I ask the elderly man standing beside me at the touchline how long he’s been a TeBe fan. He pauses to calculate. Football fandom isn’t like a relationship, where anniversaries are hoarded and celebrated and always on the tip of the tongue. There’s no potential of divorce or splits for us, and knowing with absolute certainty that you’re in it for the long haul doesn’t allow for celebration of the short.
"Since the fifties," he responds finally. Since before the Bundesliga, when TeBe were big hitters in the Berliner Stadtliga, winning the first three city titles of that decade. And, according to him, once you’re TeBe, you’re always TeBe, even when they are warming up to start the season in the Berlin Liga, now the sixth level of football in Germany.
The first warm-up game of the new season brought Roter Stern Leipzig to Berlin, a team formed as recently as 1999 but already with a strong fan base and a wealth of media interest behind them. Like TeBe, RSL fans are strongly politicised and campaign against discrimination of any sort, and thus often attract the ire of certain folk in deepest darkest Saxony for whom such an opinion is best combatted by means of a severe beating. The 2010 Julius Hirsch Prize, awarded by the DFB to clubs who participate in anti-discrimination programmes, came as a small consolation to a team often involved in terrace violence despite the peaceful nature of their fans.
Supporters of two such ideologically-linked teams were always going to produce a decent crowd, and the attendance of 280 for a friendly between two sixth-division teams did not disappoint. They witnessed an enjoyable game of football at the Wally-Wittmann-Sportanlage and actively contributed to the merriment with colourful confetti and red heart-shaped balloons making it onto the pitch towards the end.
While things may be good on the terraces, for TeBe the footballing side of matters are a little more complicated. The official website registers only ten players in the first team, so today’s squad was made up of numerous test players. Alexander Greinert won’t have done his chances of a contract any harm, lashing the ball home after a corner somehow squeezed through to his right boot at the far post after 26 minutes.
The newbies were asserting themselves well, but it was a TeBe old hand who was running the show. Serdar Günes was assertive in possession and took responsibility from his advanced midfield role in a way that TeBe fans didn’t see from any Lilaweisse player for the entirety of last season. He struck the post with a powerful shot as TeBe stepped up the pressure in the first half.
Also impressive in the centre was Janek Bonasewicz, apparently the son of a member of the Haiti national team that competed in the 1974 World Cup. While Haiti’s record of zero points and fourteen goals conceded at that competition isn’t exactly the most stirring of recommendations, Bonasewicz showed good vision and distributed the ball well.
A second goal was inevitable, and came through Ergün Kaan dispossessing the RSL keeper and tapping home from close range. The pair were intimately acquainted again moments later when Kaan was played through on goal, but a mischievous bounce off the uneven turf resulted in the ball entering orbit.
With both sets of fans planning a post-match party together, it was only fair that RSL should have something to celebrate on the pitch as well. Mario Glaser’s sound finish pulled one back, and the visitors could have even snatched an unlikely draw were it not for a couple of decent saves from the TeBe keeper.
The party started straight after the final whistle, but my elderly friend was already on his way out. It didn’t used to be always about politics and ideologies, for him football is the only thing that counts.
See you next time, he waved, with a smile that registered just a little more hope for the future of TeBe than it had ninety minutes earlier.