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Union Berlin — the anti-establishment club

In a football world filled with Super League clubs and billionaire owners, the team from Köpenick offers another route.

1. FC Köln v 1. FC Union Berlin - Bundesliga Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

‘’The Champions League has, over the years, lost all of that uncertainty’’, writes the New York Times — describing a situation which is rather widespread in elite football. It’s become a world where only the traditional European football powerhouses or the newly bought billionaires’ clubs can compete at the highest level.

The European football market is thriving. There’s been an increase in investments after the pandemic — partly due to the economic and political profits for the owners. Football has continued its ‘hyper-capitalistic’ path, and only a few stakeholders can be at the top.

It’s this rather dull and annoyingly predictable situation that makes you appreciate teams like Union Berlin even more. They are a ‘football romantics’ ultimate wet dream – a team rich in culture with unique supporters. Even if you have no relation to the team, their existence serves as proof that there is an alternative to the Super League projects.

A child of the DDR era, Union Berlin has, in many ways, always been an anti-establishment club. Anti-Stasi, the club was always viewed as an underdog club, with Stasi-backed club BFC Dynamo having more success on the pitch. Its outsider mentality was also partially reflected by its fanbase. It was a club that was available for all, especially those who did not want to succumb to the everyday life of the machine state.

Many of the season holders today have been with the team since the DDR times. Their values are reflected in the modern-day Union. The club, owned by the supporters, has always offered camaraderie and a sense of togetherness. Only today, the enemy has changed its name from Stasi to Red Bull.

To me, it’s captivatingly fitting that Union Berlin — with their history of supporters united by their struggle of the East German system — are today in the Bundesliga. In 2019, they arrived in a league that has had one sole winner in the last decade and contains ‘economical intruders’ in the likes of RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim.

Union remains the antithesis of the modern elite football club. And now they are f**king leading the Bundesliga.

Urs Fischer’s men has continued to beat the odds since they joined the league in 2019. Tactically brilliant, Union’s success roots in their well-drilled, organised, defence. They play to their strengths – offensively implemented in quick attacking transitions. Although the team from Köpenick has spent €33 million on player transfers in the last two seasons (Club Brugge from Belgium spent nearly €50 million this summer alone), Union remains the financial ‘David of the Bundesliga’.

Teams like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, or Bayern Munich will continue to spend the most – and often it will lead to success. Union’s existence – and success – gives a football romantic hope that there’s still space in elite football for clubs who value supporter culture more than financial gains.

Back in the day, their supporters found unity in hardships caused by the state. Today, their club inspires people like me that there’s another path in a hyper-capitalistic football ecosystem. Through that lens, Union Berlin is the same anti-establishment club as they were in the DDR-Oberliga.

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