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FC Union Berlin

1. Fußballclub Union Berlin e. V., more commonly known as 1. FC Union Berlin is a football club based in the Köpenick district of Berlin, the capital of Germany. The club’s roots can be traced back more than a hundred years to ‘FC Olympia Oberschöneweide’ and its foundation in 1906.

At the end of World War II in Allied occupied Germany, it was part of the Soviet sector of the city. During the Cold War period it was located in East Berlin, the unofficial capital of the former German Democratic Republic and was reborn under its current name to be part of the DDR-Oberliga and DDR-Liga, the top two divisions in the abolished state.

Following the reunification of the country in 1990, it was incorporated into the German league structure at the 3rd division. From 2009 until 2019, Union Berlin competed in the 2.Bundesliga, the 2nd tier of football Germany. Union earned promotion to the top-flight and featured in 1.Bundesliga for the first time in the 2019/20 season.

1.FC Union Berlin plays its home-matches at Stadion An der Alten Försterei. It is the 2nd largest stadium in the German capital with a current capacity of 22,012. The ground has been the home for Union Berlin and its predecessors since it opened in 1920. The arena also hosts the annual Weihnachtssingen Christmas carols event.

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History

The name 1.FC Union Berlin was used by two football clubs which shared a common origin as FC Olympia Oberschöneweide. It was founded in 1906 at Oberschönweide which was a suburb of Berlin at the time. The club later adopted the name SC Union 06 Oberschöneweide in 1910.

Following the end of World War I, Union grew into one of the top football teams of Berlin. It won several local and regional honours and even went to compete at the national level. The highlight of this period came in 1923 when it reached the German championship final, losing 0-3 to Hamburger SV.

Union had a distinct working-class image since its foundation, It earned the nickname ‘Schlosserjungs’ (metalworker boys), owing to its then all-blue kit which resembled the working outfits worn by the factory workers in the industrial Oberschöneweide district. The well-known cry of the Union supporters, ‘Eiser Union’ also emerged at this time.

Testing Times

In 1933, the Nationalist Socialist Party gained political power, altering the social fabric of the country. The 3rd Reich reorganised the football structure with the introduction of 16 top-tier regional leagues called the Gauligen. Under this regime, Oberschöneweide became part of Gauliga Brandenburg-Berlin accomplishing unremarkable results.

The club was relegated in the 1934/35 season before returning to the top-tier in the 1935/36 campaign after a one-year absence. In 1939/40 Union beat Blau Weiss to win the division title. It advanced to the national finals where it lost to Rapid Wien. It was relegated in 1941/42 but returned for the last Gauligen season in 1944/45.

After the end of World War II, the club turned into a wider sports community named SG Oberschöneweide but failed to qualify for the newly created Oberligen structure in its inaugural season, although it was promoted to the top-tier in the next campaign. It immediately clinched the Oberliga Berlin title in 1947/48 as SG Union Oberschöneweide.
However, following the 1949/50 season the tensions of the Cold War began and Soviet authorities declined permission for the team to travel. As a result, the club was split in two as most players and coaches left to the west and went on to form Sport-Club Union 06 Berlin while the remainder of the party continued as SG Union Oberschöneweide.

Rebirth

SG Union Oberschöneweide went through a number of name changes before settling upon 1.FC Union Berlin in 1966. The club was founded in its present guise during the reorganisation of East German football. Yet it was not quite in the plans as only two clubs ASK Vorwarts and SC Dynamo Berlin as it was still playing in the 2nd tier.

1.FC Union Berlin was purportedly founded by Herbert Warnke, the chairman of the state-controlled national trade union FDGB and a member of the SED Politburo. With the other two new Berlin clubs each being part of the armed forces, Warnke argued for the formation for a third ‘civilian’ club to represent the working-class of East Berlin.

Eventually Warnke became a fan and sponsoring member of the club which was established in the middle of the one of the largest working centres in East Germany. The club was founded at the clubhouse of VEB Transformatorenwerk Oberschöneweide “Karl Liebknecht” (TRO) in Oberschöneweide on 20 January 1966.

The Cold War Era

1.FC Union Berlin was the only football club in East Germany that did not feature in the DDR-Oberliga when it was founded. It was entirely state-funded and all club decisions had to be reported to the all-powerful central sports agency, the Deutscher Turn- und Sportbund which was under the direct command of the ruling Socialist Unity Party.

The official sponsor of 1.FC Union Berlin was the state-owned combine named VVB Hochspannungsgeräte und Kabel. But financial support from the FDGB ended when Herbert Warnke ended his tenure as the chairman of the FDGB in 1975. The club now had to rely on the district leadership of the ruling SED party.

1. FC Union Berlin developed a bitter rivalry with BFC Dynamo, which was supported by the Stasi, the infamous official state security service of East Germany. But while its arch-rivals clinched 10 titles from 1978/79 to 1987/88, Union moved up and down between the top-2 divisions achieving any tangible success.

