The morning after, the ecstasy of the previous evening could at best be guessed at, or rather, smelled. There was still a large stage in the parking lot in front of the An der Alten Försterei stadium, there was confetti on the floor, a few fans were waiting for their favorites and it stank of beer evaporating in the bright sun. Gradually, the players of 1. FC Union came with packed things from breakfast together, stopped for a few autographs and photos and said goodbye until training started on June 20th on their well-deserved vacation.
They couldn’t quite hide the fact that the previous night had been quite long and boozy. “Oli drove me home when it was midnight,” said Urs Fischer on Sunday afternoon at a final media round with manager Oliver Ruhnert and President Dirk Zingler. Some players were in bed much later, but they were all on time for breakfast.
The big party started on Saturday with Taiwo Awoniyi’s redeeming goal just before the end, continued on the pitch, in the cabins and later on the balcony. With a 3-2 win over VfL Bochum, Union ended the season fifth in the table. The Berliners have never been better placed in the GDR Oberliga. “I can’t really classify it yet,” said Fischer. “It’s good that the holidays are coming up, then everyone has time to let it sink in.”
That certainly also applies to the impressions from Saturday afternoon. Thousands of fans gathered in the parking lot, from the stadium balcony the players looked down at a red and white sea of people, in which the mood was not only left by the 40 kegs of free beer. The team celebrated extensively for the Europa League qualification, celebrated themselves and fully enjoyed the end of a season that was as long as it was successful.
The Berliners have played 47 competitive games since the start at the beginning of August and the first half of the season in particular was like a never-ending English week. The fact that Union remained constant, freed itself from short valleys and was able to compensate for the departures of top performers Robert Andrich, Christian Gentner, Nico Schlotterbeck, Christopher Lenz, Marvin Friedrich and Max Kruse is the true masterpiece of the season. “Everyone has accepted that Max is no longer there and everyone has invested a little more,” said Fischer, explaining the attitude of the team using the example of Kruse’s surprising departure in winter.
Manager Oliver Ruhnert does not have to complain about a lack of work this summer either. With Grischa Prömel, Bastian Oczipka, Anthony Ujah, Jakob Busk and Suleiman Abdullahi, five players were already said goodbye on Saturday, with Prömel’s move hurting enormously from a sporting and human point of view. It cannot be ruled out that Oczipka will sign again for the new season, and it also depends on how Union plans with Tymoteusz Puchacz after his loan from Trabzonspor.
Union has already signed two players for midfield in Paul Seguin and Janik Haberer and on Saturday Ruhnert delighted the fans on the stadium balcony with more good news, but backtracked a bit on Sunday. The extension of the loan of central defender Timo Baumgartl is not yet decided. “Apparently I must have said something I didn’t mean, classic Freudian slip,” said Ruhnert. “We are in good talks with Eindhoven and I think we will succeed.” The 26-year-old Baumgartl recently had a testicular tumor removed. It is still unclear when he will be able to return to competitive sports, but the prognosis is good.
Ruhnert has not yet been able to say to what extent the squad will otherwise change. Some Berlin professionals, above all Taiwo Awoniyi (20 goals in all competitions this season) and Sheraldo Becker (15 points), are in demand abroad. “We plan with the players who are under contract, but a squad in professional football is fragile to the end,” said Ruhnert. Financially, Union can plan with significantly higher income thanks to the European Cup qualification and a big jump in the TV ranking. “We are entering new dimensions in all areas of the club, the gaps to midfield in the league have almost been closed,” said Zingler.
The anticipation of the Europa League can already be clearly felt among fans and the club. The supporters sang about international business again and again on Saturday and even before kick-off they presented a large banner. “Red and white flags and Union songs – from Seville to Riga.” From a sporting point of view, the Latvian capital is probably not at the top of the Berliners’ wish list.
After the group in the Conference League was already attractively filled with the current finalists Feyenoord Rotterdam, Slavia Prague and Maccabi Haifa, Union could have even more prominent opponents from September. Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Betis Sevilla, Lazio or AS Roma will probably be represented in the Europa League next season. “Union is playing internationally for the second time in a row – if someone had told me that when I signed here in the second division, I would have thought they were crazy,” said Prömel after his last game for Union.