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Insight

United they stand

Union Berlin’s historic campaign may not have gone entirely to plan, but for long-suffering fans they’ve been living the dream

WORDS Simon Hart | INTERVIEW Philippe Chauveau

No football supporter likes to see their side lose. Yet Chris Lopatta, a fan of Union Berlin for over 40 years, is able to keep his team’s struggles this season in perspective. “For an old Unioner, it’s not a problem,” he begins. The Champions League group stage newcomers lost 12 matches in a row prior to their 1-1 draw at Napoli on 8 November, a sequence that cost coach Urs Fischer his job. But when “even getting promoted to the Bundesliga was a bit of a surprise”, any current laments are “complaining at the highest level”, Lopatta reasons. 

It’s a lovely way of putting it and understandable when you consider how far Union – and long-serving supporters like Lopatta – have come. “I’ve been a Union fan since 1977 and got to know Union in the first GDR league, which was called the Oberliga,” he says. “We were constantly relegated back then.”

Union players salute their fans (top); Chris Lopatta (above)

The Oberliga was East Germany’s elite division. Following the country’s 1990 reunification, Union did not experience top-flight football again until 2019. Before then came many challenges. Lopatta describes how, 15 years ago, supporters helped rebuild their 22,000-capacity home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. “When a goal was scored, there’d be a massive puff of dust,” says Lopatta of the then crumbling terraces. He was one of almost 2,500 supporters who put in 140,000 hours of work on a project that yielded refurbished and fully covered terracing on three sides of the ground. “Either they lent a hand, donated money because they were too old or didn’t have the time, or donated tools, made sandwiches. There was breakfast every morning at nine. I’d build a stadium again any time. That was one of the most important and best times at Union.” 

It was not the only time fans have come to Union’s rescue: earlier that same decade, they literally gave blood to help pay for a licence to compete in the third division, via the ‘Bleed for Union’ scheme. “The fans had a think about how they could help the club and came up with the idea of giving blood, then donating the money they made [in return] to the club,” Lopatta explains. Hence his hard-earned sense of perspective on events so far in 2023/24, with its taste of Champions League football – and a Bundesliga relegation battle.

History
Blazing a trail
Union’s historic coaching appointment

Union have always done things their own way and made history in November by appointing Marie-Louise Eta, a Women’s Champions League winner with Turbine Potsdam in 2010, as the men’s Bundesliga’s first female assistant coach.

Following the dismissal of Urs Fischer, U19 coach Marco Grote took temporary charge with his No2, Eta, stepping up alongside him. “It’s not a conscious decision to have a woman as an assistant coach – that would discredit this decision,” said club president Dirk Zingler. 

No football supporter likes to see their side lose. Yet Chris Lopatta, a fan of Union Berlin for over 40 years, is able to keep his team’s struggles this season in perspective. “For an old Unioner, it’s not a problem,” he begins. The Champions League group stage newcomers lost 12 matches in a row prior to their 1-1 draw at Napoli on 8 November, a sequence that cost coach Urs Fischer his job. But when “even getting promoted to the Bundesliga was a bit of a surprise”, any current laments are “complaining at the highest level”, Lopatta reasons. 

It’s a lovely way of putting it and understandable when you consider how far Union – and long-serving supporters like Lopatta – have come. “I’ve been a Union fan since 1977 and got to know Union in the first GDR league, which was called the Oberliga,” he says. “We were constantly relegated back then.”

Union players salute their fans (top); Chris Lopatta (above)

The Oberliga was East Germany’s elite division. Following the country’s 1990 reunification, Union did not experience top-flight football again until 2019. Before then came many challenges. Lopatta describes how, 15 years ago, supporters helped rebuild their 22,000-capacity home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. “When a goal was scored, there’d be a massive puff of dust,” says Lopatta of the then crumbling terraces. He was one of almost 2,500 supporters who put in 140,000 hours of work on a project that yielded refurbished and fully covered terracing on three sides of the ground. “Either they lent a hand, donated money because they were too old or didn’t have the time, or donated tools, made sandwiches. There was breakfast every morning at nine. I’d build a stadium again any time. That was one of the most important and best times at Union.” 

