In 2008 a tremor shook Prenzlauer Berg. It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon in early August, people on Schönhauser Allee were having brunch in the vast array of cafés and enjoying the sun when suddenly it happened. They appeared out of nowhere, a few at first, rapidly swelling to a torrent. Some just walked past, but many sat down for breakfast, beer or Bratwurst. And what first seemed like an intrusion soon became a happy mingling, and the locals found out that the jolly folks, who were all clad in red-and-white, were on their way to see some football.
1. FC Union Berlin had just been promoted to third league and could not play at the Alte Försterei as that stadium was renovated up to league standards. They were exiled to the Jahn-Sportpark in Prenzlauer Berg, and many fans shunned the home games because they could not bring themselves to go to the stadium that was once home to their nemesis Dynamo. But ironically, Union would celebrate one of their biggest recent achievements there during that season: promotion to 2. Bundesliga. Ever since the club returned to the Alte Försterei, attendances have been skyrocketing. Part of that increase is probably due to the fact that the new and shiny Försterei attracts and retains more people, and that 2. Bundesliga is more attractive than ever before. But another reason might be that Union’s excursion into Prenzlauer Berg actually got some locals interested in and hooked to Köpenick’s finest.
Four years later, another Union team will play their home games in Prenzlauer Berg, but as it is the reserves, it is safe to predict that the 2012 tremor will mostly go unnoticed. We’ve already discussed the pros and cons of letting reserve teams play within the actual league system, but lack of attendance is clearly one of the downsides. However, the new Regionalliga Nordost is highly attractive, featuring traditional clubs from Magdeburg or Jena, and interesting derbies against BAK or Hertha II. Alas, Union II’s opponent for their first home match today was symbolic for the reserve team dilemma: it was another reserve team, Cottbus II, drawing only 237 people to the Jahn-Sportpark, among them a dozen or two dedicated away supporters.
Cottbus II are coached by former Cottbus midfielder Vasile Miriuta, who mostly added players from the club’s youth teams to the squad, making it one of the youngest in the league. Part of it is his son Marco, who still has some room for improvement according to the Cottbus fans, but at least he scored in the team’s 1:1 draw against BAK. Union II returned from their road trip to Leipzig with the same result – a respectable point snatched from the soft drink-fuelled giant who desperately wants to manage promotion to third league on the third attempt. Union II, like most of the other clubs in the league, would be content to avoid relegation.
Their starting eleven included some players who are technically part of the first team, like Steven Skrybski, Maurice Trapp or Björn Jopek, and you could tell in several situations that they had a technical edge. However, both coaches would later agree that the level of play in the first half was poor, and that too many passes went awry. Both teams tried to attack, but not very much had happened when the referee whistled for half time.
The first minutes of the second half would give Union II coach Engin Yanova reason to shout at his players to try more simple things. One of those finally broke the spell when Daniel Ujazdowski took a shot from the edge of the box after 57 minutes to give Union the lead. On the sidelines, Vasile Miriuta was cursing loudly about his team’s “shitty return pass” that had made this possible. Union suddenly took control of the game, but were not able to capitalise on that until minute 75, when Björn Jopek’s beautiful free-kick sailed past Cottbus’ keeper. At that point, everybody expected Union to bring this one home, but Engin Yanova would later regret that his boys were not precise enough during their following counter attacks.
Six minutes later, Union were not able to clear a long ball, inviting Cottbus’ Djamal Ziane to score. The last 10 minutes were hectic and pivoted with Ziane leveling the game right before the final whistle from what everybody but the referee thought to be an obvious offside position. But as referee errors are part of the game, Union’s players preferred to argue with each other why they would even risk an offside trap right so close to the final whistle. Naturally the draw felt like a loss, but “today’s mistakes are part of the learning process of a reserve team” said Yanova (although even some men’s teams never seem to stop learning then).
Just like the Jahnsport-Park, Schönhauser Allee was deserted today, no tremor to be seen or felt. In the stadium, you could feel the drum and base beats from neighboring Mauerpark, though – a constant reminder that there are other popular activities in the area. However, if Union II start playing more like they did during parts of the second half today, and once the more renowned clubs start paying a visit, more people might get swayed that Union’s return to the park is well worth their attention.