Von Dämonen und Tigern. Die Menschen bei Union und ihre Saison 2016/17.

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Jens Keller schaute das erste Mal auf die ausverkauften Ränge der Alten Försterei, auf denen die Fans an diesem Abend besonders sangesfreudig waren. Er hatte erwartet, dass es laut werden würde. Schließlich hatte er Champions-League-Erfahrung. Doch das hier war mehr. Zu seiner Rechten summten die Fans von Dresden in schwarz-gelb wie tausend und ein paar wütende sächsische Hornissen. Überall sonst im Stadion: die Unioner in rot und weiß oder in schwarz. Die altmodisch wirkenden Ränge der Alten Försterei waren zum Bersten voll mit Fans, dicht aneinander gedrängt. Von ganz oben auf den Rängen, wo man sich eigentlich nur um 180 Grad drehen müsste, um den steilen Hang hinunter zu pissen – bis hin zum, nur von einen roten Stahlzaun getrennten, Spielfeldrand.

Die Waldseite vor dem Anpfiff des Heimspiels gegen Dresden, Foto: Tobi/unveu.de

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Of Demons and Tigers. The people of Union Berlin and their 2016-17 season.

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Jens Keller looked out at the packed stands of the Alte Försterei for the first time, they were in fine voice this evening. He had expected it to be loud, and he’d managed in the Champions League after all, but this was really something. The Dynamo Dresden fans in yellow and black buzzed malevolently to his right, a thousand and some ugly Saxon hornets. The Unioner were in red and white and black everywhere else, the old fashioned terraces of the Alte Försterei were filled to bursting with fans stood cheek by jowl, from the tops of the stands where people used to only have to turn around 180 degrees to piss off the back down the steep dirt slope, to the very edge of the pitch, separated from it only by a brutal red steel fence undermining everything the German football authorities say about treating fans like people.

Die Waldseite vor dem Anpfiff des Heimspiels gegen Dresden, Foto: Tobi/unveu.de

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Steven Skrzybski und die hart erarbeitete Kunst des improvisierten Tors

Als er 12 Jahre alt war, traf Steven Skrzybski im entscheidenden Spiel der Saison gegen Hertha BSC. Union hatte in dem Jahr jedes Spiel gewonnen – außer im Pokal. Sie dominierten den Wettbewerb. In der Liga thronten sie über allem, aber hier im D-Jugend-Finale kassierten sie zwei dämliche Tore, und 400 Zuschauer sahen zu, wie sie versuchten, nicht alle Vorschusslorbeeren wegzuwerfen. Der Ball landete auf Steven Skrzybskis rechten Fuß. Dort, wo er ihn am liebsten hat. Er sprintete los, driftete dabei etwas auf rechts ab, eine Eigenschaft, die er noch heute hat. Dann sah es so aus, als wäre der Winkel für einen Abschluss zu spitz geworden.

Illustration: Emily Sweetman

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Steven Skrzybski and the hard earned art of the improvised goal

When he was 12 years old Steven Skrzybski scored against Hertha BSC in the season’s decisive fixture. Union had won every single game that year bar one in the cup. They had destroyed the competition, torn the league up, but here in the D-Jugend final they had conceded two stupid goals and 400 people were watching them trying not to throw all that promise away. The ball came to him on his right foot, where he likes it best, and he raced on, drifting out towards the right, a trait he still has, but it looked like he had left too tight an angle to shoot.

Illustration: Emily Sweetman

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Atop a rocket whose fuse had already been lit

Collin Quaner didn’t saunter out onto the pitch when his time had come He didn’t lope or lollop or swagger or stroll or any of the other terms that were lazily applied to him and his inferred laissez faire attitude during his earliest days at Union. No, he ran onto the pitch, his eyes blazing. He’d been annoyed over the last couple of weeks at missing out, at running the risk of losing his place to one of the many would be usurpers clogging up the striking ranks in Köpenick. For he had hit his stride, he had scored as many goals already this season as he had in the first four years of his career and then his fucking shoulder went.

So on his return, with time running out, he made sure we noticed as he Ran onto the pitch.

