To the casual observer, a 3-0 win for a side from Berlin over another side from a western town with just over 200,000 inhabitants might not seem like a big deal. A win for Union Berlin over Rot-Weiss Oberhausen might not even register in most fans’ minds, what with all the glamour in the Bundesliga. Down in the 2.Bundesliga, the glamour and money may be missing but there are no shortage of stories to tell.
1.FC Union Berlin are a team that have perpetually been second-best in the capital city, first to Dynamo and now to Hertha. As a club from the Oberschoenweide district of (Eastern) Berlin, Union played in the Eastern German leagues before reunification. After World War II, half of Union’s staff and players went west and formed 1.FC Union Berlin, while the rest stayed and formed SG Obershoenweide. Eventually both merged under the name of 1.FC Union Berlin and played in the Eastern leagues.
Their main rival back in those days was Dynamo Berlin- the team sponsored by the Stasi. Union, with their affiliation to an iron-workers union (leading to their nickname of Eisern Union – Iron Union), became a symbol of resistance to the oppression fostered by the Stasi. Where Dynamo (now reformed and playing in the lower reaches of German football) won ten DDR Oberligen, Union had to make do with a solitary cup win in 1968, and an appearance in the 1986 final where they lost 5-1 to Lokomotive Leipzig.
After reunification in 1990 and until 1997, the club struggled financially. Attempts to gain a 2.Bundesliga licence were repeatedly denied because of financial problems, and at one stage only a last-gasp rally by the loyal Union fans saved the club. On the field the club hovered around the old Regionaliga Nord-Ost (third division) until they finally won promotion to the 2.Bundesliga for the 2000/01 season, the same season they lost in the German Cup final to Schalke 04. The club stayed in the 2.Bundesliga for three seasons until they suffered successive relegations to the Regional Oberliga (4th Division). Eventually the club managed to climb up to the Regionaliga Nord (renamed the 3 Liga) and last season finally won promotion back to the 2.Bundesliga with a first-placed finish.
This season the club has high hopes that it can emulate it’s best-ever finish of sixth in 2000/01. Central to Union’s hopes are players like the on loan Werder Bremen striker Jon-Jairo Mosquera, former Ireland under-21 Defender Patrick Kohlmann and DR Congo international midfielder Macchambes Younga-Mouhani. The club’s loyal working-class support (still mostly based around the Oberschoeneweide area) will always ensure that Eisern Union will be a healthy, vibrant club with a rich history of resistance to government-sponsored dominance.
The win over 2.Bundesliga regulars Rot-Weiss Oberhausen must not be underestimated, then. One of the main reasons a newly promoted side gets relegated is because of the team’s inability to score enough, and the efforts of Colombian Mosquera and the deadly Karim Benyamina will go a long way to ensuring Union’s 2.Bundesliga status.
Perhaps the most fitting testament to Union’s rejuvenation is that the club now has more members than any other team in the former East Germany and regularly fills the 18,000 capacity Alte Foersterei stadium.