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[FM20] Rising Above The Past - An 1. FC Union Berlin Journey

1. FC Union Berlin are a club just promoted to the Bundesliga, with a passionate, anti-establishment fan base. This story follows the club and various interesting characters around it.
Started on 30 May 2020 by Zed
Latest Reply on 5 August 2020 by ScottT
Fair play to both players for recognising each other's form and not getting too aggrieved by the rotation that is needed because the system doesn't enable them both to play. It seems Union are keen to stick to their principles; as long as they keep their heads above water, then there's no need for plan B as such.
Always great to have two strikers scoring the goals. All about keeping them rotated and fit with the confidence to keep firing.

Peter Huth | BZ Sports Editor | December 2019

Though BFC Dynamo hooligans have returned all stolen Union Berlin artefacts, it seems they did not do this out of courtesy, but rather to sow more unrest at their Berlin rivals. Our reports have learned that, alongside these historical pieces, the hooligans have planted substantial evidence that link current Union club president Dirk Zingler to a role at East Germany’s secret service: the Stasi.

The good news that Union employees were met with when coming into work this morning was that all club artefacts – among which the club’s only major trophy: the GDR cup – were returned to the club office. However, this was quickly overshadowed by a mysterious binder that accompanied the box of historical objects. This binder contains seemingly unforged documents that indicate the eccentric Dirk Zingler was an active Stasi employee for several years.

A number of years ago, we already reported that Zingler was a soldier for a Stasi-linked ministry in East Germany. He confirmed this, but defended himself by indicating he did not know this ministry was linked with the infamous secret service, and pointed out he was never on active duty. Fans accepted his explanation, and did not put any pressure on their president to resign.

The documents left behind by Dynamo-hooligans reveal a much deeper, more serious involvement with the Stasi though. Namely, that Zingler was also an employee of the actual Stasi between 1987 and 1989. Here, he knowingly took part in the large-scale repression of East German citizens.

For any other club than Köpenick-based Union, this would probably still be excusable. However, FCU have a reputation of being a colourful, anti-establishment since East German times. The Stasi, on the other hand, were quite literally the establishment in East Germany. So, Union fans were naturally vociferously anti-Stasi, singing chants like “the wall must fall” on the terraces.

Fans displaying a banner that reads: “Iron Union salutes freedom” after the Berlin Wall had come down

Ironically enough, it was Zingler who, in his first years as Union president, positioned Union as being “anti-Dynamo:” the club that was run by Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, and the club whose hooligans have now cast serious doubts over Zingler’s future as Union president.

It is therefore likely to imagine that these revelations will call Zingler’s position into question, as Union have many fans left from their East German years. The club thus also still has a noted anti-establishment image. This is exemplified by the club’s anthem: “Eisern Union.” This remarkable punk track is sang by East German singer Nina Hagen, nicknamed “the godmother of punk.” Her parents were monitored extensively by the Stasi.

Dirk Zingler, also born in East Germany, has been Union’s president since 2004. An eternity in the fast-paced world of football. This means Zingler has had a hand in Union’s recent successful period, that has seen them climb all the way from regional, semi-professional football to the Bundesliga. Perhaps his longevity and contributions to the club can help Zingler retain his position at the club.

We have not been able to speak to any Union representatives yet, but we suspect the club is preparing a general statement for the press, to be released somewhere in the coming days.

:O A real turn-up for the books.
Shocking revelations made with this. I wonder what will come out of it in the end...

Union Communications Team | December 2019

It is with great regret that we report the resignation of Union club president Dirk Zingler. As a result of the recent revelations about his past, Zingler felt his position at the club had become untenable. He has therefore decided to hand in his resignation, which the board of Union have accepted.

Dirk Zingler has been, for sixteen years, an integral part of the revival of Union. He oversaw many on-pitch successes, such as three promotions that saw FCU rise from regional football to the Bundesliga. Besides that, Zingler helped the club progress in other areas too. For example, he contributed to the multiple expansions of our home ground, An der alten Försterei. He also saved our club from bankruptcy on a number of occasions with creative solutions and campaigns, like the widely successful “Blood for Union”-campaign.

A fan displaying a “Blood for Union”-scarf

For that – and much more – we’d like to thank Dirk Zingler. His contributions to this club shall never be underestimated nor forgotten. We hope our fans will remember Zingler mainly for these things, and not the mistakes of his past. However, we respect the decision of our now ex-president to give up his position at the club. This shows the amount of regret he has for his actions.