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Neuhaus’ return to his old house

Jens Keller looked sterner and less patient than he does in photographs. And somehow younger, too, at the same time. Like a silver haired Tintin with a sore head. He had already been waiting for a couple of minutes, tapping at the sides of his espresso cup as he tetchily drained away the contents, pacing slightly, tentatively, next to his lectern. He was still fuming about the goals.

Uwe Neuhaus (r.) und Jens Keller, Foto: Matze Koch

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Frankly FIFA, I don’t give a damn

Jacob hat nicht nur den besten Text zum Montagsspiel geschrieben, der geschrieben wurde. Nein, er hat noch davor einen Text über die Wahl der Austragungsorte für die Weltmeisterschaften 2018 und 2022 geschrieben, für dessen verspätete Publikation wir uns entschuldigen möchten.
Steffi & Sebastian

In Gone With The Wind there is a scene where, having lost all her former riches, Scarlett O’Hara tears down the beautiful green drapes that are all that is left of her furnishings to make a new dress. The idea is that she will be better able to get the 300 dollars she needs to save the family home if she has all the trappings and the appearance of wealth. It is a scene not disimilar to that of the English FA in Zurich last week as they desparately tried to impress the FIFA executive commitee members of the worth of their bid to land the 2018 World Cup. In the Guardian, David Conn pointed out that as David Cameron’s government slashed school sports funding back in the home of football, he was in a five star Zurich hotel, shaking hands with some of the most odious and dictatorial scumbags in the world.

But none of this was a surprise. Germany know very well about the morals of the FA when it comes to landing the biggest fish of all, the World Cup. When England promised Germany their full support for the 2006 tournament in exchange for Germany’s for EURO ’96 it was a deal made with crossed fingers. A gentlemans agreement only works between gentlemen, and the FA were certainly not that. They went for 2006 all the same, fuck the agreement. The obvious ending being that Germany became hosts and the English slunk home with their heads in their hands wondering why everybody thought they were so arrogant.

They always said that this time was different. The moral highground was there for the taking, and the bid had received the best possible reception. It was, finally, time for football to come home. To come home to a country where sport could help to eradicate society’s evils. Where Violence in the grounds had been all but banished and where the seeds of a new football had taken root in the fertile ground of that capitalists wet dream, the Premiership (“the Greatest League on Earth” SKY TV always tell us).

But, surprise, surprise, it didn’t work. I wrote a piece before the announcement of the winners saying how I didn’t want England to win the bid. It was just too unedifying to be cosying up to these guys who could make the Catholic Church look like a progressive, morally sound organisation. Where was the shame, the humility? To what ends would we go to win the bid, to make the big money? The BBC had broadcast a documentary on the eve of the decision accusing four further members of the executive committee of accepting bribes, but what was Cameron’s response to this? It was “irresponsible” of the BBC to harm the bid so. That two voters were already suspended because of similar accusations in the English press was seen as more than unfortunate. They could have been useful for the bid. For the BBC to be called unpatriotic and unhelpful was as fucking disgraceful as it was untrue. Although the previous experiment had shown that moral bankruptcy didn’t necessarily mean winning, why change now?

But the deal had already gone down. So it was with a huge surprise that I found myself seething with rage that Russia had won. Not because I don’t think that they equally deserve to host a World Cup (they do, and have never had one before…. no problem there) but because we looked like such pitiful losers. Apparently David Beckham is still a footballer, but he is closer to a handpuppet, let out of his Gucci leather lined box when hands need shaking, when Sepp wants to feel like royalty. The presense of “Dave” Cameron and Prince William was worse. These fuckers represent everything that is wrong with modern football in England, a representation of the gormless, money and celebrity driven Premiership that thinks football was invented in 1992, and they neither like nor know anything about the national sport other than the fact that to associate oneself with it lends a certain credibility.

I don’t need to spill more bile about the choice of Qatar to host in 2022. This was a decision that could only have come from FIFA, but the very fact that our elected leaders (not you, William. Sorry mate you don’t count as such) saw fit to hang the BBC out to dry was sickening. Could we not be proud of our press and it’s pursuit of the truth? Of course every good Conservative knows the BBC is a pseudo communist agency undermining the idea that morals and ability come second to the school one attended but it was just incredibly sad that it should have come to this. To feel the need to attack the countries most internationally respected body was inevitable, but it also still didn’t work as a tactic. Cameron still came home looking like a loser, and the FIFA executives are still happy now that it has been proved that their endemic corruption is deemed as being completely irrelevant. Life in their Swiss dream factory goes on unencumbered by trivial things like taxes and responsibility. So, let them have the World Cup wherever they like. Let it become even more bloated, and hang the consequences. Fuck them. To paraphrase Rhett Butler’s payoff line to Scarlett at the end of Gone With The Wind, “Frankly FIFA, I don’t give a damn”.

