Apparently the floodlights at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark had had new bulbs put in especially for last night. It showed. They looked glorious, illuminating the drizzle over Prenzlauer Berg as they beamed out in preparation for BAK 07’s second round DFB Pokal Cup tie against 1860 Munich. People snaked along the streets on their way to get to the old stadium, they bottlenecked at the entrances. It felt real; it felt like a cup tie.
Normally the Jahn-Sportpark is so different, or more pertinently, indifferent. Its bowl of multi-coloured seats is the standard given home for exiles, this season it is FC Union II, before it was Türkiyemspor, and it usually echoes emptily – forlornly. In the Jahn-Sportpark nobody can hear you scream, because, to be honest, it’s been a long time since anyone did much screaming there. Not since the last cup matches, maybe BAK vs. Dynamo in the BFV Pokal, certainly Dynamo vs. Kaiserslautern.
Last night’s match had to be played there – BAK’s Poststadion home in Moabit hasn’t got any floodlights at all, let alone ones as pretty and evocative as the Jahn’s, despite its history running even deeper. The TV cameras would be there, and BAK really wanted to put on a show equal to their utter evisceration, their complete and utter… spanking… of the Bundesliga’s Hoffenheim that had put their name on the map of German football for the first time in earnest.
That 4-0 win was the cup upset of the decade at the very least, a fourth division club beating a millionaire’s plaything, managed by the guy who had briefly seemed so happy in charge of Hertha, the club that BAK could never hope to be as big as, and garnered them national press for the first time. People were asking, who is this club, who are its fans, is there something here we have all missed?
And although something is brewing in Moabit – BAK are a deeply likeable club, with great intentions, that play some very pretty football with some good young players – it is easy to see why they missed it. BAK, you see, haven’t really got any fans yet. There are a few hundred that have been picked up along the way – after games such as the cup loss to Mainz a couple of years ago, when they came so close to springing their first upset, or in the wake of their wins in the Berlin Cup that is now starting to look like it is theirs to lose every year – but in terms of a fan culture they are (in the words of one of the shoddiest songs ever shat out into the ears of mankind) “Absolute Beginners”.
This is not necessarily such a bad thing, but the nature of Berlin football being what it is, it is very hard to build a fan base from scratch. People distrust the new, and are already too deeply embedded in their own bitter and historic circles of rivalries, and less often, allegiances. Only a few years ago the A in BAK still stood for Ankaraspor, after a fruitless commercial tie up with the Turkish club of the same name pointed to them trying to follow the mould that was briefly so successful for Türkiyemspor in the 1980s. The A reverted to its traditional Athletik when the club was taken over by the new boss, a canny building magnate, and with the change came the new direction. BAK wants to be a club, not just for Turkish fans, but, as symbolised by the simple “Berlin” on the back of their shirts, for the whole city.
They were excellent last night, and deserved better than to lose 3-0, but they are taking things slowly.
It’s a tough gig, mind, but it is worth remembering that the slightest things can still make all the difference in football. It is chaos theory writ large. Take the example of their opponents last night, 1860. They were the traditional powerhouse in Bavarian football, one of Germany’s oldest clubs. They were massive behemoths. But one day a young Franz Beckenbauer was playing against them as an Under 13. They were his club, and his mind was already made up that he would lead them to titles and glory as soon as he was older. That day changed football in Munich forever. Beckenbauer got clipped round the ear by an 1860 player and decided immediately that he would never turn out in that sky blue shirt with the lion on it. He wound his way across the city to another club. A younger, smaller club, called Bayern, and things changed for good.
This may be wildly oversimplified, but one never knows what can happen in football. Despite them losing last night, BAK will be remembered for their win against Hoffenheim for a while to come yet, and if they are patient, may yet be able to build a significant fanbase across Berlin.