The kick-off had to be delayed by five minutes as a tidal wave of red and white streamers poured down onto the pitch from the Waldseite. It looked like an explosion in the confetti factory, but Jan Glinker just looked pissed off.
He tried manfully to sweep some of the detritus away but it kept getting caught up in his studs. Michael Bemben and Daniel Schultz had a cursory go too, but in the end they decided to leave it to the professionals. And to Ritter Keule, Union’s top heavy knight mascot.
The opposition players milled about the pitch, glorying in the late Summer sunshine, enjoying the racket made by a sold out Alte Försterei in its first season since the rebuild. They’d heard about this place but only through whispers.
Union had won the third division the previous year but this meant little to them. Union were now top of the 2.Liga, too. But this was the mighty Werder Bremen. The cup holders. The bearers of the torch for neat attacking football played with grace and deadly pace, allayed to managerial stability and boardroom sobriety.
Mesut Özil and Naldo, Torsten Frings and Tim Borowski, Per Mertesacker and Tim Wiese had bigger things on their mind than the formality of a first round cup game in the arse-end of nowhere. Despite the glitter strewn across the pitch.
For it wasn’t meant for them.
Claudio Pizarro and the beguiling, dazzling Diego had better things to do. They had stayed at home.
Bremen cut Union to shreds that day, ten years ago. Bemben and Schultz were dragged about the back like they were dead leaves being skimmed off a swimming pool in autumn. Macchambes Younga-Mouhani and Marco Gebhardt chased after ghosts in midfield.
They snapped into tackles long since gone. All that remained was the remants of a sound of a delicately stroked football echoing away quietly.
After an hour Karim Benyamina, playing alone and utterly isolated up front, picked the ball up not far inside the Bremen half. Younga-Mouhani had done what he did best, picking up a loose pass, taking two, loping steps forwards and hitting a midfield-splitting ball straight into Benyamina’s path.
Mac could, on occasion, make difficult things look ever so simple.
Turning back on himself Benyamina jinked his way past Frings like there was nobody there. Just a flash of lank, long hair. He nudged the ball forward past Mertesacker with a flourish.
Only the telescopic leg of Naldo would claw back the ball and stop him as he bore down on goal.
Bremen were already 3-0 up. It would be five by full time. They were incisive where union were stodgy, determined when Union were doubtful.
Benymina’s would be Union’s best chance in a game they never had a chance in. They wore white shirts with a thin red pinstripe and the letters ISP in an oval in the middle. The shirts would be gone by the end of the month, the most valuable contract in Union’s history to that point torn up.
It was a gesture not un-noticed when Union were drawn into an argument about their current sponsor.
It shows the quandary at the heart of the club. Whether it is more worthy to fight a battle against a vicious past of the city, or an uncertain future? They have come so far. Things have changed so much, apart from the riotousness in the stands and the volume of their voices.
Back then they never stood a chance against Bremen.
But now they do.
That loss to Bremen in the first round of the Cup has remained long in the minds of those who were there. Those who were packed onto the stands, as the old calypso song goes, “back to back, belly to belly.” It sits at the pit of my stomach still, gnawing away.
Photo courtesy of Tobias Hansch at www.unveu.de