How to get Goals.

Two people ran up to Uwe Neuhaus on Friday evening. The first was John Jairo Mosquera after his equalizer had crossed the line. He had to fight through his jubilant teammates to get to the gaffer, the man who has staked so much of his own reputation on the mercurial Colombian striker coming good. It was a touching scene, a genuine moment of release and relief and one that sent the Eisern faithful into raptures.

The second was less heartening. Mosquera had just had his second golden edged chance, one on one with the keeper, saved- just hit it, anywhere, that little round thing goes in the rectangular netted thing at the end, hit it- a fan left his seat in the stand to remonstrate with Neuhaus, presumably about his unflinching support for the profligate striker. From the look on his face the Union trainer had not taken the fans case on board. He looked like he wanted to lump him.

So what is wrong with Mosquera? He certainly wasn’t alone in missing opportunities against Aue. But again in the press conference Neuhaus was quick to defend him, and gave the impression that he is as bored of hearing the questions about him as the press are of having to ask them. The fact he’d bagged his first goal in almost fourty weeks was covered up by the other misses. The monkey, though briefly shrugged off, clambered again up on to Johns back.

So here’s a theory. He’s just not enough of a bastard. He has always come across as quiet and devout, but a striker needs to be self important and driven. Fuck your teammates, they are only there to provide YOU with the opportunities to score. They are there to be berated if they do something wrong and ignored if they do it right. There is a sparkling example of this in the wonderful Welsh Italian centre forward Georgio Chinaglia. The man who scored 24 goals in Lazio’s Championship win of 1974 remains one of the most devisive, dislikeable and disagreeable men ever to grace a pitch. According to John Foot’s masterful “Calcio. A History of Italian football” to be the standout bastard in that team full of bastards was an achievement in itself. They had a huge punch up with Arsenal in a restaurant, and another one after Ipswich had knocked them out of the Fairs cup. That Chinaglia was the peacemaker on both occasions beggars belief. When he left Swansea he told his fellow players that “One day you will all be begging me for my autograph”. He kicked a fellow player up the arse on the pitch after a misplaced pass, boasted of his always carrying a gun and declared that he would vote for the self declared neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano.

Most of this was on the wind up. A psychological battle is already won if the other guy has got the red mist descending, and when you have a shot so hard that it, allegedly, broke the crossbar in his first training session in Rome then the game is over before it has begun.

Chinaglia, of course, went to the New York Cosmos. Everybody hated him, and he was the top scorer in the league every season he played. He shouted out Pele for not passing him the ball enough and told him to saty out wide and leave the scoring to him. To fucking Pele!

So Johnny, if I may be so presumptious, don’t worry about the catcalls mate. Don’t think about the one on ones, just think about how you can boost your own ego, rough up your team mates and score goals. They all go together and you will still be a hero to the fans. It’s the Robbie Savage principal, everybody hates him too, but it’s different if he’s YOUR bastard.

Don’t Panic!

For a long period of my life I believed that the Zebra was closer to a dog than a horse and that they communicated with a complicated clicking language. This was proved to me as being utter nonsense whilst watching “Stripes”, a crappy film about a racing zebra that later comes on to a hot female horse. I don’t think that Disney would have sanctioned an ending to a film with inter species relationships, it would be a step too far, so I changed my scientific opinion. Anyway, all of this useless information is helpful to illustrate why a lifetime spent on the high Veldt working with the fauna wouldnt have worked. But thats the wonder of this game we love. I would never be allowed to write for well regarded zoology publications due to my glaringly obvious lack of any knowledge about the subject, whereas one quote from the Tagesspiegel describing me as a football writer, and bobs your uncle, I’m fully qualified to tell Uwe Neuhaus, a man who has managed and played professional football for his whole working life, how to set up a team to beat Duisburg. The zebras.