Though this has been a difficult day for all of Union’s club employees, we have to remain focused on what really matters: the future of our football club. Like no other, we know that our fans – 40.000 of which are club members – are the lifeblood of this club. Therefore, the board has decided to, instead of appointing a president unilaterally, call a general election to choose a new president. This is the first time a football club in Germany has allowed to let its members vote on a new president.

This election will allow everyone that has been a member of 1. FC Union Berlin since the 1st of August of 2019 to vote, to avoid any coordinated efforts to elect a president that is hostile to the club. Every club member will be permitted to cast one vote, with the candidate winning a plurality of the votes (i.e. the most votes) being selected as the club president. The vote will take place on the 10th of April of 2020, to ensure interested candidates have enough time to register and prepare themselves.

We realise this method of choosing a new club president is unconventional, but we feel it will give the fans – the people who have literally helped build this club – the voice they deserve to determine the future of this club, which is, in essence, their club. We feel this is a way to partially repay the fans for their unmeasurable efforts to help Union become what it is today: a financially secure Bundesliga club.

A very interesting development here. I wonder if we see one of the founding fathers of the club return in the form of president, or perhaps a family member of them ;)
Well there you go, history returned at the price of another man's tainted past. An election is a good opportunity to clear the air among Union fans and East German society as a whole. Naturally, a good move from Zingler to step down but I do feel for him, despite his past.

Union Communications Team | December 2019

December, the month of Glühwein, hot soup, fireworks and Christmas. For Union, the month in which 28.000 people come to the stadium to sing Christmas carols. But before this festive tradition, the team had to play four matches, two of which against relegation battle rivals.

Before facing relegation rivals, Union faced high-flying 1. FC Köln, who were in fourth before this match. However, the difference with Union was only seven points, so the game was definitely not to be an exercise in futility. Urs Fischer made one forced change to his team, with centre-back Keven Schlotterbeck slotting in at left-back as both Reichel (suspended) and Lenz (injured) were unavailable for the match.

After only seven minutes, Köln took the lead through a penalty that was caused by a light push on a Jhon Córdoba after a corner. A few minutes later, it was Colombian striker Córdoba himself who doubled Köln’s lead. This 2-0 lead was not even against the run of play: Union were simply outclassed by Gisdol’s team from the west. Just before half-time, Bülter seemed to score the Anschlusstor for FCU, but the linesman correctly identified that the left-winger scored from an offside position.

A second half where Union took more risks followed, but this only lead to Köln taking more control over the match, with Dutch right-back Kingsley Ehizibue scoring the away side’s third of the match. A few minutes later, substitute Sebastian Andersson did something back for Union, but it was too little too late. Especially when Schlotterbeck then scored an own goal to give Köln a 4-1 lead at An der alten Försterei. His goal proved to be the last in a horrendous afternoon for Union.

Exactly seven days later, Union had the chance to redeem themselves, in a very important match against SC Paderborn: a team with as many points as Union, and thus a rival in the battle to avoid relegation. Ken Reichel returned from suspension, which meant that Union could field a natural left-back again.

A loss here could really see Union get themselves in trouble, so this was potentially a crucial match in the club’s maiden Bundesliga season. Yet, this message did not seem to have reached the players loud and clear, as they allowed Streli Mamba to give Paderborn the lead within two minutes. An awful start for Union, and murmurs of discontent came from the usually loyal away fans.

Luckily, these murmurs quickly turned into positive chanting, which spurred Union on in their quest to draw level. Ujah did exactly that after 25 minutes of football. However, Paderborn took the lead again only 10 minutes later. The second half then saw Union push for a second equalising goal, but failing to beat Paderborn’s Zingerle. The match ended in 2-1, and Union had now won only two of their last 10 games.

What was supposed to be a month where Union showed – against mediocre teams – they had the ability to stay up, had quickly turned into one where pundits and fans alike started criticising and doubting this very ability. Players simply seemed unable to cope with protecting a lead, and on the other hand seemed unable to mount comebacks. Against the struggling Hoffenheim – who were in 12th – the players had the chance to prove these critics wrong.

Despite, or perhaps because, the high stakes of this match, Union were unable to impress. It was Hoffenheim that dominated from early on at An der alten Försterei. Still, Union had enough chances to score a goal and take advantage of Hoffenheim’s ineffectiveness in front of goal. However, Union were practically as wasteful with their chances as Hoffenheim.

