Unexpected successes are usually the most emotional, but sometimes they also cause a lot of work. Last weekend, the B-Juniors of 1. FC Union surprisingly secured second place in the Bundesliga and thus qualified for the semi-finals of the German championship for the first time. The 16 and 17-year-old players pulled their club out of the summer break, which inevitably spread after the end of the season for the men’s professional team on the outskirts of Wuhlheide. A lot had to be organized for the first leg on Saturday (11 a.m.) in the big stadium An der Alten Försterei against Eintracht Frankfurt – and even the Berlin Football Association (BFV) has been busy in the past few days.
Actually, Unions U 17 should have contested the state cup final on Sunday in Volkspark Mariendorf. But two such important games on consecutive days, that really wasn’t possible. The final against Viktoria 89 is now being postponed and at Union the entire focus is on the duel with Frankfurt on Saturday, which Christine Lehmann from BFV describes as a “highlight for all of Berlin’s girls’ football”. At Union, they know they have a great opportunity. “The girls are a bit nervous, but for me it’s mainly anticipation,” says coach Anja Matthes, 32.
Reaching the final round is special not only for the B-Juniors, but for the whole club. Union’s successes in the youth field have been manageable so far. In the Bundesliga, the female U17s have never finished higher than fifth place, and with very few exceptions, the male youth teams are more likely to be found in the middle of the table. In the past few days, you’ve heard time and again how important this semi-final is for the club, says Matthes. “But if I’m completely honest, I still haven’t fully realized that.”
The coach has been a member of the Union for 20 years and played from the U13 to the women’s regional league before she switched to the coaching bench due to an injury. During the day she is busy in the project “Professional clubs teach”, in the afternoon she takes care of the young talents from Köpenick. Matthes is particularly pleased about the professionalization of the women’s field recently announced by Union President Dirk Zingler because of her many years of experience in the club: “This step is important for Union, but also for women’s football as a whole.”
Matthes is still overwhelmed by the fact that they are now one of the four best teams in Germany with their U17s. “If you had asked me before the start of the season what was possible, I would have said that we were in class. But second place ahead of Wolfsburg surprised us all,” says the trainer. The fact that her team actually overtook the serial winners of German football and climbed to the important second place for the first time this season on the last day of the game could hardly be surpassed in terms of drama.
Union won 5-2 at Turbine Potsdam last Saturday, but had to hope for support. Since the parallel game of SV Meppen against Wolfsburg was about 20 minutes late, the Union women on the lawn looked spellbound at their phones until the live ticker finally showed the redeeming Meppen goals. “Right after the game we couldn’t really realize that. When we got up on Sunday, we first looked at the table: And it’s really true,” says Matthes.
Now the probably biggest game of their soccer career so far is coming up for the Berliners on Saturday. In the stadium they are usually only spectators, now they play where the pros usually play in front of 22,000 fans. “Of course, the setting in the big stadium will be very different than usual, but we’re trying to prepare as normally as possible,” says Matthes, who sees team spirit and passion as her team’s greatest strengths.
Even the club finds it difficult to estimate how big the crowd will be on Saturday. Admission is free and some fans will certainly take the opportunity to get a taste of the stadium air again during the men’s summer break. “If the weather is really nice, maybe 80 people come. If there are 500 in the stadium on Saturday, that would be a huge leap,” says Matthes.