English tactical brain

So, with that in mind, this is what I would do for Sundays game, and it is unremittingly English. Apologies Herr Neuhaus in advance, but I think its time for 4-4-2. Simple tactics for a simple game.  In the Bundesliga both Stuttgart and Monchengladbach are playing what you would call a classic 4-4-2, and no-one would have the sheer balls to suggest that it’s working out particularly well for either, but it’s worked out okay so far for Kaiserslautern, who are playing the same fast and defined systen that made them look so much better than everybody else last year in the zweiteliga. It can work in this league, the key is a bit of pace and a bit of ball retention and movement. Union have the players for it, and it could be a cathartic process to say, “hey fuck it if they score a couple of goals, but we’ll just have to score more”, Helenio Herrera would go mental but why not try a reversal in the mindset of a team that is losing belief in the simple things that they were doing so well at the start of last season.

We’ll start at the back. All four goals Osnabruck scored on Wednesday came from defensive errors. There’s little that Herr Neuhaus can do about it, if you train all week on something and then Göhlert or Madouni simply let their marker go free in the box. So take the pressure off a bit, and try and make the opposition defenders deal with the tricky balls, both through the middle and from the wings. Dominic Peitz, while  making Terry Butcher look undermotivated, needs more time to pick a pass out than most. It’s not his job. He’s a destroyer- my friend Dave loves Peitz and has nicknamed him “the Tree”, it’s quite apt- but his inclusion already makes the back four infer that they are not up to the job and need a babysitter. Think of it as a proto-Marxist manouevre, an arm around the shoulder, “Madouni (mate), you have nothing to lose but your chains”. I like Madouni. I like the way he shouts at his colleagues, there is something very English about him as an old fashioned centre half (he would certainly fit into the stereotypes of what is required from one in the home of football), but he can pass the ball quickly and succinctly.

Michael Parensen and Torsten Mattuschka, equally, can then have the space in which to move the ball. Either forward to Benyamina’s feet, or out wide to try and get Mosquera into the box where he is at his most dangerous. For this you need Brunneman on the left and (heres the gamble) Quiring on the right. With his pace Quiring could get behind most defenses in this league, and if he can start getting the crosses in could become a real secret weapon in Köpenick. His presense would mean that behind him Christoph Menz would have to stay disciplined, but he repaid the trust Neuhaus put in him in spades against Hertha, so why not let him rise to the occasion again? Brunnemann and Kohlmann have built up a good understanding on the left, and that side should be one of Unions strongest outlets.

So, and lets be honest, that just leaves the question of the strikers and I would give a final throw of the dice to Mosquera and Benyamina. Mosquera’s first touch always was a a bit clumsy to say the least, so get him into the box where he can be a real handful. Again with Benyamina, he doesn’t like to drop back or out wide chasing the ball around. Get it to his feet where he can use his pace to run at the Duisburg defenders while Mosquera pulls them around with his gangling movement.

It’s only the 6th game of the season and, in the immortal words of the Hitchikers guide to the galaxy, Don’t panic. It needn’t be written in large friendly letters, even though they do help. After the same amount of games last year Frankfurt had just a single point too and they stayed up. Unfortunately it is the default position of the football fan. We all know what is wrong, and we all know how to win every game. Down the pub I have reconciled the bipolarities of Menotti and Billardo whilst equally being able to be pragmatic and build ateam around Roberto Baggio at the same time. The armchair is a very easy place to coach from indeed. So Uwe, if you’re reading this feel free to ignore it. Don’t panic and stick to your job mate, chances are you’re better at it than most of us.

There will be a new chapter in the clubs stories’

11Freunde recently referenced a game in 1992 between Esgrima and Estudiantes- the La Plata derby- where the celebrations of Jose Perdomo’s winning free kick set off such raptures that nearby seismologists registered it as a small earthquake. That’s a proper derby, one that can make the tectonic plates feel like they are shifting under your very feet. Equally in Brazil, Eduardo Galeano described the legendary rivalry between Flamengo and Fluminense thus: “Flamengo had been born not long before, when Fluminense split in two after much sabre-rattling and many labour pains. Soon the father was sorry he hadn’t strangled this smart alec son in his crib, but it was too late…” Admittedly the great Uruguayan writer could make a council meeting’s minutes sound like a titanic struggle between good and evil, but the story remains familiar; be it in Montivideo or Manchester, Glasgow or Gelsenkirchen.