It was not the only time fans have come to Union’s rescue: earlier that same decade, they literally gave blood to help pay for a licence to compete in the third division, via the ‘Bleed for Union’ scheme. “The fans had a think about how they could help the club and came up with the idea of giving blood, then donating the money they made [in return] to the club,” Lopatta explains. Hence his hard-earned sense of perspective on events so far in 2023/24, with its taste of Champions League football – and a Bundesliga relegation battle.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

“What we’re experiencing now is so rosy,” he says of the former competition in which Union have played their home fixtures in front of 70,000-plus crowds at Berlin’s Olympiastadion. He reflects: “Of course, we were worried that if we played in the Olympiastadion, there might be too many ‘event fans’ in the stadium who would ruin the atmosphere a bit. But I was totally surprised and delighted by the atmosphere.”

The wariness is understandable for a fanbase that has firm ideas about how to support their team. The heartwarming spectacle at the end of their last-gasp loss to Braga, when apologetic players were serenaded with songs about love and pride, comes into focus as Lopatta lists the rules. “Number one: don’t boo your own team. Number two: never have a go at one of your own players. Even if they concede two penalties, get a red card and just make a real mess of things, don’t get at them. Number three: never leave a game early. Number four: scream your heart out, because we need the noise.” For the record, any noise is organic at a club which refuses to play goal music when the ball hits the net.

As for what comes next, Lopatta explains: “If we now take another couple of setbacks, it doesn’t matter at all. I was asked 20 years ago what I wanted for FC Union. Back then, we were playing in the third tier. I said 15,000 spectators on average, it didn’t matter which league. And we’ve absolutely achieved that goal now. When we’ve completed the stadium expansion, the average will probably be twice as many. For me, what is important is that the stadium is full and that the atmosphere is positive. I really don’t care whether it’s the third division or the Champions League.”

Spoken like a true supporter.

History
Blazing a trail
Union’s historic coaching appointment

Union have always done things their own way and made history in November by appointing Marie-Louise Eta, a Women’s Champions League winner with Turbine Potsdam in 2010, as the men’s Bundesliga’s first female assistant coach.

Following the dismissal of Urs Fischer, U19 coach Marco Grote took temporary charge with his No2, Eta, stepping up alongside him. “It’s not a conscious decision to have a woman as an assistant coach – that would discredit this decision,” said club president Dirk Zingler. 

No football supporter likes to see their side lose. Yet Chris Lopatta, a fan of Union Berlin for over 40 years, is able to keep his team’s struggles this season in perspective. “For an old Unioner, it’s not a problem,” he begins. The Champions League group stage newcomers lost 12 matches in a row prior to their 1-1 draw at Napoli on 8 November, a sequence that cost coach Urs Fischer his job. But when “even getting promoted to the Bundesliga was a bit of a surprise”, any current laments are “complaining at the highest level”, Lopatta reasons. 

It’s a lovely way of putting it and understandable when you consider how far Union – and long-serving supporters like Lopatta – have come. “I’ve been a Union fan since 1977 and got to know Union in the first GDR league, which was called the Oberliga,” he says. “We were constantly relegated back then.”

Union players salute their fans (top); Chris Lopatta (above)

The Oberliga was East Germany’s elite division. Following the country’s 1990 reunification, Union did not experience top-flight football again until 2019. Before then came many challenges. Lopatta describes how, 15 years ago, supporters helped rebuild their 22,000-capacity home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. “When a goal was scored, there’d be a massive puff of dust,” says Lopatta of the then crumbling terraces. He was one of almost 2,500 supporters who put in 140,000 hours of work on a project that yielded refurbished and fully covered terracing on three sides of the ground. “Either they lent a hand, donated money because they were too old or didn’t have the time, or donated tools, made sandwiches. There was breakfast every morning at nine. I’d build a stadium again any time. That was one of the most important and best times at Union.” 

It was not the only time fans have come to Union’s rescue: earlier that same decade, they literally gave blood to help pay for a licence to compete in the third division, via the ‘Bleed for Union’ scheme. “The fans had a think about how they could help the club and came up with the idea of giving blood, then donating the money they made [in return] to the club,” Lopatta explains. Hence his hard-earned sense of perspective on events so far in 2023/24, with its taste of Champions League football – and a Bundesliga relegation battle.