It seemed the match would end in 0-0. Not great, but also not awful against a direct opponent. But in extra time, it was Hoffenheim who managed to secure the three points through a goal by Israeli striker Munus Dabbur. Another loss for Union, who were now only five points above the feared sixteenth place – occupied by Hertha BSC. Union players fell to the ground after the loss, and some boos could be heard from the stands. However, these boos were then quickly overshadowed by loud applause of the fans, who showed loyalty does not stop when results are bad.

A week later Union played their last match of 2019, away against Fortuna Düsseldorf. An opportunity to send fans into the winter break with at least some confidence. Urs Fischer started this match with one change: young attacking midfielder Julius Kade replaced the experienced Yunus Malli.

Union quickly found themselves 1-0 behind, as talented Polish striker Dawid Kownacki scored after a series of mistakes by Union’s defenders and goalkeeper. About 15 minutes after that, Kade equalised for FCU by scoring a beautiful goal from distance: 1-1. After this, Union started getting some more chances and it seemed they would take the lead sooner rather than later.

However, after half time, it was Düsseldorf who quickly restored their lead through a second goal by Kownacki. Union did not manage to score another equaliser after that, and lost their sixth match in a row: 2-1. As Hertha BSC managed to win their match, the gap between numbers fifteen Union and numbers sixteen Hertha was now only two points. Serious relegation issues for Fischer’s men.

What promised to be a good month, turned into an awful month. Will Union manage to turn it around in the second half of the season, or are they simply not good enough for the Bundesliga?

Ouch! That is a rough month indeed. Need to turn it around in the new year for sure and I wonder if these performances will see some new signings.
Wow. The Christmas spirit must really have been dampened by that month. Some hard work is necessary here to dig yourself out of this hole!
Ugh, ugly month, hopefully these losses will strengthen the collective and the team will fight back, you must survive the first season!

Union fans displaying a tifo

Stefan Grünwald | January 2020

The revelations about Dirk Zingler and his subsequent resignation made an impact on all Unioner. He is widely regarded as one of the main drivers behind the club’s revival and recent success. Besides that, he was a friend to many: someone who was always available for a talk about everything – club-related or not. To hear he did all of this while hiding a dark past, came as an unwelcome surprise to everyone. Although his resignation, in my opinion, was unnecessary, I fully understood his reasons for doing so.

When the club announced they were to pick a new president via elections, I almost felt personally addressed. I immediately called my dad. “What do you think, should I apply?” “Well, son, you don’t need my approval to apply, but I can tell you that you should really consider just how demanding of a job it is. It will change your life. Both positively and negatively.” “Hmm… I’ll sleep on it. It seems like this is my calling though.”

That was a few weeks ago. In the meantime, I made up my mind: I’m going to do it. I’ve already been in contact with the club board, who told me there are several candidates formally in the running already, with the deadline being a month away. My dad, despite his reservations, supports me fully and has basically become a campaign adviser for me.

Together, we are now figuring out what my platform will be. “Platform?” I hear you say “I thought this was a football club, not a political party.” But remember that Union are more than just a football club. They aim to be a socially-engaged, family-like organisation. Therefore, candidates have to present a platform: what causes will FCU support under their presidency? What kind of sponsors will be allowed to invest in the club? What social issues will the club aim to shine a light on?

Right now, that platform is not very clear yet. However, my dad and I have decided that we want to give more attention to the still-existing divided between East and West in this country. An issue that’s close to both our hearts, as I’m sure you’re aware of. However, it’s too early to indicate in which way we want to address this issue. Luckily, we have about two more months to come up with a final platform. That’s when campaigning will begin.

For my campaign, I’ve already managed to secure an interview with well-known Berlin-based sports magazine BZ. That will hopefully create enough exposure for the campaign to really take off, but I’m sure many others will also give interviews in similar media. Two months after the campaigns start, the real membership election takes place, in April. I’m already counting down to that very day, and hope I can make my father proud by following in his footsteps.

Best of luck for your campaign!
A tough run of results in the month just gone. Upon the return of football after the winter break, Union need a good run of results to steer clear of danger.

As for the election campaign, it's clear that Stefan recognises the need to build himself a platform and how best to go about this. I wish him luck.

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