My first visit to the Alte Försterei saw me scaring an American tourist. A poor man sped off after being asked by a sweaty and breathless English person if he could have a lift down the road, or otherwise arrive late for Union vs Kaiserslautern. It was probably the right decision, I wouldn’t have given me a lift either. And it was my own fault, who shows up to a stadium 30 minutes before kick off and expects to get a parking space a ten minute walk away? Despite the driver’s probably wise decision to leave me by the side of the road, I somehow managed to get there in time. It was a hard run. That may have been the last time I got any exercise.
On that day I went on to see something that became familiar to me at the Alte Försterei, Union giving away a lead. But as the season wore on things began to slowly change. I learnt to take the S-Bahn. Union learnt the art of the home win. They liked it so much they just kept on doing it. Going in to the last game of the season the Alte Försterei hadn’t seen a defeat at home in nine games, and the previous seven matches had all ended in three points for Union. This would be a tough run to continue against champions SC Freiburg. But if they could do it, they would be setting a new club record.
Last day of the season is always a good day, unless of course something major is at stake. Today nothing was. Freiburg were champions, finishing ahead of the financial juggernauts RB Leipzig. Union could potentially finish sixth, but it would
mean nothing other than to the pride of the players and supporters. Before the game began, presentations were made to four outgoing Unioners. Bobby Wood is off to hopefully continue to score goals as he moves up to the Bundesliga with Hamburger SV, a testament to his fine season and the pure unadulterated fact that an in-form striker can only last one season in the second tier. There were flowers, plaques, a couple of tears, and quite bizarrely a troupe of women who I mistook to be dressed as Flight Attendants, but were actually there to hand out the parting gifts. After a while the game did actually start, albeit with the outgoing Wood on the bench, in what could only have a been a contract stipulation with HSV.
After all the pre-match build up and presentations, the first half was a bit of an anti-climax. Other than the weather not a great deal seemed to be going on, but luckily the constant swing from brilliant sunshine to pouring rain provided some source of distraction. Not at all dampened were the spirits of either set of fans, Union who were in their usual fine voice, but also SC Freiburg’s contingent who were still riding their wave of promotion euphoria.
The reward for Union came in the 66th minute through quite a lovely finish from Adrian Nikci, which was wonderfully guided passed Patric Klandt into the top right corner. 1-0 to Union and the very real possibility of an eighth successive home win. Twelve minutes later the second arrived courtesy of Christopher Quiring, who rounded the keeper and made it a perfect end to what had turned out to be an unexpectedly impressive season. Marc-Oliver Kempf’s 92nd minute header passed Daniel Haas was of no consequence to the game, though destroyed any ambitions Haas had of keeping a clean sheet on his final game for Union. Regardless of that, the game finished 2:1 and with it came 6th place and a club record of eight successive home wins.
When the final whistle was blown, the home fans stayed slightly longer than usual to bid farewell to Detlef Schneeweiß, who will retire after 16 years as Mannschaftsleiter with Union. So too to congratulate their team on a job well done, if not for a fairly shaky first half of the season. If they can take their current form into the start of next season, who knows what they could achieve. Ask Ranieri.