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Photo courtesy of www.union.de
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Dr. Steven Hawking, who is allegedly a Bolton Wanderers fan (which only slightly detracts from his status as one of the world’s greatest minds), says that to comprehend the true nature of time it is easiest to think of it being the fourth dimension. We see in 3D, but we live, somehow, in 4D. Like a stick of Blackpool rock with the writing indelibly marked all the way through, time isn't just about the present. It is a constant thing, running from beginning to end, and only our perception of it changes. It’s a bit complicated.
It is a theory that has echoes in poor old Billy Pilgrim's life – the hero of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Billy, you see, has come unstuck in time. His stick of rock keeps snapping apart, and he flicks between different times of his life, seemingly, at random. The difference is whether you believe that you can change what happens in the future.
Billy Pilgrim is happy to think that his life was already pre-determined. He had seen his own death and he had seen his own birth. That was, apparently, fine. But where does this leave us? The Sportsdesk are definitely no quantum physicists, but there was a moment on Saturday afternoon where his idea of pre-determination was shot out of the water. A moment where, if ever something was going to definitely happen, then it was then. And it didn't.
It was the minute 90 and Fortuna Düsseldorf was rocking under the weight of FC Union's attacks. Corner, corner, corner. It had been a bitty game, a stop-start affair with some savage, desperate tackling and a bit of diving and writhing around.
The match had simply never really got started, Fortuna had the lion's share of chances, after an early Christopher Quiring effort was ruled out for offside, but here were Union in the final minutes, striving against the team at the top of the table for three points that had seemed so unlikely before the game. Now the result was certain, surely. Markus Karl had been superb in the midfield all day. There was little of his cultured passing, it was blood and fire stuff, but it had worked. He had stopped the only team unbeaten in all competitions this season from breaking through decisively, and they had hated it. He rose to reach another corner at the far post and got his head to it...
Union vs. Düsseldorf always ends 1-0. In eight of the nine previous fixtures it has ended 1-0. Karl's performance had surely earned him the winning goal instead of the earlier yellow card that means he will miss next week’s trip to Hansa Rostock. He managed to direct the corner kick back, but Michael Ratajczak managed to get his fingertips underneath it and claw the ball over the bar. This was a result for the scientists and the pragmatists. Not for those who believe in pre-determination. Not for Billy Pilgrim.
Union will certainly be happier with the point than their counterparts, the fans whose coaches were delayed on the motorway on their way to Berlin. If Thomas Bröker and Sascha Rösler had taken their chances then that seemingly inevitable 1-0 could have been theirs. The Düsseldorf fans whose team was whistled and jeered from the stands for extravagant rolling and frequent fouling, who, just for a while, became supported by the Unioners at the other end as the police waded in to so extinguish the flares that were lit before the start of the second half.
So what did we learn? We learned that Union can fight against one of the best teams in the league and hold their own. We learned, that though they still can look a bit lightweight up front, there is a certain spirit in this team that will fight to the end, and that players such as Marc Pfertzel (who is improving week by week) and Quiring have taken the team inexorably forwards. We also learned that Billy Pilgrim was just a character in a book, that Markus Karl was never going to head that ball in at the end and that, sometimes, we just have to be happy with what we have.
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