I grew up in Northern England , firstly in Liverpool & the Wirral and then in Blackburn. My dad was born in Eastern Germany and spent his first 10 years in Berlin. Later he would move to England and a certain Bill Shankly sparked his interest and he would go to watch Liverpool FC in the old second division.
My mum was Liverpool born and bred from a mixed family …Irish Catholic & Scots Protestant roots. Liverpool fans…but my mum, her brother & younger sister were Evertonians, the youngest was however a Red …typical Liverpool family of the time.
My first football games were Derby days as my Grandad worked for Everton (despite being a staunch Red). I vividly remember my first game and my surprise when the game started and there was no commentary !! in my defence I was only 5 years old. In time I decided that I preferred the team in red to the team in blue and my mum accepted defeat !
I graduated from the stands to watching the games while standing in the Paddock. Football being watched while standing with friends….one of my earliest loves. A personal highlight was seeing my childhood hero , Kevin Keegan, return to Anfield in the Super Cup – playing for Hamburg and get beat 6-0 ! It was over 40 years ago but I still remember the feelings I had that night. I did manage to stand in the Kop just once before it became seated but football was becoming more expensive, the recession hit the North hard as the Tories sold off the family silver and lined their own pockets. Unemployment was followed by low-paid jobs and there were now more mouths to feed. Football had to take a back seat and I would watch on tv and grab a match when I could. I made a handful of games per season, introduced my kids to the Anfield experience & the celebrations in Liverpool in 2001 & 2005 but football was changing. The Premier League had taken things to another level and , awash with money, the relationship with fans changed. We were thought of as customers and prices got silly. Clubs and players became greedy and fans were expected to pay for it. Big clubs wanted more corporate “fans” and more tourists as they spend more money. The old style fan was being priced out and with them the atmosphere that had once thrilled thousands. I can well remember sitting with my daughter in the Anfield Road end and starting to sing along with the Kop before realizing that everyone around me was sat in silence Shortly after this I moved to East Anglia and after a 6 hour journey to arrive just before half time and sit in a restricted view seat in a quiet stadium I fell out of love with going to the match.
Several years later my kids are adults and I am once again single and looking for something rather than online dating to entertain me. I have always liked Germany and Berlin in particular. I had already been to a few games in Germany – Schalke, Blau-Weiss Berlin & Hertha Berlin (as my dad was then living 10 minutes walk from the Olympiastadion) so I planned to explore my favourite country and watch football too…sight-seeing, football & beer…what could be better ? I started to research which towns I would like to see & which Bundesliga (1 & 2) teams I would like to watch. My searches led me to a video by Copa 90 about Union Berlin and my interest was sparked by that – then I found a very useful website – “Union in Englisch” which confirmed my opinion that this was a club I should visit. A quick Google search gave me a weekend where Hertha were at home on Saturday and Union at home on Sunday…a 3 day trip to Berlin was booked, match tickets bought and my first football weekend was arranged. Saturday was ok…I like the architecture of the Olympiastadion, I don’t remember the match or the result. Its not really a good ground for football. One part of the ground was lively & trying to make some atmosphere but its too big and too open. I don’t dislike Hertha but they don’t excite me either. Sunday arrived. I checked the instructions on the Union in Englisch site again…find Tanke, find the route through the forest…things I had to do – after all I was only going there the once. I had trips to Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Dresden and others in mind. The first thing that struck me was that walk through the forest - then the sight of the stadium , the babble of excited fans,the smell of Bratwurst, the taste of that first beer. By the time I was standing on the terrace holding a beer the excitement was bubbling. The match itself was not great – a 0-0 draw with Aue and the standard of football was not what I was seeing from Liverpool but I was fascinated with the fans who, for the entire 90 minutes, were singing and cheering the team on. Mirroring my childhood football experience - once again red defeated blue !
Something about that club, that stadium, those fans had got a hold of me. I decided there and then that I would return some day. Little did I know that those return visits would become, until Covid, a regular thing. I have watched football in Munich, Cologne, Dortmund and Frankfurt since that day…each time whilst following Union Berlin away. My “one night stand” quickly became a full-blown love affair. On subsequent visits I met some truly wonderful people including the guys from Union in Englisch, many local fans and fans from USA, Spain, Brazil ,Poland & Argentina to name just a few. Most of my experiences have been very positive and being in the stadium when we sealed promotion will go down as one of the best experiences of my life.
The Union in Englisch site has one section in particular which I found very useful ….videos of the fan songs along with the words and an English translation…you won’t get the full experience if you don’t make a noise and support the team – being able to join in made me feel more at home. They also now do an interesting and informative Podcast called Mattuschka’s Right Peg
Since falling in love with Union Berlin I have re-started my German lessons, become a member of the club – and hopefully with the stadium expansion I will become a season ticket holder. Brexit was not going to stop my plans either – thanks to my Dad I obtained my German passport & I aim to move to Berlin when family circumstances allow…..none of this was expected when I bought a ticket online for a Bundesliga 2 match back in 2018…so word of warning – be careful of one night stands !