UNION BERLIN: Powered by the Fans

In the end, it turned out that Rani Khedira’s goal on the final day of the season wasn’t needed – as Eintracht Frankfurt managed to overpower SC Freiburg late in the game, ensuring Union’s finish in fourth place. Despite this, the explosion in Köpenick when the ball graced the back of the net told the world exactly who Union Berlin are: a team which extends beyond the pitch and into the stands, a team ignited by a fiery passion to overachieve and to win whenever they can, by any means they can.

As always, when the teams were introduced, shouts of Fußballgott reverberated around southeast Berlin. To their fans, every single player who has donned the red and white is Fußballgott and this season they have proved that – once again defying all odds to achieve nothing short of excellence in their 2022/23 campaign. 

Union Berlin have always been considered as the younger sibling in Berlin’s footballing family, with western outfit Hertha Berlin looked upon as the golden child, winning the Bundesliga twice in the 1930s and finding renewed success in the early 2000s, winning the now-abolished ‘LigaPokal’ two years in a row. Ever since their official inception as 1. FC Union Berlin in 1966, this club has been simply unable to compete with the financial strength of their now-rivals, and this continued long after the wall fell, culminating in the club almost collapsing in the late nineties.

Over the next twenty years, Union yo-yoed up and down the divisions but eventually managed to achieve promotion to the first division in 2019 with a playoff win against VfB Stuttgart, becoming only the second East German team in the Bundesliga (alongside RB Leipzig). Upon promotion, Union’s only goal was to stay up – and the idea that they would gain European qualification thrice since then would have been nothing more than a pipe dream. The idea that they would qualify for the Champions League in the same season that Hertha would be relegated was completely out of the picture, but defying odds has always been the Union way. 

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This astounding success has been the result of team football and, according to Urs Fischer, ‘humility’. The Union squad features no household names, the most famous possibly being Jérôme Roussillon who joined the club in January of this year, with the Frenchman best known for his time at VfL Wolfsburg. You may also recognise the Khedira name, and your suspicions would be correct, Rani is the younger brother of World Cup winner Sami Khedira, and much like his brother, he controls the centre of midfield.

However, this lack of star power is made up for by a resilience which any manager would long for from his players. Union play each game with a chip on their shoulder, constantly trying to prove that they do deserve to be in the position they are in, and always trying to play winning football even when the odds are stacked against them. It is in this manner that they managed to hold Bayern Munich to a draw in September and beat Dortmund in October. Another similarity between these two games is that both were played in Köpenick – in their fortress, in the Stadion An der Alten Försterei

The atmosphere at Union Berlin is unlike anything in England. Union make even the greatest British atmospheres look like a library in comparison – this stadium is loud. The stadium is a wall of sound for the entire ninety minutes, so it is no surprise that their opposition are often intimidated. In fact, Union Berlin did not lose a single home game in the 2022/23 Bundesliga campaign – a token to the power of their fans and the environment which they create.

The supporters are part of it here [at Union Berlin]… they are not just the guys who bring the money in, but the most important part of the atmosphere.

Christian Arbeit, Union Berlin’s Chief of Communications

Even Bayern could not match this unbeaten home streak as they stuttered at the Allianz Arena on the penultimate matchday, once again emphasising the magic of Köpenick. Perhaps this was the driving force behind their 4-2 victory against SC Freiburg, a result which immensely helped their push for UCL qualification. When these two teams met in Baden-Württemberg, Union were demolished 4-1 – but a repeat of this would never have been possible in East Berlin and Union proved this, rallying behind Suriname international Sheraldo Becker, who bagged a brace and two assists.

Only time will tell what’s next for Union Berlin, but it appears that this newfound success is here to stay. Regardless of how their European campaign goes in the upcoming season, they will be proud of how far they have come and will always be looking to go further and build upon this excellence, and most importantly, no matter what, their diehard fans will be there to see it and support it every last time.