Photos by Seppalot13 (Wikimedia Commons)
The Karl-Liebknecht-Stadion in Babelsberg is a curious place. With just one area of covered seating, the old fashioned ground is a throwback to an age when shorts were tight, perms were fashionable and Potsdam itself belonged to a different country, hidden behind the wall. The club is viewed, from a city-dwellers’ perspective at any rate, in a somewhat romantic manner; SV Babelsberg 03 have nothing historically that can match Hertha BSC or even Union, having languished perennially in the GDR’s second tier throughout the Communist period.
The result being that the club was observed by the neutral with a certain degree of fondness, similar to a benevolent uncle gently looking upon a favoured nephew. Despite their relatively low number, Babelsberg’s fans are as passionate as any and renowned for their friendliness and good humour.
They have enjoyed a good season in the third division, finishing in the lower-mid table of a league with a vast difference of wealth and ambition. For a team with such a small average gate and income, competing against the likes of Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock is an eternal struggle, financially at least. Due to the nature of the stadium, capacity for commercial expansion is extremely limited and fans are drawn much more naturally to the bright lights of the Olympiastadion just 27km away. Furthermore, the indignity of playing against the reserve teams of the larger Bundesliga clubs is one that in the third tier must be experienced; something which quite understandably encourages a lot of would-be fans to seek an alternative form of entertainment.
With the Klassenerhalt already secured, the game against Sandhausen (themselves lost in mid-table anonymity) had the distinct end-of-season feel which, more often than not, occurs in late April to May. In front of a modest support of just over 2000, the game did nothing to excite, reflecting the dull, grey skies above. Pass after pass went astray, chances were at an utter premium despite the home side peppering the visitors with set pieces that on another day may have provided a much needed goal. More fun was to be found on the terraces, where what the fans lacked in number, they compensated amply for in volume and passion.
Then, out of the gloom, drama of the highest order: It was more Laurel and Hardy than Cavalleria Rusticana, but in the circumstances any catalyst for action was welcome. It came in the form of a Sandhausen penalty, which at the time looked extremely harsh and was loudly bemoaned from the stands. With an inordinate amount of time elapsed, the assistant raised his flag into the air and after a short conference with the referee, the decision was overturned and a free kick awarded.
To add salt to the wound, the hapless Sandhausen forward, Regis Dorn, received his second caution of the day for simulation, a decision met with glee from the home support as he wandered disconsolately back to the dressing rooms. There were few more chances, and as the clock ticked gently down towards the summer break, aside from a heart-stopping moment when a Sandhausen player failed to convert a tempting cross, more drama was scarce.
The final whistle was blown somewhat mercifully a short time later, and after a long ovation to celebrate the passing of a satisfactory year, the crowds trickled slowly from the KaLi. It gave time to reflect on the wonderful diversity of football in the Berlin area; Babelsberg provides a truly different dimension to the fare provided by Hertha and Union, and although perhaps the glamour is missing, the true heart of football is beating strong.