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Where does loyalty get you? Usually, not very far. We talk about the concept a hell of a lot when it comes to football, but how can one really be loyal in regards to a bunch of blokes kicking a ball around? For every Steve Bull, Nat Lofthouse or Matt Le Tissier there are a million Nicolas Anelka's kissing the badge one minute and wiping their pampered arses with it the next. But sometimes, just sometimes, it makes sense. The fans of 1.FC Union have done it again, and I'm sorry to harp on about it, but these guys are either totally deranged or just, well, really loyal.
A call came out on Saturday evening. The Stadion An der Alten Försterei needed clearing of the biblical amounts of snow that had strewn over it the past couple of days, and without help Monday's game against Hertha's best friends, Karlsruher SC would be cancelled. And what would be a Monday without football? Without the demented demands of satellite television it would be a normal quiet evening at home with the wife, but for Union this was the fourth in a row. Mondays have become an ersatz Saturday afternoon.
So there they turned up at 7:30am in Köpenick. Four hundred people to start shovelling the snow, to start sweeping away the detritus of winter so that their threadbare, injury ravaged team could finish off the Vorrunde at home. A win would be nice, but this hardly seemed to be the point. If common sense had prevailed then this wouldn't have happened at all, but then I suppose if common sense prevailed then no one would make it out to Köpenick at all. Ever.
When the fans sing "Unser Mannschaft, Unser Stoltz" things are the wrong way around. The pride of Köpenick is in the fans and not necessarily always the Mannschaft. Time and time again they prove their loyalty above and beyond. Could it be reciprocated this time in front of hoards of Hertha fans side by side with their friends, just waiting? Just waiting to have a chance of a gloat that was missed when the representatives of their own pride drew in the first ever derby between the two clubs earlier this year. And I don't mean this to demean the Herthaners, they can be equally as proud of the way they have stuck with their team in the last year. A lot of fans would have cut and run.
Naturally, however, (as Sebastian in the unrivalled **textilvergehen** blog points out) they got the stadium clear, just like they did before the 2001 cup semi-final against Mönchengladbach. It is now almost tradition. By way of comparison, the day before Chelsea vs. Man Utd was cancelled due to the snow. This is the biggest game in the self-professed greatest league in the world, and one being held in the most affluent part of London. Not stuck in the middle of a forest miles outside of the centre of Berlin, but it was cancelled. Not at Union though. These people get things done.
So the game went ahead, and for the first half it seemed as though it would be a repeat of "Old Shep!" – the song that Elvis Presley first sang at the Mississippi, Alabama fair as a 10-year-old. Old Shep had been loyal as a hound to his master. He followed him through the hills and meadows, and then saved him from drowning only to be killed as he got too old and went blind. The story, like all good country songs, dwells on the sentimental aspects of Old Shep's life. He's in doggy heaven now and won't be forgotten, but the fact still remains that he got whacked in the end. So much for loyalty, it tells us. Tough luck mate, but keep on wagging that tail, you could be useful for now.
Well, despite the clearing of the snow, and despite the screaming, roaring support from the terraces, Union were getting whacked in front of their fan's very own eyes due to a header from Sebastian Langkamp, one of a pair of central defending brothers. But then in the second half, with Chinedu Ede coming on for Bernd Rauw, and the formation switched to (what could be described as) "just... get.... at.... them...." the tide turned. The brothers at the back became more Grimm than they were Louvin, and the communication between them failed like a latter day Ray and Dave Davies.
As Ede's sublime chip sailed into the KSC net at the end for 3-1 the Unioners were going mental. Beer was flying, and the fact that it felt like it was -12 degrees didn't seem to matter anymore. If this is what loyalty brings then it was all worth it. The team had paid back the shovel work in spades. The sports desk was overwhelmed; once again Eisern had proved to be just that, Eisern – and united. If it wasn't so cold I'd have doffed my cap, but then if they weren't so damned loyal I'd have never been there in the first place.