Long-time Indian football fans would remember how a Mohun Bagan fan mortgaged his house to raise fund to sign legendary Brazilian striker Jose Barreto in early 2000.
What is a club’s history and legacy without fans? Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, or any other club, anywhere in the world, who boast rich history, have all one thing in common – the unwavering support of its fans.
Fast forward in 2023, clubs have witnessed empty stands in Indian Super League, when their team fails to perform and impress the fans. It apparently, is the only way, the fans find to voice their discontentment with the club. The communication gap, between fans and the club, also widens the distance of the club from their fans’ hearts.
Perhaps boycotting maybe a powerful tool for fans to make their voice heard, but 6500 kilometres away from this country, in Germany, the world has witnessed an absolutely different story of how fans got their club to win them their dreams and also, dream more, of course, not without the presence of club that recognized the importance of the supporters.
Union Berlin is a relatively small club that was founded in 1966 in the Köpenick district of East Berlin. For much of their history, the team played in the lower tiers of German football, but they have managed to establish themselves as a competitive team in the Bundesliga in recent years, earning promotion to the top-tier in 2019.
A key factor in Union Berlin’s success is their commitment to community. The team has a strong sense of identity and pride in their East German roots. This is reflected in their choice of colors (red and white) and their club motto, “Eisern Union” (Iron Union), which not just reflects the hard-working spirit of the club and its fans, but remains as an identity of the working-class supporters of Kopenick.
Fighting to win the Bundesliga, Union Berlin are now enjoying a success their fans may not have really dreamt of – especially when they would look back at a time when their team was struggling to win matches in the regional league. The fans stayed, in strength of six or seven thousand, even when they didn’t win for weeks in the regional league. Even today, they are not booed at, when they lose.
In 2008,when the club decided to renovate the stadium,Stadion An der Alten Försterei, they did not have much money in their coffers, and then stepped in the club’s loyal supporters, who went on to invest 140,000 hours of labour to create a modern-day, football-specific stadium. They donated blood to raise funds for the club – Bleed for Union. The fans are not just there to bring money to the club.
The fans see the club as a part of their social-life. People throng the stadium, with beer, food and a lot of things to talk about what they did the entire week, complimented by good football at their disposal. For them, the club is much above just winning any silverware, or competing in Europe or playing in the top-tier of German league.
For a modern-day Indian football fan, or Indian football clubs, who remain vested in the shallow goals to win silverware, the rise of FC Union Berlin should be a big example of how the club and fans can make stories of success that echoes way beyond something that winning trophies would do.