1. FC Union Berlin celebrated their 50th anniversary late January, with celebrations including a charity match against SV Austria Salzburg at the Stadion an der alten Försterei. Knowing the history of the team from the Mozart City and with standing away-end ticket prices at 5 €, it sounded like a great opportunity.
Austria Salzburg have attracted a large amount of respect from the international football community for their stand against rising commercialism in football. After Red Bull GmbH purchased their original club and stripped it bare with a complete re-branding, indignant fans subsequently created their own club and reinstated the name SV Austria Salzburg, purchased the rights to the name and badge and guaranteed full fan-ownership of the club.
Austria Salzburg is however going through difficult times and lacks the financial resources required to modify their stadium to legally-required standards. The “SaveAS” campaign was founded to try find donors, but the club remains in financial turmoil.
Wer nicht springt, der ist Red-Buller!
In comes 1. FC Union Berlin. The idea of the match was to organise a game during the German winter break with all proceeds to go to Austria Salzburg to assist them financially. The match was played at 17.00 on a Saturday afternoon with almost 10,000 spectators, with gross revenue therefore amounting to anywhere between 45 – 90 K €. All to help the financial burden currently felt by Austria Salzburg, no profit taken by 1. FC Union Berlin.
I travelled to Köpenick and got in the away section just 15 minutes before kick-off to find it even more packed than I had anticipated (I’m guessing there were around 500 Austria fans, but I’ve not seen a confirmed number yet). Their atmosphere was incredible. In spite of it being what you could describe as a “friendly”, all were making their feelings clear regarding Red Bull, Austria Salzburg, modern football, the police and the work done by FC Union Berlin, and they continued to do so for 90 minutes.
As the teams marched onto the pitch, all fans, Union and Austria, raised their scarves above their heads in unison. As the game began, the poor sporting quality of Austria Salzburg showed, with Union scoring 3 within 10 minutes (game finished 5-0). But the Austria fans displayed fantastic support regardless, at one point holding up a banner thanking Union for the help. A couple fights between Austria fans broke out with the police making 1 arrest as far as I could see (reports also claimed violence between the police and Union fans before the game), but instead of turning sour, the atmosphere remained one of rejoice and collective strength. The final minutes were celebrated with both sets of fans singing each others’ club names across the pitch.
The gesture made not just by the Union fans but by the club itself is significant; the fact that they chose to volunteer themselves to provide financial assistance and a day to remember for Austria Salzburg is a testament to the people who are taking the fight to commercialism in football at different levels. It shows that clubs and those in power are listening and sympathising to fan protests worldwide and now understand that fans dream of an affordable hobby in their hometown instead of silverware purchased at £ 77 per game.