Uwe Neuhaus is not a man easily given over to outward shows of sentimentality. His tough roots as a working class youth in the Ruhr all too often shine through. He is unforgiving of flashiness and intolerant of those who lack application. His rise as a footballer to the Bundesliga in the 1980s with Wattenscheid, a team so unfashionable they may as well have worn knee length knickerbockers and pre-Stanley Matthews boots, was born out of desire and graft and sheer, bloody-minded, will power. He told me that himself once, the first time I’d ever done an interview in German, for the first issue of the magazine I was fortunate enough to be around for its founding, No Dice.
I was sweating buckets that day. He is an imposing man and I’d seen him in enough press conferences to know that he suffers fools about as gladly as a lion suffers the barefaced cheek of a cocky antelope. Uwe Neuhaus could have eaten me for fucking breakfast. That he didn’t is a matter of record, he was patient and polite and as soon as we started talking football his mouth ran off at a clip, his arms flailing and eyes glinting all the while. He takes football very seriously indeed.
So it was a surprise to see him jigging around the fringes of the Stadion An der Alten Försterei on Monday night with such abandon and with such a beaming smile on his face as his players gave him a few metres of respectful space and the crowd chanted his name as one. “U-we, U-we, U-we”. This wasn’t the final goodbye – that will come after FC Union’s last home game of the season against 1860 Munich, the side he is rumoured to be heading inexorably towards – but it was no less heartfelt and no less moving for it. There may have been the glimpse of a tear in his eye too, though he’d no doubt tell you that it was just a speck of dust, a trick of the light, or the remnants of an old injury caused when he stuck his head onto the boot of a tough and balding warhorse striker back in the second division.
It was as much a surprise as it was fitting. The roaring Unioner had only just finished their final repeated choruses, taunting the Kaiserslautern fans about the now inevitability of their stay in the 2. Liga for another year, ensuring that Kosta Runjaic will be a name to add to that of Jürgen Klopp, managers who will definitely not be taking over from Neuhaus in the summer (Klopp famously declared that Union are the only side he would never coach after similar scenes when his Mainz side were denied promotion in Köpenick on one night many years ago).
Now, the Sportsdesk is not a terribly modern enterprise. A tatty old desk that weighs about a tonne, a few unintelligibly scrawled notepads and a steam-powered laptop all supervised by a technologically illiterate and cackhanded Englishman and a Kreuzberg-born cat, so resentful of the modern world that he insists that football died in 1954 when a cynical German boot effectively ruined Ferenc Puskas’ 1954 world cup campaign and took Hungary’s chances of building a footballing dynasty with it.
But we have acquired a smartphone to bring the 21st century into this small, backward corner of the Earth, and it is adorned with a blinking light. It blinks when O2 have got some exciting news for me and when I get updates from the pointless mailing list things signed whilst drunk and thinking that theatre bars, maybe, really were where I should start going to more often. It also blinked on Saturday morning with the news of Neuhaus’s exit at the end of the season, the news that a cornerstone of my footballing existence here in Berlin would be leaving.
As he took his bow at the fringes of the pitch I said a quiet little goodbye to Uwe Neuhaus as around me others bellowed theirs. He remains distinctly old fashioned and, I suppose, as we have to make concessions to 21st century technology, so must Union. I will be keeping an eye out for that blinking light to see who comes in over the next few weeks, to see who will fill his pre-Stanley Matthews boots.
The Sportsdesk will be dragged head first into a new era, post-Neuhaus, post-smartphone. And it is in some ways actually rather scary. Maybe the cat has got it right all along.