The club have a tremendous history, and that history faces a new chapter this afternoon when their top-flight debut begins at home to Red Bull Leipzig.
Union Berlin Ready For Bundesliga Debut
A Club With Proud Traditions and Incredible Fans
The Kopenick club is fantastic. Like the majority of supporters in Germany, the fans are an integral part of the club, no more so than Union Berlin.
It starts with the stadium. The Stadion An der Alten Forsterei (Stadium at the Old Forester’s House), is a charming alternative to many soulless bowls most clubs call home. With a capacity of 22,000, 18,000 of which is packed into three sides of terracing, it was rebuilt by the supporters in 2008.
The club risked losing its licence due to crumbling terraces and poor facilities, but over 1,600 volunteers restored the venue.
And it’s not just the home games the fans are well known for. The supporters organise ‘party trains’ to most away fixtures, and even took 13,000 supporters to Dortmund for a midweek cup fixture last season.
Leading Ultras group Das Wuhlesyndikat plan a protest against RB Leipzig, the club bankrolled to the top division by the Red Bull energy drinks company, by staying silent for the first 15 minutes of the game.
In a statement, they said: “For our first Bundesliga match we naturally hoped for a home game, so we could show the league how football is lived in the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei and at Union Berlin. We got our home game, but with a big stain as our opponent, RB Leipzig – a construct that has absolutely nothing in common with our conception of football.
“As football that is shaped by co-determination, loyalty, standing terraces, emotions, financial fair play, tradition, transparency, passion, stories and independence. As we all know these are values that the construct from Leipzig have walked all over.”
The fans are as loyal as they come. In 2004, the club had dropped to the fourth division and found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, which led to supporters donating blood and passing the money raised to the clubs coffers.
And there will be a few tears this weekend. In another commendable move, a fan group has collected almost 300 pictures of Union fans and former players who have passed away. Their faces will be printed onto a giant banner to be displayed before kick-off, so even those no longer around can feel part of the club’s historic Bundesliga fixture.
Brief History of Union Berlin
Originally formed in 1906 under the name FC Olympia Oberschöneweide, the club reformed in 1966 following the Second World War. During the years of the Cold War, Union had a strong rival with fellow Berliners FC Dynamo, who had strong links to the Stasi.
Given their links with the East German state police, they won ten consecutive East German league championships between 1979 and 1988, and would often poach the best players in the league.
As a result, a fierce cross-city rivalry developed with Union, with the vast terraces at the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei becoming a place where objectors to the regime could express their views in relative anonymity.
Union bounced between the top two divisions of former East Germany and were never likely to challenge Dynamo, but became a symbol of resistance to the Stasi and the government to the point where even people with little interest in football came to their games.
They were unsurprisingly overlooked for the Bundesliga following the fall of the Berlin Wall and spent the nineties in the third division. But the club was had the occasional highlight. In 2000/01, Die Eisernen reached the German Cup final but lost to Schalke.
But, as mentioned earlier, the club dropped to the fourth division before dragging themselves back, backed largely by the fans.
Last season they finished third, missing out on automatic promotion only on goal difference, and then entered the play-offs. They gained a credible 2-2 draw away to Stuttgart, and held out for a goalless draw at home and took their Bundesliga place on the away goals rule, the final whistle sparking a mass pitch invasion.
It was a spontaneous eruption of joy following years of toil and torment. Union have certainly earned their shot at the big time. They’ll even have two tasty derbies with Hertha Berlin.
Can Union Stay Up?
Can they stay up? Of course, why not? They have recruited well in the summer, bringing in striker Anthony Ujah, midfielder Christian Gentner and defender Neven Subotic among others to boost manager Urs Fischer’s ranks. The boss has added a wealth of top-flight experience to his squad over the summer.
They also had the best defence in the second tier last season and will need every bit of that resilience as they make the step up. Their home record was impeccable last season, losing just one league game, and they’ll need to ensure the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei becomes a fortress again this season.