Union Berlin host Bohemians this afternoon, in a friendly three years in the making, with 1,000 fans who have traveled from Dublin.
It will be the first time the two sides have met, with the clash previously postponed due to Covid-19.
For Keith Long’s side it’s an opportunity for signings to pick up minutes and for younger players to pit themselves against a side playing in the Europa League next season.
“It’s a great game and unusual for a League of Ireland team to play against a Bundesliga side,” Long said after Thursday’s 3-1 win over UCD.
“It’s a game that will be of great use to players to gain fitness against high-profile opponents. It’s going to be a good experience for our younger players and new players coming in.”
Union supporters are a unique bunch. In 2004, a campaign called “Bleeding for Union” started, with scores of fans donating blood for health care and donating their proceeds to Union who were on the brink of bankruptcy.
In 2008 the clammy club had to renovate its stadium and 2,200 fans rolled up their sleeves again to rebuild the “Altes Forsthaus”. A total of 140,000 hours of work were done by volunteers and Union saved several million euros.
The East Berlin club shares the bohemian fan-owned model, and Daniel Lambert says Irish clubs have a lot to learn from their German counterparts.
“Clubs can play a huge role in their communities and in people’s lives,” said Lambert, chief operating officer at Bohemians.
“Their fans literally built them their stadium, they are a very admirable club. We try to be too.
“For example, we had the partnership we had with Fontaines DC last year. We try to use the club to connect to different areas of people’s lives, be it sports, historical or cultural events.”
Bohemians also have a large following in Berlin, with hundreds of jerseys shipped there annually.
The Phibsboro outfit are keen to connect with other clubs that have a similar ethos to theirs.
“We have strong values that are in line with those of other clubs,” said Lambert.
“We also have a Berlin fan club. After Ireland and the UK, Germany is our second largest destination for Bohs shirts, we sell hundreds a year. We’re trying to build links with other clubs like Union, FC United of Manchester and St. Pauli.”
Last season, the Dublin 7 club narrowly missed out on a place in the Europa Conference League, finishing a point behind Derry City in the league before losing the FAI Cup final on penalties.
It goes without saying that fans would rather travel to a European qualifier, but Lambert and Long are nonetheless excited for the challenge.
“You don’t get many opportunities to play against a Bundesliga club of this size,” Lambert added.
“We had two seasons with four away games in Europe and no fan could really go to any of them. It’s nice to have this trip, albeit friendly, but it’s the next best thing.
“It would be better if we were in a real European competition,” admitted Long.
“The team is looking forward to it. We want everyone to fight and everyone to bite to play minutes.
About 1,000 supporters made the 1,700 km journey to the German capital, twice as many as originally expected from the Bohemians. Mark O’Riordan is one of those fans but it won’t be his first visit to Union.
“I’ve been here for a league game before when they were in the second division,” O’Riordan said.
“It’s an incredible atmosphere. The floor is in an old forest. It’s an old, rickety stadium with different stands, so very old-fashioned. It’s also a reward for the fans. To have 1,000 here is incredible.”
Darren Hartnett will also be there for the friendly and is thrilled to see his beloved team play against such a big club.
“I booked my flights within five minutes of the announcement,” Hartnett said.
“It’s going to be incredible. There is so much fuss about the trip. We’re playing against a really top team and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve. I would love it if the club did something like this every year.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/all-roads-lead-to-berlin-as-bohs-prepare-for-german-test-three-years-in-the-making-41826301.html All roads lead to Berlin, while Bohs spends three years preparing for the German test