The Present

Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, Union Berlin was performing well on the field but the club was in severe financial distress. It had won the a 3rd division title for 3 consecutive seasons from 1991/92 to 1993/94 but was denied promotion to the 2.Bundesliga due to its monetary problems.

On to the 2.Bundesliga

The club came close to bankruptcy in 1997, yet it still managed to challenge for the league-title in the 1998/99 and 1999/2000 seasons. Union Berlin successfully gained promotion by winning the Regionalliga in 2000/01 under its Bulgarian manager Georgi Vasilev to become the 2nd most prestigious of the capital city.

In the same season, Union also managed to reach the final of the DFB-Pokal, where it lost 2-0 Schalke 04. It earned the club a spot in next season’s UEFA Cup; its maiden foray into a European tournament. Union advanced up to the 2nd round of the competition before bowing out to Bulgarian PFC Litex Lovech.

But at the end of the 2003/04 season, Union Berlin finished in the 17th position and was relegated in to the Regionalliga Nord in the 3rd tier. In the following 2004/05 campaign Union was relegated to the 4th division. Nevertheless, it won the NOFV-Oberliga Nord title in 2005/06 to earn promotion back to the 3rd division.

For the 2008/09 campaign, German league football was restructured and Union Berlin became part of 3.Liga, a newly created national-level 3rd division. Union picked up the title in its inaugural season to earn a place in 2.Bundesliga for the following campaign. It stayed in 2.Bundesliga until 2017/18 with 4th place being its best finish in this period.

Promotion to 1.Bundesliga

For the 2018/19 campaign, Swiss manager Urs Fischer was put in charge of the club and he has remained at the helm to this day. In his very first season, Union Berlin finished on 3rd spot in 2.Bundesliga to earn a promotion playoff berth, setting up a two-legged tie against 5-time German champions VfB Stuttgart.

The 1st leg was held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Stuttgart and Union Berlin showed a lot of resilience to equalise twice in the game to get a 2-2 draw away home. In the 2nd leg at Stadion An der Försterei, a goalless-draw between the two sides was enough to hand Union its promotion to the top-division on the away-goals rule.

For the 2019/2020 season, Union Berlin made its first appearance in 1.Bundesliga making it only the 5th football club from the former East Germany to participate in the tournament. It is still the only side from East Berlin to have featured in the top-tier since the reunification of the country.

On August 24th 2019, Sebastian Anderson scored the first 1.Bundesliga goal for Union Berlin in a 1-1 draw with FC Augsburg on the 2nd Matchday to earn its first point in the top-flight. After a difficult start, Union picked up its form to finish 10 points above the relegation-zone in a respectable 11th position.

For the 2020/21 campaign, Union Berlin proved to be the biggest surprise package in 1.Bundesliga after finishing on 7th spot in only its 2nd season at the top-tier. It also earned the club a spot in the new UEFA Europa Conference League, its first appearance at a European tournament since making its debut two decades ago.

But Union failed to impress on the continental stage, narrowly missing qualification to knockout-phase after a 3rd place finish in its group. But the club was able to improve its performance in 1.Bundesliga, taking 5th spot in the table courtesy of an outstanding run towards the end which also handed it a berth in the UEFA Europa League next season.

Identity

Over the past two decades, Union Berlin has become one of the cult clubs of Europe and earned the nickname ‘Die Eisernen’ or The Iron Ones. Supporters of the club consider themselves to be stubborn and non-conformist and have cultivated an image of being the eternal underdog that is firmly rooted in the working-class.

Due to its socialist past, the club also has garnered a mythical reputation of dissidence although the club does not really have any political affiliations. Even supporters from the East German era have confirmed that their allegiance to the club developed mainly because they identified it with the borough of Köpenick.

Rivalries

Currently 1.FC Union Berlin and Hertha BSC are the two clubs from the capital that ply its trade in the 1.Bundesliga.Yet it is not much of a rivalry as relations between the two clubs have been rather amicable since the Cold War era. Its traditional rivals are 1.FC Magdeburg, SG Dynamo Dresden and FC FC Hansa Rostock from the DDR-Oberliga era.

In recent years however, Union Berlin supporters have begun animosity with RB Leipzig since the takeover of license and teams from 5th division side SSV Markranstädt by the energy-drink giant Red Bull in 2009. Union fans ran adverts against investments for RB Leipzig and even cancelled a pre-season friendly with the club.

In September 2014, Union Berlin supporters staged a 15-minute silent protest at the start of its 2.Bundesliga home-game against RB Leipzig. In August 2019, Union faced Leipzig in its first game in 1.Bundesliga, the oldest ultras of the club the Wuhlesyndikat successfully called another 15-minute silent protest at Stadion An der Alten Försterei.

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