It’s good against evil, father against son, wolves against rabbits against bears- and which does the devouring and which one the cowering just depends on whose side you are on.

In Berlin all things are almost wilfully, contrarily different. At the moment it is the largest city in Europe not to have a representative in their countries’ top league, but even this crappy situation is sated by the first league derby between 1.FC Union and Hertha. “Those guys were talking about being German champions a year ago and now they are with us in the second division”. says Christian Arbeit, Unions spokesman. I take an equally perverse pleasure in seeing Schadenfreude in its own, real, context pouring out of the people that invented the word (if not the concept). He continued: “Of course you don’t want to wish people bad luck or anything. I mean, until it [Hertha’s relegation] finally happened we didn’t think it could be possible for them to come down, you just think… but it’s Hertha”. This was countered by his fond reminiscences of Unioners singing about the clubs coming together before the wall came down, a statement about the regime that kept them apart for so long, and a belief that a city could be united on the pitch.

The reasons are myriad for them having not met, but the simple (and most obvious one) is that Hertha have been “Up there” while Union haven’t. It’s been 21 years since the wall came down, but Union have been forging their own bit of history way out to the east of the city in Köpenick, working away slowly like the Schlosserjungs the fans pronounce themselves as- taking an extended lunch and a couple more tea breaks than they should in true worker style, whilst saying, “don’t worry love, it’ll all be done in good time”.

It remains strange to me to have a game like this without the history to back it up. Without the resentments that build over years lodged in the memories of famous wins or losses like those against Dynamo. It almost becomes a philosophical question. What is the sound of one hand clapping? How can you have a derby against someone you’ve never met? The old scoreboard in the corner of the stadium remains untouched, a nod to Unions past, and before every game had been reset to 8-0, the largest victory recorded against Dynamo. That finally changed this year and now it records the 2-1 victory that their under 23’s got a couple of months ago, illustrating the different paths the two clubs have undertaken since the fall of the regime that they accuse of having gifted Dynamo so much favour. Would they change that again to record a win against the new elephant in the footballing room of Berlin? Can a rivalry really exist in such a vacuum, or will the Eisern faithful always regard the Weinrot as their natural enemies? On the UBahn on the way to the Olympiastadion for Hertha’s alarmingly easy win against Bielefeld on Sunday it seemed almost as though Hertha’s fans were the ones ratcheting up the rivalry, the inverse to Bill Withers’ words that maybe we all need someone to lean on. Football is no fun when the best man wins, when we all go home, happy that everyone tried their hardest and that they played up, played up, and played the game. It thrives when there is an enemy. We all need somebody to beat on.

Of course the teams met last year at the opening of the Alte Forsterei. Patrick Kohlmann, Unions left back, remembers it well and recognises the significance of hosting the game in Kopenick. “It was a great game, especially because of the circumstances- the first game in the stadium that the supporters built- but I hope this time it will be a better result for us”. When I mention the fans, and especially the surreal beauty of the Christmas trees celebrating the old grounds 90th birthday last week, his voice grows more animated. “Yeah, every game is new. It’s always a surprise for us and every time they have new ideas the players all love it. They are great supporters.”

I spoke to Christian and Patrick before last Fridays game in Paderborn, with hopes still high of getting a first win of the season under their belts there. It didn’t happen. The pressure is mounting in Kopenick, but that shouldn’t affect Neuhaus too much. He’s seen the big West German derby first hand, and knows how to keep the players grounded on a huge occasion. They will need all of that to deal with Adrian Ramos and Raffael, who seem to be enjoying this 2nd division lark, but is the derby a place for serenity? Arbeit thinks so, “No one can win a match if we come out and get three red cards in fifteen minutes”, but I would be inclined to use the tactical advice of Kevin Keegan to Paul Scholes and “go out there and lay some hand grenades” Try and get up them. This of course doesn’t work. England lost that game and eloquently shows why I just write all this shit down, and have no part in management. Either way come Friday night there will be a new chapter in the clubs stories’, one that will become old and hoary as the relationship changes and the memories of it take on a greater import.