Wolfgang “Potti” Matthies could be relaxed about the weekend. After three derby victories last year, his club is now the favorite in the city duel on Saturday afternoon. But the goalkeeping legend of 1. FC Union is cautious about the game against Hertha BSC. “I’m a bit scared because Union has to lose at some point,” he says.
It could be a good omen that Union has to play against their city rivals right at the start of the season. Because the Köpenick club has had rather good experiences with derbies on the first day of the game – and Matthies even more so. Almost 46 years ago, he led the Köpenickers to one of their most legendary derby victories on the first day of the Oberliga: a 1-0 win over arch-rivals BFC Dynamo through a goal by Ulrich Netz.
“The weather was fine, the referee was crappy, otherwise everything was fine,” the 69-year-old recalls today on September 4, 1976. It was the first of two sensational victories that Union celebrated against BFC that season. The Köpenickers owed it to their goalkeeper.
“No one expected that. That we win against this team, whose name I won’t say,” says Matthies. At that time, the club from Hohenschönhausen was the biggest enemy for the Union supporters. Although the BFC were not yet the overwhelming series champions, the balance of power seemed clear. Union was promoted, Dynamo played at the top. “We were the newcomers in the league, it was a big thing for us,” says Matthies.
Because Union got stuck in the second-class league for a long time and Forward had long since been relocated to Frankfurt, it was the first meeting of two Berlin first-division teams in three years. The interest was correspondingly high: 45,000 spectators came to the World Youth Stadium. “I had never played in front of such a big crowd. But I wasn’t nervous,” says Matthies.
The fact that they played there at all was due to a decision by the “upper”, as the former goalkeeper puts it. From the mid-1970s, all derbies between Union and BFC took place in the neutral stadium not far from the Wall. Matthies is still skeptical about the official justification that more spectators could come to the stadium. “That can’t have been the reason, because the BFC didn’t have any fans,” he says. The majority of the spectators were Unioners.
He frankly admits that he doesn’t have the most objective view of things. “I was the biggest hater of this club,” says Matthies, referring to the story of Union player Klaus Korn. He was banned in 1970 because he is said to have insulted an opponent as a “Stasi pig” during a derby.
That’s another reason why he and his teammates were careful under the eyes of the SED functionaries Erich Mielke, Egon Krenz and Konrad Naumann in the World Youth Stadium, Matthies explains: “We had to pull ourselves together. We weren’t allowed to say anything.” Unlike with colleagues at other clubs, you didn’t have a relationship with the BFC players. Only with the former Unioner Reinhard “Mecky” Lauck, who switched to BFC after relegation in 1973, did they get along well. “With Mecky we could understand that he had to go over there. Because he couldn’t have played in the national team with us.”
The narrative of the big Stasi club and the disadvantaged underdog had long been established when Matthies frustrated the BFC in the shadow of the wall. Incidentally, he also played without gloves for his Oberliga debut. “The gloves we had in the GDR were so bad that I preferred to play without them,” he says.
But it didn’t stop him from having a great career. Matthies was later voted the most valuable player in the club’s history by the Union fans, which, in addition to his many years in the service of the Köpenickers, was also due to these two derby victories. He himself later played with 1. FC Magdeburg in the European Cup and was even on the bench in the game against Diego Maradona’s Barcelona. But he still sees the outsider victories against BFC as the absolute highlight. “Beating them was the greatest thing of all.”
Almost half a century later, it would no longer be a surprise if Union won the derby on matchday one. “We’re the slight favourites, even if the money is still with Hertha,” says Matthies, and despite his caution remains optimistic: “I’m betting 2-1 for Union.”