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Iron Union


One of the several joys of Sky’s loss of the rights to broadcast the Premier League in New Zealand has been the unintended consequence of a fundamental shift in what’s easy. I’m not a natural Premier League fan, so I only watched EPL because it was there – but watch it religiously I did. Now, thanks to Sommet, Bundesliga is much more accessible than EPL and – surprise! A change is as good as a rest.

Bundesliga is quite simply a delight to watch. The crowd atmosphere of the games is right up there with any other brand of the game I have ever seen on TV, and the football is technical and interesting.

Despite trying to find a Premier League team to fall in love with for decades now, I have found it impossible to find any English club that gets my heart pounding with excitement when I watch them play. Sure, there are teams I quite like, but I really can’t muster up the emotion to care about any of them enough to give too much of a stuff whether they win or lose most weeks. After only a handful of Bundesliga games under my belt however, the difficulty has been the opposite of my EPL problem – I can’t find a club I’m NOT excited about!

Even Bayern Munich, the club we are all supposed to hate as “the Manchester United of Germany”, isn’t bad at all when you read about some of their anti-Nazi history, along with the lengths they go to in order to help other clubs who are struggling. They have on several occasions done things like play friendlies at a significant loss as fundraisers for financially strapped competitors, and have also loaned or sold players on the cheap in order to lend a helping hand. They are actually nothing like any other “big club” in Europe, and very worthy of anyone’s support.

I have enjoyed loosely following Dortmund since I watched, with horror, the 1997 Champions League final on TV. Karl-Heinz Riedle and co picked Juventus apart in the days of the Italian giants boasting the likes of Zidane, Deschamps, Vieri and Del Piero with Marcello Lippi at the helm. I’ll never understand why their fans sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before all their home games, but despite that they remain a sentimental favourite.

The Stuttgart squad contains Marco Rojas, who is a youth product of my home town, and who I once watched play for Waikato FC in Ngaruawahia before anyone much had ever heard of him.

Werder Bremen is the club of former New Zealand football superstar Wynton Rufer, who is still a hero to the fans in the Weserstadion. Werder means ‘river peninsula’ in the local dialect and is a thoroughly cool name for a football team.

St Pauli have a cult ZZ Top lookalike fan base that is a sight to behold. Frankfurt are sponsored by Alfa Romeo, and I’m sorry, but that is ice cold cool. Kaiserslautern have a great name to yell angrily at people. As do Hoffenheim. And who doesn’t love saying Borussia Mönchengladbach over and over again just for LOLs? They get cool points just for having a name so long they have to abbreviate it in newspaper columns so that journalists don’t have nervous breakdowns left, right and centre trying to spell it.

But the German team I have discovered that I absolutely adore are not even in the Bundesliga. The fact that I have become interested in German football got me researching and after some time fumbling around Wikipedia I stumbled across an outfit that is quite simply a match made in heaven for me.

Union Berlin, or ‘Eisern Union’ (Iron Union) are the working class choice of Berlin, and hail from the former East German side of the wall. They were originally nicknamed the “Schlosserjungs”, or ‘metalworkers’, because the blue kit they wore at the time was reminiscent of blue overalls.

Their main rivals are their fellow East German neighbours, Dynamo Berlin, who were associated with the Stasi (secret police) before the wall came down. Union Berlin, on the other hand, were more associated with an East German Trade Union called the FDGB, and were non-conformist with the socialist regime. Their fans often sang veiled chants against the political authorities.

Every Christmas at their Stadion An der Alten Försterei, Union Berlin holds an event where players and fans of clubs from all over Germany and the rest of Europe gather, drink mulled wine, wave candles, light flares, and sing Christmas carols.

Their official song, “Eisern Union” by German punk singer Nina Hagen, is played before every home match. On this occasion, she sang it live before a German cup final appearance:

Particularly with my background in unionism and political activism, I find all this incredibly irresistibly awesome.

Trust me to pick an obscure team that aren’t on TV, though. This is the story of my life – as I’ve said before I’m a sucker for the hopeless cases. Not entirely hopeless this time though, I hope. They currently sit sixth on the table in Bundesliga 2, three points off the promotion places. I’m already looking for opportunities to find their games online, and if they do manage promotion, they will be a weekly religious fixture in my football watching calendar.

As the song says (albeit in German): “Forward together with Iron Union!!” And Sommet Sports.

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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