Photo by Ian Stenhouse
There are 3,450,889 people in Berlin, and it often feels like a village. Especially if one operates in circles that include a lot of native English speakers.
As an Irishman, people often jokingly ask me if I know other Irish folk that they have happened to encounter on the Emerald Isle – a facetious quip on the small community feel of the place – but ask a Berlin-resident English speaker about another and it’s frightening how often there actually will be a connection.
The more time one spends in lower-league Berlin football, the more it also seems like a tiny, faintly incestuous village. This, of course, is helped by teams going bankrupt with monotonous frequency and being unable to keep their players, who are then dispersed like dandelion seeds all over the Oberliga.
They land at clubs like BFC Viktoria 89. Their reserve keeper, Konstantin Filatow, was TeBe’s first choice last season, and their assistant manager, Teddy Yildiz, was boss at the Mommsenstadion until his resignation last March. And then there was veteran Michael Fuß, scorer of tons of goals regardless of what Oberliga shirt he’s wearing, be it Türkiyemspor, TeBe or BAK. Oh, and Ümit Ergirdi, formerly of Babelsberg.
They also land at clubs like Türkiyemspor, now managed by former Union legend Marco Gebhardt and former Hertha BSC II keeper Christoph Gäng in goal. Who lines up alongside half of last year’s relegated Reinickendorfer Füchse team. By now you get the message. Sometimes one has to keep reminding oneself which team is actually playing.
That’s less likely to happen at Viktoria’s distinctive Friedrich-Ebert-Stadion, a warm and welcoming little pitch tucked away in leafy Tempelhof. There are plenty of families on the terraces here, and with cake sales taking place just outside, the atmosphere is more posh English fete than rough-and-ready fifth division football.
That’s not to say the boys from Viktoria can’t play a bit – they can. On Sunday afternoon, Türkiyemspor were comfortably beaten 4-1 – not quite a throwback to the years around the turn of the century when Viktoria were champions of Germany on three occasions, but certainly an impressive feat for a newly-promoted team.
Especially imposing was Alen Lekavski, dropping deep from his striking role to make the play. After another former Union legend, Sebastian Bönig, cracked home an excellent volley to put Viktoria in the lead, Lekavski created the second for Ergirdi by evading several challenges in the midfield and slicing the defence open with an outstanding through ball.
We try our best to avoid clichés here at the Exberliner Sportsdesk but watching Lekavski play one finds oneself thinking, “Hmm, good touch for a big man.” And (quite naturally) berating oneself for considering such an oft-regurgitated banality. But it’s true. His 1.93m frame is not what one immediately associates with a playmaker – we expect a lithe, Messi-like waif for that role.
Lekavski should be the target for lofted free-kicks, where he should be towering above the defence and forcing them into all sorts of panicked mistakes. That’s exactly what happened for the fourth goal – a Hassan Oumari free-kick was looped over his own keeper by Guisseppe Ricciardi as Lekavski used his size to boss the penalty box.
The third also came from a set piece – a header from the impressive centre-back Robert Schröder to which Gäng reacted superbly, getting a strong hand behind it. His defence were nowhere near as aware as their keeper, and Schröder smashed the rebound home.
Türkiyemspor were being simply overrun, failing to string together any sort of coherent passing movement, so their late consolation will offer little solace. Even the goal was comedically inept in its execution.
The Viktoria goalkeeper was injured in a clash with a Türkiyem attacker and as he lay prone on the ground, the visitors conspired to hit the bar and then a defender on the line before Emre Demir finally scored.
This season is one of consolidation for both teams, but for very different reasons. Viktoria, promoted from last year’s Berlin-Liga, will be anxious not to overstretch resources. Türkiyem’s nightmare season in last year’s relegation from the Regionalliga without a single victory means they are desperate for mid-table obscurity. But on the basis of Saturday’s performace, even the Oberliga village might be too big for Türkiyemspor.