Like feuding siblings at a funeral, football is all about getting your greedy little mittens on the silverware. Brian Clough famously used to say how much he owed to the much maligned Anglo-Scottish cup, because winning is a habit, and it needs to be started somewhere, anywhere, before it can repeated on the grander stages.
Tonight, as BFC Viktoria walk out at their charmingly dilapidated old ground under the former flight paths of Templehof to play against CFC Hertha 06 they know that they stand a bigger chance of getting their name on that cup than ever. The German champions of 1894, 1908 and 1911 will have something else to bark on about. But the BFV Pokal is about more than local bragging rights and a shiny pot at the end of a long season, it is about the tantalising glance forward to next year and the glories that can follow. They can see a clear opportunity to remind the game that they were among the very first in Germany to play and that they are still about.
BAK is the classic example of how winning the Berlin Cup can catapult a team into the national limelight. BAK, the Regionalliga side, conjured one of German football’s greatest ever upsets when they knocked Hoffenheim out of the DFB Pokal in the first round last year at the Poststadion. The DFB Pokal is the big boy’s cup, the one that the winners of the local cups, such as the BFV Pokal, get into. It can make or break you.
Three years ago, in its first round, BAK had come close to defeating another Bundesliga side, Mainz who would go on to be the surprise package of the top flight that year. Tongues started wagging about this little side in Moabit with big ideas, but nobody expected the thumping that Hoffenheim would receive, no one thought (though many had hoped) that Tim Wiese, would concede four without reply. BAK, however, limped out of the competition in the second round against 1860 Munich. The big cup had done them, and they would need to win the BFV Pokal again to appear in it again, to have the chance of another scalp, another giant to be felled and to try to start the whole of German football talking about them again.
It won’t happen next season for BAK because, although they were overwhelming favourites, Viktoria pummelled them on the artificial pitch of the Friedrich-Ebert stadium straight after the long, long Winterpause. BAK hadn’t played on astroturf in a long time whereas Viktoria had – though garlanded by the passing of time as opposed to the actual weight of trophies in their cabinets, they had been training on the artificial suface all through the long Berlin winter. They knew it was their weapon against the side from the higher division and they used it to their advantage, with every awkward bounce and exaggerated roll they got on top of BAK. Tonight as they are the clear favourites against 06, though, they have to be wary of falling into the trap of complacency.
Entry into the big cup can make you. But the shiny, Berliner Pilsner logoed, pot also can be a poisoned chalice at the same time with its guaranteed entry to the DFB Pokal. Just ask the side that tonight's winners will face in the semifinals: BFC Dynamo. BFC had been desperate to turn over a new leaf, they were desperate to show German football that they were a changed side from the one known for the boneheaded, skinheaded malevolence that had become the scourge of the GDR’s record league winners. Having won the BFV Pokal two years ago they faced another Bundesliga side, Kaiserslautern, in the first round. The cameras were rolling, eyes were peeled. A loss to Kaiserslautern was no disgrace, but the scenes that followed as the violence that erupted as big game only, so-called fans stormed into the away end, smashing heads with flailing fists, setting them, and their image across the country, back years.
Their coach, Heiko Bonan, at the end of the game was distraught by the violence, by how much his side’s performance had been undermined by the trouble at the Jahn-Sportpark, and within a couple of months he would be gone as the club tried to pick up the pieces from the chaos.
It is now either BFC Dynamo or BFC Viktoria who will be the favourites to win the BFV Pokal. Where for Dynamo, their history is a monkey on their back, for Viktoria it is a springboard. Their history is probably the single reason that they are involved in a mooted merger with LFC, the club with Germany's largest youth section. If Viktoria prevail in the BFV Pokal this year, then they could be in the first round of the big cup next season with a brand new name, a different stadium and a lot more to boast about than just being very old. If Dynamo do, then they will have another chance to show that they have changed their colours, that they can be allowed to represent Berlin’s football on the largest of stages without the fear that it will turn into another ugly punch-up between ugly men in an ugly stadium.
Sure, the BFV Pokal is important. It can make or break you.