History
United they stand
Union’s historic coaching appointment

Union have always done things their own way and made history in November by appointing Marie-Louise Eta, a Women’s Champions League winner with Turbine Potsdam in 2010, as the men’s Bundesliga’s first female assistant coach.

Following the dismissal of Urs Fischer, U19 coach Marco Grote took temporary charge with his No2, Eta, stepping up alongside him. “It’s not a conscious decision to have a woman as an assistant coach – that would discredit this decision,” said club president Dirk Zingler. 

Insight

United they stand

Union Berlin’s historic campaign may not have gone entirely to plan, but for long-suffering fans they’ve been living the dream

WORDS Simon Hart | INTERVIEW Philippe Chauveau

No football supporter likes to see their side lose. Yet Chris Lopatta, a fan of Union Berlin for over 40 years, is able to keep his team’s struggles this season in perspective. “For an old Unioner, it’s not a problem,” he begins. The Champions League group stage newcomers lost 12 matches in a row prior to their 1-1 draw at Napoli on 8 November, a sequence that cost coach Urs Fischer his job. But when “even getting promoted to the Bundesliga was a bit of a surprise”, any current laments are “complaining at the highest level”, Lopatta reasons. 

It’s a lovely way of putting it and understandable when you consider how far Union – and long-serving supporters like Lopatta – have come. “I’ve been a Union fan since 1977 and got to know Union in the first GDR league, which was called the Oberliga,” he says. “We were constantly relegated back then.”

Union players salute their fans (top); Chris Lopatta (above)

The Oberliga was East Germany’s elite division. Following the country’s 1990 reunification, Union did not experience top-flight football again until 2019. Before then came many challenges. Lopatta describes how, 15 years ago, supporters helped rebuild their 22,000-capacity home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. “When a goal was scored, there’d be a massive puff of dust,” says Lopatta of the then crumbling terraces. He was one of almost 2,500 supporters who put in 140,000 hours of work on a project that yielded refurbished and fully covered terracing on three sides of the ground. “Either they lent a hand, donated money because they were too old or didn’t have the time, or donated tools, made sandwiches. There was breakfast every morning at nine. I’d build a stadium again any time. That was one of the most important and best times at Union.” 

It was not the only time fans have come to Union’s rescue: earlier that same decade, they literally gave blood to help pay for a licence to compete in the third division, via the ‘Bleed for Union’ scheme. “The fans had a think about how they could help the club and came up with the idea of giving blood, then donating the money they made [in return] to the club,” Lopatta explains. Hence his hard-earned sense of perspective on events so far in 2023/24, with its taste of Champions League football – and a Bundesliga relegation battle.

History
Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

No football supporter likes to see their side lose. Yet Chris Lopatta, a fan of Union Berlin for over 40 years, is able to keep his team’s struggles this season in perspective. “For an old Unioner, it’s not a problem,” he begins. The Champions League group stage newcomers lost 12 matches in a row prior to their 1-1 draw at Napoli on 8 November, a sequence that cost coach Urs Fischer his job. But when “even getting promoted to the Bundesliga was a bit of a surprise”, any current laments are “complaining at the highest level”, Lopatta reasons. 

It’s a lovely way of putting it and understandable when you consider how far Union – and long-serving supporters like Lopatta – have come. “I’ve been a Union fan since 1977 and got to know Union in the first GDR league, which was called the Oberliga,” he says. “We were constantly relegated back then.”

Union players salute their fans (top); Chris Lopatta (above)

The Oberliga was East Germany’s elite division. Following the country’s 1990 reunification, Union did not experience top-flight football again until 2019. Before then came many challenges. Lopatta describes how, 15 years ago, supporters helped rebuild their 22,000-capacity home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. “When a goal was scored, there’d be a massive puff of dust,” says Lopatta of the then crumbling terraces. He was one of almost 2,500 supporters who put in 140,000 hours of work on a project that yielded refurbished and fully covered terracing on three sides of the ground. “Either they lent a hand, donated money because they were too old or didn’t have the time, or donated tools, made sandwiches. There was breakfast every morning at nine. I’d build a stadium again any time. That was one of the most important and best times at Union.” 

