Derbies produce some of the most impassioned and intense moments in all of world football. Old hatreds on the pitch and in the stands fuel unforgettable matches and make meetings between rivals must-see football for fans everywhere. What could be more thrilling than el clasico’s clash of Barcelona and Real Madrid ‘s polar opposite club histories and cultures; decades of fervor, religious and sporting, overflowing in the Old Firm derby; the pure on-field spectacle of two of England’s best squads vying for supremacy in the Manchester derby; or two 5th division Berlin clubs putting everything on the line to earn recognition as the city’s second-best club with Hertha in its name?
Okay, maybe the Hertha derby doesn’t quite fit in with the others, but Sunday’s matchup between the confusingly similarly-named Charlottenburger Fußball Club (CFC) Hertha 06 and FC Hertha 03 Berlin-Zehlendorf was still an intriguing one. CFC have risen tremendously since the mid-2000s, when they were in the 9th division, and have been promoted three times since 2012 alone. But they’ve struggled this season, their third straight in the Oberliga Nord.
Hertha Zehlendorf, meanwhile, are a bigger name in Berlin football. They’ve spent most of the last decades in the Berlin Liga or its equivalent, and first came up to the Oberliga in 2014/15. Zehlendorf is best known for their youth set up, which won national titles in the 70s and 80s and has produced pros like Niko and Robert Kovac, Germany international Christian Ziege, Hoffenheim mainstay and Bosnia international Sejad Salihovic, and most impressively, American hero and world-beating defender John Anthony Brooks*.
Falling on the last matchday of the season, this one was about much more than Hertha bragging rights for the hosting CFC, as they sat in the 13th place relegation spot going into the match. Tied on points with Torgelower Grief in 12th and just one point behind 11th-placed Malchower SV 90, a win would be a huge step towards securing safety and forgoing the relegation playoff. Roughly 100 spectators made their way to CFC’s Sportplatz Brahestraße, a charming little ground with lightly overgrown standing areas that probably couldn’t seat many more than 500, hopeful of catching a Charlottenburg win to guarantee Oberliga play next season.
The high stakes for CFC clearly guided their early play. They came out strong, pushing forward and controlling much of the ball to start the match. They had the game’s first clear-cut chance in the 16th minute, when Zehlendorf’s keeper, under heavy pressure, played the ball directly to onrushing CFC forward Ergün Cakir. Cakir, facing down a wide-open Zehlendorf net, decided the best course of action would be to blast the ball wide while yells of ‘scheiße’ rang around the park. Finishing wasn’t Charlottenburg’s strength on the day.
Another keeper error led to the first goal. This time it was CFC’s stopper with the errant pass, as he scuffed a back pass from his central defender, sending the ball looping to Zehlendorf’s Sebastian Huke. Unlike Cakir, the Zehlendorf striker was ruthless with his opportunity, toeing it into the net with ease. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t reflect the run of play, but Zehlendorf were up 1-0, 32 minutes into the match.
Ten minutes after the restart Hertha Zehlendorf captain Burak Mentes made CFC’s mountainous task even tougher. Mentes doubled the score with a beautifully arched free kick, beating the keeper and leaving the Charlottenburg fans in stunned silence.
With their season on the line, the two-goal deficit didn’t discourage CFC. They continued to play decently, ushering the ball forward and trying to claw their way back into the match. Their central midfielders played well in the second half, spraying long diagonal balls to the wings and jumpstarting the Charlottenburg attack. CFC’s mounting pressure paid off in the 70th minute, when they finally put away one of their chances. Charlottenburg’s Volkan Dikmen rose above the Hertha Zehlendorf defense to head in a well-struck corner. The comeback was on with 20 minutes left to go.
The hosts kept piling on, but the clock was ticking away and their finishing continued to let them down. Tempers rose, and as the game got chippier CFC players and fans became increasingly vocal in their frustration, reacting to every rough challenge or call from the ref. Dikmen was lucky not to get a red card later in the match, as an altercation with a Zehlendorf player nearly devolved into a full-on brawl.
Though they didn’t have much of the ball, Hertha Zehlendorf managed to catch Charlottenburg napping on a break in the 78th minute. An innocuous-looking long ball to Zehlendorf’s right winger was dropped back to the top of the box and then cut across to a streaking Mentes, who had little trouble slotting home his second of the match. Not that the stone-footed CFC defense did much to stop him.
Charlottenburg nearly, and really should have, pulled one back a few minutes later. A corner kick fell to a wide open Dikmen, who managed to shank his shot wide from what looked like no more than five feet from goal. Yet another CFC Hertha sitter gone wide, with time running out. Dikmen covered his head in shame as resignation overtook the stands.
It would be the last chance of the match as CFC dropped their pivotal Hertha derby 3-1 at home, undone by poor finishing and a costly mistake at the back. The squad was dejected after the final whistle, knowing they failed to secure their future in the division. Zehlendorf was happy with their result and can be pleased with this year’s 4th place finish.
CFC Hertha finished in 13th and will face the Oberliga Sud’s SV Einheit Kamenz in a two-legged relegation playoff to determine their fate. Even if they falter in the playoffs and get bumped back down to the Berlin Liga, they should be able to take some pride in knowing they’ll remain concretely in Berlin’s top 3 Herthas.
*Please note, the author’s blind patriotism could be clouding his judgement in this particular player assessment.