Rebuilding a Rivalry

BFC Dynamo (3 : 0) BSG Chemie Leipzig


Berlin is by no means a particularly religious city, but Sunday’s holy designation as a day of rest is taken seriously here. For the denizens responsible enough to be up at the crack of noon, quiet routines of relaxation tend to be the norm. Meeting up with friends, walking through the park with family, pausing for a respite from all the relaxing with a coffee or heaping slice of cake. That type of thing.  Even when Sunday is matchday, the Friederich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark blends into Prenzlauerberg’s typical rhythms instead of dominating them.  BFC Dynamo fans trickle into the oversized stadium, while the adjacent karaoke fest at Mauerpark usually generates more buzz than Dynamo’s Regionalliga (4th division) bouts.

This week’s fixture seemed little different until half an hour before kickoff, when more than a dozen police vans pulled up to the stadium, trailed by what looked to be an unending mass of BSG Chemie Leipzig fans, shepherded from their packed train by a regiment of scrutinous cops. All told, roughly 1,300 Chemie supporters made the trip to Berlin, making up about a third of the crowd. When ultras travel en masse, tensions are often anticipated and the air crackles with the possibility, or expectation, of violence. This is especially so on occasions when two teams have long histories or their fan scenes have strongly contrasting social or political makeups. Though both applied to this matchup, the most brutal part of the day ended up being the scoreline. Even with their armed escorts and a delayed start to the match due to heavy gate security, the Leipzig fans were in jocular spirits at kickoff.

Chemie was founded by fans as a rebirth of the defunct DDR-era club of the same name in 1997, and this Sunday was the first meeting of the two sides since BSG’s reformation and subsequent ascent up the football ladder. There is clearly some historic bad blood between the teams, but calling this a rivalry might be overstating things. Either way, Leipzig’s first big appearance back in Berlin was enough to pump up the visiting supporters, who clearly out-sang the Dyanmo fans, even when the score turned. And they didn’t hide their true feelings about their hosts, with chants of both ‘nazi’ and ‘stasi (nickname of the old East German secret police, the top brass of which were famously BFC fans) schweine’ hurled from the guest block.

If Leipzig’s ultras had been long dreaming of this fixture, the Chemie squad probably had some trepidation about the trip. They sat in 15th of 18 in the league after a slow start, which was bound to happen eventually after their continued success and two-straight promotions leading to this season.  Berlin won four in their last five matches going into the encounter, and although they’re unlikely to catch Energie Cottbus at the top of the league, they are sitting comfortably in second.

Outmatched and with few expectations, Chemie actually played much better than the ledger indicates. They started the match well, unintimidated by their more-established opponent. This nearly paid off in the sixth minute, when a rough challenge in the box saw Leipzig’s Daniel Heinze step up to the penalty spot. His attempt, well-taken, was beautifully parried by the BFC keeper, who could relax after getting his biggest save of the day out of the way early.

Bloody hell indeed.

Chemie’s bad luck continued, and 20 minutes later their center back and captain, Stefan Karau, looked like he’d have to be taken out after getting injured while challenging for a header.  After a solid three minutes on the ground, instead of being substituted, he merely replaced his blood-soaked jersey with a new one and got his head wrapped up before trotting back onto the field. Despite the injury scare and missed penalty, things were fairly even. Leipzig was actively involved, getting the ball forward and creating a few chances, making BFC’s 38th minute goal, which came out of nowhere, all the tougher to stomach.  Dynamo’s Joey Breitfeld, who had a great game floating around the attacking third, finding space on either wing and connecting with the midfield and Berlin’s lone striker, did excellently to latch onto a long ball lobbed into the 18-yard box, flicking it in a single volley over Chemie’s caught-out keeper.

Down 1-0 away, Leipzig didn’t fold, with a volleyed shot streaking narrowly wide of goal right before halftime and another attempt cleared by a defender at the start of the second half.  Dynamo managed to turn this aggression around on the visitors, catching Chemie too far upfield.  A long diagonal ball sailed out of the back to an onrushing Breitfeld, who laid it off for an easy tap in from Matthias Steinborn, doubling BFC’s lead in the 56th minute.  Berlin defender David Malembana killed any hope of a comeback just eight minutes later when he headed home a corner.

Once up 3-0, Dynamo was happy to drop back a bit, allowing Chemie more of the ball but defending well-enough when things began to look threatening. Whenever BFC could, they were ecstatic to simply pass around the back, forcing weary Leipzig attackers to chase the ball. Although the guests pushed, the last great chance of the game was probably the third goal. Not quite as chippy as one might expect a rivalry (or rivalry-adjacent) match to be, a flowing movement of play was still reluctant to develop. Attractive soccer occasionally bubbled to the contest’s surface, in a nimble touch from Breitfeld or a fluid combination in Chemie’s midfield, but this was largely the exception.

Breitfeld celebrates the winner.

Even if the play wasn’t always the most memorable, Dynamo fans will be pleased with three goals and three points. The supporters who travelled from Sachsen were obviously thrilled just to be there.  Undeterred by the lopsided score, they kept singing long after the final whistle, maintaining the good cheer that they carried into the stadium.  Considering the incredible strides BSG Chemie Leipzig has made in the past decades, they have plenty to celebrate. And if Dynamo and Chemie spend extended time in the same division, there will be ample opportunity to rebuild a historic rivalry, or for the tension between Leipzig’s left-leaning ultras and BFC’s notoriously right-wing contingent to overflow. For now, this year’s first of two meetings between them was the rare 3-0 result everyone could enjoy.

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