It was not the only time fans have come to Union’s rescue: earlier that same decade, they literally gave blood to help pay for a licence to compete in the third division, via the ‘Bleed for Union’ scheme. “The fans had a think about how they could help the club and came up with the idea of giving blood, then donating the money they made [in return] to the club,” Lopatta explains. Hence his hard-earned sense of perspective on events so far in 2023/24, with its taste of Champions League football – and a Bundesliga relegation battle.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

“What we’re experiencing now is so rosy,” he says of the former competition in which Union have played their home fixtures in front of 70,000-plus crowds at Berlin’s Olympiastadion. He reflects: “Of course, we were worried that if we played in the Olympiastadion, there might be too many ‘event fans’ in the stadium who would ruin the atmosphere a bit. But I was totally surprised and delighted by the atmosphere.”

The wariness is understandable for a fanbase that has firm ideas about how to support their team. The heartwarming spectacle at the end of their last-gasp loss to Braga, when apologetic players were serenaded with songs about love and pride, comes into focus as Lopatta lists the rules. “Number one: don’t boo your own team. Number two: never have a go at one of your own players. Even if they concede two penalties, get a red card and just make a real mess of things, don’t get at them. Number three: never leave a game early. Number four: scream your heart out, because we need the noise.” For the record, any noise is organic at a club which refuses to play goal music when the ball hits the net.

As for what comes next, Lopatta explains: “If we now take another couple of setbacks, it doesn’t matter at all. I was asked 20 years ago what I wanted for FC Union. Back then, we were playing in the third tier. I said 15,000 spectators on average, it didn’t matter which league. And we’ve absolutely achieved that goal now. When we’ve completed the stadium expansion, the average will probably be twice as many. For me, what is important is that the stadium is full and that the atmosphere is positive. I really don’t care whether it’s the third division or the Champions League.”

Spoken like a true supporter.

History
Blazing a trail
Union’s historic coaching appointment

Union have always done things their own way and made history in November by appointing Marie-Louise Eta, a Women’s Champions League winner with Turbine Potsdam in 2010, as the men’s Bundesliga’s first female assistant coach.

Following the dismissal of Urs Fischer, U19 coach Marco Grote took temporary charge with his No2, Eta, stepping up alongside him. “It’s not a conscious decision to have a woman as an assistant coach – that would discredit this decision,” said club president Dirk Zingler. 

No football supporter likes to see their side lose. Yet Chris Lopatta, a fan of Union Berlin for over 40 years, is able to keep his team’s struggles this season in perspective. “For an old Unioner, it’s not a problem,” he begins. The Champions League group stage newcomers lost 12 matches in a row prior to their 1-1 draw at Napoli on 8 November, a sequence that cost coach Urs Fischer his job. But when “even getting promoted to the Bundesliga was a bit of a surprise”, any current laments are “complaining at the highest level”, Lopatta reasons. 

It’s a lovely way of putting it and understandable when you consider how far Union – and long-serving supporters like Lopatta – have come. “I’ve been a Union fan since 1977 and got to know Union in the first GDR league, which was called the Oberliga,” he says. “We were constantly relegated back then.”

Union players salute their fans (top); Chris Lopatta (above)

The Oberliga was East Germany’s elite division. Following the country’s 1990 reunification, Union did not experience top-flight football again until 2019. Before then came many challenges. Lopatta describes how, 15 years ago, supporters helped rebuild their 22,000-capacity home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. “When a goal was scored, there’d be a massive puff of dust,” says Lopatta of the then crumbling terraces. He was one of almost 2,500 supporters who put in 140,000 hours of work on a project that yielded refurbished and fully covered terracing on three sides of the ground. “Either they lent a hand, donated money because they were too old or didn’t have the time, or donated tools, made sandwiches. There was breakfast every morning at nine. I’d build a stadium again any time. That was one of the most important and best times at Union.” 

It was not the only time fans have come to Union’s rescue: earlier that same decade, they literally gave blood to help pay for a licence to compete in the third division, via the ‘Bleed for Union’ scheme. “The fans had a think about how they could help the club and came up with the idea of giving blood, then donating the money they made [in return] to the club,” Lopatta explains. Hence his hard-earned sense of perspective on events so far in 2023/24, with its taste of Champions League football – and a Bundesliga relegation battle.

History
Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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