The most valuable game of football in the world, it is often remarked, is the play-off final to reach the English Premier League. The sums involved for the winning side’s promotion are astronomical – over a €100 million, usually to be gambled on the astronomical wages of useless players at the whims of the astronomical dreams of useless executives.
Giving this much cash to a football club is like asking an osprey to keep an eye on one’s prize winning koi carp, or suggesting to mad King Ludwig that he may want to build himself a little country retreat, but nothing too ostentatious. To say that a hundred million quid could be better spent is without question.
Actually this may be a little unfair, but it would be interesting to know if West Ham’s windfall after winning this years’ play-off would really be a drop in the ocean in real terms when compared to the hundred grand that would have flown into the coffers of SC Gatow had they won Saturday’s Berliner-Pilsner Pokal.
They had announced before the game that it would have ensured the club’s existence for the next ten years. In itself that 10 years makes the amount tangible, real, quantifiable. It is something that would benefit a community and better the lives of a lot of people- not something that will work its way into the pockets of weaselling agents or shoddily-printed-porn magnates.
This is not to say that the cash is in any way wasted on BAK 07, the eventual winners on Saturday. Not in the slightest, but they won the cup once already two years ago. For Gatow it would have been their greatest ever achievement.
Gatow gave a good account of themselves, but this game was always going to be a tough one. BAK 07, are a good team who finished seventh in the Regionalliga, two divisions above the Berlinliga, where they are perched, precariously with two games to go, in a relegation place. If they go down that hundred grand could have come in even more useful.
The romance of football is embedded with the notion that every underdog can have its day, but it is just as true that often the better side will win. BAK hadn’t created as much as would be expected, but they were willing to be patient, willing to wait for the gaps that would inevitably open up for them in a game that wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring in its flowing subtlety, but was engrossing enough nonetheless.
As Gatow’s players trooped off – their shirts drenched in sweat from a glorious day’s sunshine, and an afternoon of chasing the shadows of players who are physically much better prepared around the pitch of the Jahn-Sportpark – they were received like heroes by the few hundred fans of the small club from Wedding. They had fought with every sinew, but when Nivan Pitarevic hit the bar at the start of the second half with a header from a free kick, it seemed as though these underdogs were going to have to be happy as runners up…
It was somewhat inevitable. Robin Kersten caught Björn Brunnemann on the edge of the box, almost dead centre. Henning Lichte lined the free kick up, and hammered it past poor Marco Friedrich in the Gatow goal, as he launched himself to his left. Maybe the shot shouldn’t have made it past the wall, but the ball went like a rocket, and it seems unfair to single anyone out as being culpable.
BAK’s penalty at the end, converted excellently by the captain, Murat Doymus, put a shine on their win, but there was still time for Gatow’s Pierre Trinko to have a header expertly turned away. They were like Glynn “Scotty” Wolfe, the man who married 26 times, at the door of his newest lover, ring in hand. Some people just don’t give up that easily.
It was BAK who deservedly lifted the trophy, and it was their fans that got to revel in the horrendously dubious grandeur of the cup’s apparent anthem, Whitney Houston’s “One Moment In Time”. It was their red-clad fans who had been singing and banging all afternoon that knew that it would be their name in the hat for the first round of the DFB Pokal (wouldn’t it be nice if the draw really was made with scraps of paper bunched up in an old bobble hat), and with it the guarantee of that hundred grand.
BAK 07 say they want to get drawn against Hertha or FC Union in the big cup, but I will happily disagree, sing a Whitney Houston song and pay out another hundred grand if they draw Bayern at the Poststadion in the first round. I suspect I wouldn’t be entirely alone.