The Olympiastadion came alive once again on April 9, divided into a broad spectrum of blue and red as Hertha BSC hosted 1 FC Union.
The third Berlin derby of the season delivered in action and spectacle. The ultras were back in their thousands after the recent Covid-19 restrictions that had kept them away for most of the last two years.
They sang, they chanted as the flames from pyrotechnics set alight the inner sanctum of the magnificent Olympiastadion. 74,667 fans witnessed the biggest game of the season in Germany’s capital city on a night that Hertha needed a spark to rekindle their faltering season.
At the end of it all, Hertha lost the game to their city rivals 4-1. Japanese midfielder Genki Haraguchi opened, scoring for the visitors in the first half before Grischa Prömel put them ahead in the second half after an own-goal by Timo Baumgartl had given the hosts some hope. Sheraldo Becker put Union beyond reach from a sublime run and a shot to the corner before substitute Sven Michel scored a fourth late in the game.
Hertha needed a win in order to keep their hopes of staying in the Bundesliga. They started the game in 17th position and hoped that their return home would be as rewarding as their last victory here against Hoffenheim. But Union were clearly the better side from the beginning as they bossed possession and saw early efforts saved by goalkeeper Lotka Marcel.
An end to the rare Berlin derby?
The 10th Berlin derby in the history of the Bundesliga was nothing short of exciting. The city’s divide was glaring as 12,000 Union fans made their way into the stadium. They out sang and out did their hosts. Their coordination in the stands was simply impressive, a coordinated series of chants across the two stands that they occupied.
Their support from the stands was matched by the on-field performance of the Irons who played one of their best games of the season against their rivals.
The fortunes of both sides differ; Hertha’s big money and its roots in the affluent old West Berlin have seen them play 39 years in the Bundesliga while Union’s austere East Berlin work ethic has seen them rise through the lower rungs into the top division just three seasons ago.
But last season Union finished in seventh spot and qualified for the Europa Conference League while Hertha managed to avoid the drop. This season has continued the same way with the Irons once again doing much better with their meager resources, selling some of their top players while balancing the books and remaining competitive. Hertha have struggled despite the investments and new coach Felix Magath cannot seem to save them from this impending fall.
Relegation for the Old Lady would deny Berlin a derby of this magnitude for the next season. Yet, Hertha looked hapless and unable to rouse themselves for the occasion.
As Hertha’s on-field woes escalated, the fans made their displeasure known through a large banner calling for the exit of club president Werner Gegenbauer and leading investor Lars Windhorst. But the fans can only protest as their club stares apparent relegation in the face.
While Hertha players slung their heads down after the defeat as angry fans asked them to drop their jerseys, Union players celebrated their biggest ever Bundesliga victory with their fans who sang late into the night even as the stadium emptied of its hosts. They are here to stay, they sang, as their hosts face a potential future in the second division.