The glorious late evening summer sun beat down over Köpenick, there were fans behind the goal, but something was missing at the Stadion an der Alte Försterei. There is a hole where the last vestiges of the old stadium used to stand. The refuge for the press is now a building site, and with it the warmed, vibrating, reclining seats of the VIPs, with their waitress service and complimentary champagne. And foie gras.
Okay, the VIPs weren’t ever kept in quite such luxury, but there was always a fish stand behind where one could pick up a prawn sandwich, so at least Roy Keane’s definition of the footballing upper classes fits in. Just about. All the same, the Alte Försterei moves on, it just seems strange to have the emptiness where before there was, if not a riot of colour, but at least something that brought a rarefied, dignified atmosphere – unique to itself.
On his band Spiritualized’s masterpiece “Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating space” Jason Pierce sang about “A hole in my arm where all my money goes”. Of course, as he so often did, he was singing about heroin, but there is a tenuous, semantic comparison. Union have sunk a small fortune, and a hell of a lot more time, into the final piece of the puzzle of their beloved stadium. When it is finished it will be a gleaming, three-tiered monument to the giant steps the club have taken over the last five years. They love to cock a snook at the way modern football works, and with their regeneration they are delightfully continuing to defy twenty-first century expectations, and doing what that other great junky poet Nick Cave called “Kicking against the pricks”.
This wasn’t the start of Union’s preparations for the forthcoming 2.Bundesliga season. They have already played six games, scoring over sixty goals in the process, but this was the first one at home since the celebratory laying of the foundation stone for the new stand. It was also the first one against an opposition side of note – with all due respect to the likes of the best that Rügen had to offer.
Hibs didn’t have too much to offer, but it was that kind of an evening. Too much needn’t be read into the result of a friendly such as this. Although my Scottish brother in law had described them as being “utter pish” (in circumstances such as these it is impossible to really say), but they will still relish the fact that they will still finish above Rangers in the Scottish league this year.
Still, it provided a chance for Uwe Neuhaus to look at a couple of his summer acquisitions. Fabian Schönheim was unspectacular (in the best possible way: we notice defenders when they make mistakes, the best are unflappable and inconspicuous) next to Christian Stuff at centre-back, as was his second half replacement, the Croat, Roberto Puncec.
The biggest surprise came on seeing the Hibs team with their backs to the Waldseite. There they were, lined out in strips numbered one to eleven. It is a rarity these days. A throwback.
It was a glorious evening, however, and to call the pace of the game languid would be like saying the Beach Boys could write an alright pop song. It was soporific, sweaty and pretty slow (in places it was slow and pretty too, but that is a different thing altogether). Instructively though, Union’s lines were very high. It was a continuation of last season’s home tactics. They pushed up constantly. Pressure, harry, hassle and hope that the strikers take their chances. Again this is the worrying bit for Eisern. Will Simon Terrodde become that 20 goal a year man? Will Steven Skrzybski break through and make the position his, as all the fans so desperately want him to? Can Tijani Belaid step into the not inconsiderable boots of Torsten Mattuschka in midfield?
And the big one, how much will Union miss the pace, trickery and guile of last year’s stand-out performer, Chinedu Ede, in the wake of his transfer to the big league with Mainz?
The first goal was back to front. Two left footers contrived and scored it respectively. Patrick Kohlmann’s free kick from the right looped onto the glancing head of Michael Parensen. It flew easily inside the far post. The lead was deserved, but hardly born of a titanic struggle.
Jan Glinker made a couple of good saves and Björn Jopek was a decent replacement for the scorer at half time, but in all actuality, there was little of consequence to see here. Christopher Quiring scored a second at the very end of the game, but by this point it was all over bar the building works.
All these questions will remain unanswered for a little while yet – a jog in the sun hardly counts as a pressure encounter when one looks at the tricky run-in to the season that Union will have to face. On Sunday against PSV Eindhoven we may learn a little more, or at the very least, have a chance to heartily boo Mark van Bommel. The hole at the side of the stadium will still remain though, gradually filling with concrete behemoths like an acid sozzled Easter Island (no relation to Hibs’ home, Easter Road, by the way). Stadium announcer Christian Arbeit will still be haunting the place where his office once stood, looking for his desk, rattling his chains and spooking the stray builders looking on, and the dug outs will have to get used to the silence behind them.
Slowly we will see what becomes of the FC Union project, within and without. But for now we will just have to wait a little bit longer.