of the western version, FCU became the dominant force. FCU remained the most pouplar East Berlin club for several years. The sole “honour” would be the winning of the GDR-Cup back in 1968. Gradually, they began to lose ground to the cheaters at Dynamo Berlin, the Stasi club.

After the reunification, Union continued to have decent results on the field, but the financial situation brought the club to the verge of oblivion. Only a last minute fan protest saved the club. Although things were a bit tight, they survived and were eventually able to bring in sponsors.

The goal for 1998-99 was to be champions, and as a result, it has to be considered disappointing. Union challenged for most of the season, but when Chemnitz really turned up the heat, they folded like a deck of cards. On the financial side, things took a nice turn however, as major sponsorship deals enable the club not only to survive, but strengthen for the future.

The 2000 season started off well, but with the end in sight, ended in bitter disappointment. After dominating the Regionalliga Nordost, Union dropped the playoffs against VfL Osnabrück. Both games ended in 1-1 draws, but Osnabrueck won on penalties. Then after a 3-1 victory over South runner up SC Pfullendorf in the “last chance” playoffs, Berlin lost 1-2 at LR Ahlen, thereby failing to make the goal of joining the 2.Liga.

The 2000-01 season will go down in history as a great one for Eisern Union. The Berliners started out slow, but got rolling in full gear by midterm, and ended up easily winning the Regionalliga and gaining promotion to the 2.Liga. Undoubtedly, Union fans were doubly thrilled when rivals Dynamo Berlin got stuck in the 4th division because they couldn’t get a license, and Tennis Borussia basically totally collapsed into oblivion. They even reached the Cup Final. losing to Schalke 04.

Playing in the 2.Liga was tough, but there is no doubt that Union has now established themselves and the no.2 Berlin club behind Hertha. After dropping down a division in 2004, Union dominated the initial 3.Liga in 2009 to go back to the 2nd level. After flirting with the lower league placings early last season they managed to finish a respectable 7th, 9 points shy of a promotion play-off spot.

The club’s official website is making enthusiastic noises about having Celtic as guests for the opening of their new stand and are selling commemorative merchandise in the fanshop.

You can read more about Union and their hated rivals Dynamo in the next subscriber issue. To whet the appetite, here’s a letter about Dynamo that appeared in NTV 194:

stasi in their eyes

Dear NTV

While browsing through a German football website (abseits I happened upon the story of Dynamo Berlin, now struggling to survive in the lower reaches of the amatuer leagues but before the wall came down, a major force in the old East German league.

As I read their story I began to hear the ringing of bells inside my head (which made a pleasant change from the voices telling me to murder strangers at the bus stop, I can assure you). Dynamo were beginning to sound strangely familiar, like another team from the south side. Allow me to illustrate.

The entry for BFC Dynamo begins:

“BFC Dynamo Berlin
Where to start? This is undoubtedly the most hated team in Germany, and perhaps the world.”

No one likes us…?

“And yet, this club dominated East German soccer, winning the title 10 years in a row 1979-1988. The problem is, they cheated.”

It appears that Dynamo was the team of the Staatssicherheitpolizei, the Stasi, the hated GDR secret police. As a result, they manipulated results and otherwise cheated to win the titles. Things started going crooked once Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi, decided that he wanted championships. So whenever they needed a result, they got it.

Losing the game? Have the ref call a “penalty.” Rumour has it that compliant referes would be awarded holidays on the Black sea coast of Romania.

Need another player? Have him transferred to BFC Dynamo.

Gowser and Naisy anybody?

It’s not surprising that the club proved unstoppable. Title after title followed. Fans throughout the GDR expressed their hatred to BFC Dynamo, but were forced to grin and bear it.

After reunification, the ties to the Stasi were obviously cut, and a newly constituted FC Berlin was formed in 1990. Alas the burden of history was a hard thing to live down. Management attempted to emphasise youth soccer and get away from the disgraceful past of the club. Despite a concentration on youth teams, encouraging fun and fair play, the change was hardly accepted.

In May 1999, the members voted to bring back the old name BFC Dynamo. Some of the reasons were to “capture the glorious past” and attract more sponsors. I guess they figured they couldn’t pull the wool over anybody’s eyes anyway.

The story has a happy ending. During the 2001-02 season, BFC Dynamo was forced into bankruptcy proceedings. The ultimate parallel might yet come to pass.

The Rangers doppelganger syndrome was summed up for me in the brief synopsis at the end of the article which presented BFC Dynamo at a glance:

Nickname: How about the Cheaters? They call themselves “der etwas anderes club” (the something-other club, no kidding!)

Tickets: No problem getting any.
Supporters: A releatively small but vocal hardcore. Often accused of fascist tendencies by other clubs. You have to wonder when one of their official sponsors is “Pro-Violence Streetwear”.

Friends: None.

Foes: As befits their legacy, they are generally despised by other ex-GDR teams.

Intriguingly, the final entry mentions an ex-Celt.

Heroes: Some 39 GDR internationals. Among the best were Thomas Doll (29 caps) and Andreas Thom (51 caps), from the 1980s. Thom was also capped 10 times for Germany.

Yours in Fair Play
Bernd Refs
Lives of Others CSC

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