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1. FC Union Berlin: The club from Köpenick

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FC Bayern have played continuously in the Bundesliga since 1965. Over those 55 years, 53 clubs have hosted FCB. But one club the record champions have never visited in a competitive match, including outside the Bundesliga, is FC Union Berlin. That changes on Sunday (kick-off 18:00 CET), although sadly the meeting at the Alten Försterei will be played behind closed doors. We profile die Eisernen.

Chequered history

FC Union Berlin started out as SC Union Oberschöneweide, who were champions of Berlin several times at the start of the 20th century. In 1923 they were runners-up in the German championship. After the Second World War, the club split into an east and west section. There were numerous restructurings and changes of name. FC Union Berlin was founded in 1966 during the Cold War. In their first year they were promoted to the East German Oberliga. The club was relegated and promoted four times.

After reunification, the Berliners qualified for the second division both in 1992/93 as well as 1993/94. Due to a forged bank guarantee and a mountain of debt, the DFB (German FA) twice refused to issue a licence to play professional football. In spite of an economic battle to survive in the 1990s, the 2000/01 season saw promotion to the Regional League North East – and even progress to the final of the DFB Cup.

They lost 2-0 to Schalke 04 but, as the Royal Blues were already qualified for the Champions League due to their position in the Bundesliga, Union took part in the UEFA Cup as losing finalists – and managed to reach the second round.After three years in the second division, Union went down to the Oberliga and only returned to the second tier in 2009/10. They were in the second division for ten years before achieving the long-awaited promotion to the Bundesliga after a successful play-off against VfB Stuttgart in the summer.

Pride, solidarity, commitment

People are proud of their history in the east of Berlin. During the GDR times, Union was considered to be an anti-Stasi club, a refuge for dissenters. That made die Eisernen the antithesis to Dynamo Berlin, the other big club in the east of the city. Union were the underdogs. That was the case before the Second World War in the shadow of the big neighbours Hertha Berlin and has continued till today. The history has brought an enormous sense of solidarity within the club. Union is a workers’ club. A lot of fans, but also several players, used to work in the factories and industrial area in the district of Köpenick.

The Stadion an der Alten Försterei, rebuilt with the help of fans in 2008/2009, has a special atmosphere. The home team seldom if ever gets booed. As demonstrated by campaigns such as fans bringing photos of deceased relatives to the stadium for the first Bundesliga home game, the traditional Christmas carol singing and an enormous commitment to the local community: Union is a special club.

The legend of 'Iron Union'

Where the call of Eisern Union and the nickname die Eisernen comes from is not fully clear. According to legend, a brewer's drayman rose from his seat during a game against Hertha in the 1930s and called out, "You have to be iron! Iron!" More and more fans joined in until finally the whole stand got behind their team with shouts of ‘Eisern Union’. That battlecry continues to this day, and is the basis for the mascot Ritter Keule, "a truly iron knight with a courageous heart."

Current state of play

Driven on by their fans, Union have risen to the challenge of the Bundesliga. With 30 points from their 25 matches, die Eisernen are well set to stay in the top flight. Bayern won 2-1 in the reverse fixture in Munich thanks to goals from Benjamin Pavard and Robert Lewandowski, but the newcomers have already caused upsets against top sides Borussia Dortmund (3-1) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (2-0) on home soil. That said, Urs Fischer's men now face a very different, difficult situation, like everyone else. Following the long break due to the coronavirus pandemic, the players need to quickly get back into their rhythm, and do so without the support of the fans in the stadium.

The match report from the reverse fixture at the Allianz Arena, which Bayern won 2-1 👇

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