They were singing “Jingle Bells” on Saturday afternoon in the Waldseite, the terrace behind the goal at the Alte Försterei. No words, just a celebratory la-la-la affair, with a couple of “heys” chucked in for good measure. It wasn’t even pre-empting the traditional Christmas carols evening at the stadium (started by a handful of fans in the 1980s which has now grown into an integral part of the club’s calendar and attracting thousands). It was a self-congratulatory jolly up – 1. FC Union Berlin was in the mood to have a good time.
That they were 4-0 to the good against FSV Frankfurt helped of course, but Union has got more to celebrate about at the moment than spanking a team three points off the bottom of the league, whose handful of travelling fans deserve a medal for patience, and a mince pie for perseverance.
At half time the numbers were announced like it was autistic bingo. Union’s average attendance so far this season was over 16,000, with their membership (in the wake of the hugely successful stadium shares issue) up to over 10,000. They were also on their way to into sixth in the league with 31 points, their best-ever performance in the rarefied heights of the 2. Bundesliga.
After a difficult pre-season and the sluggish start which had some fans, and press, calling for the boss’s heads, Union have conquered all the fears that bedevilled them at the start of their third season in the third division. They are now crowing like Muhammad Ali, and puffed up like a fugu version of Guru in his Gang Starr days (rare is the man who bigs himself up quite as much as he did in his prime).
Of course smug eyes were being glanced across the city to Hertha BSC, who would surely give almost anything (excepting, naturally, the relegation that would make it most likely) to be able to have another crack at winning the bragging rights in the city that Union made their own with last season’s derby victory. But more importantly, as Markus Babbel dithers over his new contract lying on a desk somewhere in Charlottenburg, Union had also announced that Uwe Neuhaus has signed on for another three years.
It’s not even that Union played particularly well against FSV – or at least their best moments, such as one lovely exchange of passes between Silvio, Mosquera and Christopher Quiring, didn’t lead to the goals scored. They went 1-0 up with their first attack, Chinedu Ede scampering away on his lonesome, taking a touch that looked a bit heavy, but finishing sweetly and easily inside the far post.
Ede was serenaded with his own song, to “Give It Up”. (They really love KC and the Sunshine Band and Mike Oldfield songs. Sometimes the East will never learn.) It was all he deserved as he finishes the Vorrunde as one of Union’s finest attacking players. It was his free kick that somehow evaded everyone apart from the head of defender Momar N’Diaye and the inside of the post for 2-0, and he offered a constant menace with the ball at his feet, swapping sides with the tricky Quiring, fluttering into the centre or tracking back to smother the midfield.
There was little finesse for the third and fourth goals, but the momentum was unstoppable by that point. Christian Stuff battered the third over the line scruffily, before Simon Terodde (back after injury for the first time since Union played FSV’s cross city rivals Eintracht in September) was determined to get his first competitive goal since signing for Union on loan at the start of the season. Ede crossed in from towards the left wing, Terrodde chested it, but it ran a bit too far in front of him. On days like these the small things like that don’t matter. He was going to score; you could see that in his eyes. He was determined, and slid in towards the lunging keeper who should have done better, but by this point just wanted to go home.
We often say that it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. This was different. It was over before the game had started somehow. Union were being smiled on, and the fat lady was joined by the fat gents, the thin ladies, the kids and the grandparents of Köpenick in the choruses. They sung for Torsten Mattuschka and for Ede, they sung for Christmas and they sung for Karim Benyamina – the returning hero whose wickedly swerving long range shot almost opened the scoring in the opening minutes. They sung for Jan Glinker who punched that shot clear, but mostly they sung for themselves, for their club and for the last sights of a campaign that has, thus far, defied all expectations.
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