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Union Berlin's lesson for the A-League

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Roar Guru
20th August, 2019
15

One of the feel-good stories of the new European football season is the appearance of Union Berlin in the Bundesliga.

It’s the first time the club has reached the German top flight. They become the first club from East Berlin to have done so.

The club was formed in its current guise in 1966, but can trace its lineage way back to 1906.

It’s a team with working-class roots, and a strong work ethic has long been a hallmark of the club. Even promotion was gained the hard way, via a two-legged playoff against Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart.

Their home ground, Stadion An der Alten Försterei, dates back to 1920 and recent renovations were done mainly by club volunteers. In all, there are only slightly more than 3000 seats in the stadium that holds 22,012.

For Union’s first home game in the Bundesliga, the official attendance of 22,467 exceed the official capacity by 455 people. How did this come about?

Fans are the heart and soul of Union Berlin and it was literally the lost souls of the club that were responsible for the crowd figure.

In a promotion known as ‘Endlich dabei’ or ‘finally there’, fans brought photographs of deceased relatives who had not lived to see the club’s debut in the Bundesliga. These extra fans were counted in the official attendance.

Perhaps there was too much emotion on opening day, as the club went down 4-0 to RB Leipzig. With that match out of the way, Swiss coach Urs Fischer and the club are bound to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

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Union Berlin fans.

Union Berlin fans show photos of fellow supporters who passed away before the East German club were finally promoted to the Bundesliga this season. (Andreas Gora/Getty Images)

The Union Berlin story is a vindication of an open football pyramid system, but as it stands, this can’t happen in Australia.

One of the initial moves towards a more mature Australian football structure was the recent establishment of the independent A-League.

It flew beneath the radar somewhat. An acquaintance of mine tipped me off about two A-League coaches having dinner at a Double Bay restaurant. A subsequent check confirmed that this was one of the initial meetings of the new body.

Some suggestions have come out of these meetings. There has been talk of expansion to 16 clubs and of a playoff between the premiers and champions to open the season.

Already I’ve heard people deriding these proposals. Part of the complaints concerning FFA’s running of the competition was that there were no ideas at all. It’s early days for an independent A-League, and we could do with cutting it a bit of slack.

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Of course there will be self interest. That comes with the territory. As football fans, we hope the self interest of clubs will align with what’s best for Australian football. Time will tell.

Speaking of fans, nothing gets the blood worked up more than when a VAR decision goes against your own team, particularly in the dying seconds of a game.

In my case, it was a decision to disallow a match-winning goal for Manchester City against Tottenham last weekend.

The goal looked perfectly good at initial viewing. No-one was disputing it. Then a VAR review picked up the faintest of hand-balls by a City player. There was no advantage gained and it looked completely accidental.

Gabriel Jesus.

Gabriel Jesus winner for Manchester City over Tottenham was taken off him by VAR. (Oli Scarff / AFP)

What’s at fault here, VAR or the new interpretations of the hand-ball?

The new reading is that any hand-ball in the immediate lead up to a goal, whether accidental or not, is a breach and the goal must be disallowed.

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FIFA says this interpretation is on the principle that it is unjust for a goal to be scored when the hand is involved. I don’t buy that.

It appears to be a creation of VAR. The technology can conclusively rule whether the ball has been touched but cannot in all cases rule about intent. Only a human can do that.

In the VAR world, taking out the human element levels the playing field. Is that really what we want? Or am I just sore about my team getting dudded?