I make it a goal in life not to quote Winston Churchill, but a day at 1.FC Union can make strange things happen. On Sunday they met Energie Cottbus, a team that used to be derided as just another team of Polish cloggers.
The erstwhile cloggers have now reinvented themselves as a quick passing side, whose high tempo approach has meant that their three principle strikers have scored five more goals between them this season than the whole of Union’s team put together.
It was a beautiful scorching day and naturally Union did the opposite of what everybody had been expecting. Again. And again. And again.
And what’s stranger? Talking about Trevor Penney at half time in an old fashioned terraced stadium, asking for a Radler – only to be asked if I’d like it with lemonade or Fanta (seriously, Fanta?) or watching Union come blistering out of the blocks to play some of their best football of this long season now that there was nothing left to play for other than the pride of pulling the shirt on (for many) for the last time?
To wit: “A riddle wrapped inside an enigma.” That’s Union. And as such, it is hard to know whether this was a fitting end to an era, or the bright spark at the beginning of a new one. Uwe Neuhaus is one of the country’s longest serving managers, although this may say more about the ludicrous carousel revolving around the German game at the moment, but he picked a team with a glance over his shoulder at the past and a slight wink at the future.
So as he begins his fifth season at the Alte Försterei, he bids farewell to half a side. But some boxes needed to be ticked first to round off this year. Dominic Peitz needed to run around a lot, score with a scuffed shot and celebrate like a lunatic with the fans that adore his passion so. Tick. Berndt Rauw needed to collect a final yellow card to remind us of the old times. Tick. And Karim, King Karim Benyamina – whose number 22 shirt won’t be seen around these parts for a long, long time – needed to score a beauty to round off the day nicely. Tick, tick, tick.
That Cottbus’s striker Nils Peterson found Emil Jula in such a huge gap at the back of Union’s makeshift defence was little surprise. Christoph Menz has been excellent at right back all year, but he is not a centre half. But that it was to drag the northerners back into the game, however, was a shock. Union had been rampant. The performance of Christopher Quiring, again, on the right wing shows why Neuhaus is taking the gamble of letting Paul Thomik go to pastures new. John Jairo Mosquera should have had a hat-trick himself, as Benyamina threaded a couple of delightful balls through the gaps that were being forced by Unions express start. He finally got one, but will be disappointed not to have filled his boots.
As valedictory performances go the 37-year-old Macchambes Younga-Mouhani had a cracker too. Too many times over the last two years has he looked too sluggish for the second division, but somehow he has never been accused of lacking effort. He is now slower than a tugboat, with a turning radius to match, but nevertheless has been a fulcrum to Neuhaus’s sides since they were at Rot-Weiss Essen together.
Okay, I was drunk (I gave up on the Radlers pretty quickly) and because of the sold out terraces boasting more flags than the damn Royal Wedding it was hard to tell what was going on. The atmosphere was astonishing, though. On days like these it is easy to revel in the surroundings of the Alte Försterei. It was special, and one can see why the fans always flood back. Benyamina slotted sweetly home into the far post as easily and fluidly as ever for the glorious fourth goal, adding to the one Quiring had beautifully guided into the same corner a minute earlier, and the absolute roof came off the place. It was the departing veteran and the young tyke as heroes. A metaphor for what has been and what will be, if you will.
And just to top it off Union can now send Karlsruhe, Hertha’s best friends in the whole world, down with a win against them next week, away. That’s the way they like to do things in Köpenick. Gloriously unpredictable and insanely, joyously contrary. They’ll probably lose by ten.