Photo by Ian Stenhouse
The notion of the green, green grass of home is a misnomer, let's be honest. Some 20 hours before I made it back to Berlin, it was getting towards 30 degrees and I was fighting off the mosquitoes, basking whilst reflecting back on one of the best sporting trips of my life. Great cricket matches, leading to historic English victories in astonishing, enormous iconic stadiums? Tick. A trip to the races at a suitably grotty (read as really, really, gloriously grotty) turf club that would once have been a byword for colonial grandeur, watching a useless horse I put the house on jogging along the track with all the passion of a Geoffrey Boycott scripted Merchant Ivory film, in the company of stray, possibly rabid dogs, and stray, possibly rabid, losing gamblers? Tick. Watching a derby in the second largest stadium in the world alongside 100,000 screaming (and possibly rabid) locals that descended into abandonment and the most surreal riot one could imagine? Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
I step out at Tegel in an inappropriate t-shirt and flimsy trainers. The romance of winter passes me by. It is bastard cold, and said green, green grass of home can't be seen beneath the frozen white expanses. Solace comes in the small things though. The beer in Berlin is better than anywhere else in the world and I'm gasping for some stodgy, flavourless, meaty carbohydrates. My wife is waiting for me at home, and the world (in my absence) for a couple of strikers in the city, has turned on its head.
Such is life for strikers. Should they be lucky enough, then theirs is the glory of victories won, and the idolatry of the fans young and old. It is their names that kids claim as their own in the kickabouts in the cages and Bolzplätze of Berlin. But when they fail, they are the scapegoats, the black sheep and all those other similar animals that have different genii, but are lumped clumsily together when it is time to share the brunt of the burden when things go horribly wrong. Strikers often have the most fragile of confidences, that when shattered can be so hard to build back up.
Last year Hertha's Adrian Ramos was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is the type of player whose genius is in the implausibility of his play. Like Nwankwo Kanu before him, he looks like he has lost the ball, like his touch is simply too heavy, his gangling frame too ungainly, but in the blink of an eye one of those long, long limbs has magicked it back under his control, he has spun, beaten two men and is baring down on goal. He only scored six times in a side that would go down in the most ludicrous of circumstances, and all the talk of the year before when he was being touted around the Bundesliga, with rumours of millions being chalked off against the Hauptstadt’s biggest club's plethora of IOU's, disappeared. He looked a broken man.
Now the chattering has started again in earnest. He is wanted again, and according to the press could be playing his last game for the Old Dame this weekend. The decisive goal he scored on Saturday against Paderborn came from a defensive cock up, but as he had his back to goal he took a touch with his left foot, spun with two defenders behind him leaving the ball to wait for him to sweep it home into the far post with his right. It was the goal of a man who is coming back to his destructive, awkward best.
On the other side of the city, Simon Terodde had been trying for a season and a half now to show that he could be the striker that 1. FC Union have so badly needed. His work-rate had never dropped, his holding up of the ball had done so much to help Torsten Mattuschka keep scoring when others weren’t, but a miss against Paderborn when he only had to take a touch and sidefoot past Lukas Kruse seemed to sum up everything that many suspected was wrong with the big man’s play. His confidence in front of the goal was gone. Maybe he lacked the ego to make the difference, the cold hearted killer instinct that separates the good from the very best. As Union’s play lumbered in the doldrums of a lack of creativity he bore much of the brunt of the fans wrath, work-rate notwithstanding.
All of a sudden Union are up to fifth and he has scored five in five. They might not be pretty, but they don’t have to be. The boss’s ever present faith in him is being repaid at last.
It all happens when I go away, see. The suspicion I have always had that somehow I am responsible for the teams I watch poor performances has been backed up. Hertha are flying at the top of the table, Union well placed to end the winter break in their highest ever position at this time of year in the 2. Liga (as it is now). Maybe I should just get on a plane again and wait for the snow to melt on the green, green grasses of home. It looks like the strikers of Berlin are fine without me after all.