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There was a strangely sad, though beautiful and quite remarkable moment at the 1.FC Union members meeting back in 2009, when Jimmy Hoge received his golden needle. The highest honour the club can present.

He was not a man often at a loss for words, but this time there was a choking in his throat and a swimming of his mind and a look in Jimmy’s eyes as he stared out at the crowd cheering his name.

Jimmy wasn’t particularly short, he just looked so next to his gangling club and country team-mate, Wolfgang Wruck. But he hunched when he ran, and, like Diego Maradona, it was his low centre of gravity that allowed him to beat a man in the blink of an eye. He was also handsome, with dark brooding eyes that could flash in a second with a spark of electricity as he built up to a punchline.

He’d mostly kept his hair. In that way he was lucky. It was once thick and dark, it was now only just thinner above the temples, and a brilliant white.

But he looked confused. He didn’t approach the lectern. He’d been invited up to collect his award after a brief speech by Steffen Baumgart, yet he didn’t even really look like he was sure he belonged there at all.

Despite the cheering. Despite the love pouring out from the room over the lip of the stage, washing all over him.

Contrary to everything that is intrinsic to The Legend of Jimmy Hoge, he just couldn’t drag the words out that would fit, that could sum up how he felt at that moment. He approached Baumgart, who was still loitering stage left, pointed to his eyes and muttered. Baumgart led him to the front, an arm tenderly around his shoulder like Kris Kristofferson looking after Sinead O’Connor all those years ago.

He said that this was a little unusual, but Jimmy was overwhelmed. There was nothing he could, or needed to add.

Everybody, fortunately, knew what Jimmy wanted to say anyway. He loved them all as he loved his club and his sport.

I’ve met people who saw him play and they’ll happily say he was one of the best players ever to grace the football pitches of the DDR. They’ve said that he was fast and clever and could beat a man from outside right like he was just out walking the dog. It was that easy for him.

His team-mate, Hartmut Felsch, said that all you had to do was give him the ball, and he’d be off, skipping past full-backs just like that. Felsch, himself, was a left-back. He knew what humiliation looked like when it took a human form. He’d faced it in training every day. It looked like Hoge.

And Pele – fucking Pele! – knew enough having played against him to say he looked like he had a motor in him. He called him “the man with the number seven on his back,” and that is blessing enough.

For Pele to notice you and to mention you is to be annointed from on high.

This was in early ’68, as Jimmy was at almost the peak of his powers. Hannah Arendt once said of that year “In years to come people will talk about 1968 in the same way that we talk about 1848.”

But for everyone in that room that night it had nothing to do with geopolitics and a series of uprisings that would either be cracked down upon or sold out to the highest bidder.

It was simply the year that Union won the Cup. The only time they ever would.

1968, to them, means the debut of Mäcki Lauck, the goals of Wolfgang Wruck and Ralf Quest. And it means the beginning of Jimmy’s greatest story of all. The one he’d dine out on for the rest of his life.

The story that somehow even managed to supercede the one that should have been told more often about him; the one where Jimmy Hoge would be treated as cruelly by the state as anyone ever would, when they took away the one thing he could do better than anyone else. When they said he could never play football ever again.

For singing the West German national anthem, pissed in a pub.

It was best told by Jimmy at his regular spot, under the tree by the old foresters house before a game. With a beer in his hand, eyes twinkling and a rapt audience who didn’t care how many times they’d heard this story.

For his footballing talents were matched only by his ability to hold court, to spin a yarn out for as far as it could go and reel it back in, as everyone listening hung on his every word. Sure, the facts would get a little trampled into the muddy ground of the story every now and again, but every good storyteller knows this is a necessary part of the show.

Now he’s gone, though, the best version of Jimmy’s story is in the collection, “Alles auf Rot,” and is written by Torsten Schulz. He tells it through his uncle, drinking beer and schnapps at table at the Bahndamm Eck, a rotting boozer that also featured in his novel, Nilowsky. It’s a re-telling with as much warmth and humanity as the original ever would be.

Remember, Union should never have won that cup final in 1968. Jena were the champions and the best team in the country. And they’d gone 1-0 up before Jimmy even had a touch of the ball. He once joked that he thought he might as well just go home there and then.

But it was all part of the story.

After their comeback, and 2-1 win, Hoge and his pal, the Jena keeper, Wolfgang Blochwitz, went out on the tiles. They had a couple of beers and then they had a couple more, before finding themselves in the company of two female students.

Waking up in their digs the next morning, Jimmy knew he had to get back to Berlin, but he didn’t know Halle. Who did? Compared to Berlin it was an outpost, a desert. He’d never had cause to paint its walls Union red before.

He flagged down a van driver who agreed to take him to the station, but only if he agreed to help him on his rounds along the way.

Which all just leaves us with Schulz’s uncle, telling a rapt audience of drinkers and the disregarded, those who had slipped through the cracks of socialist society (knowing that these guys were, of course, Hoge’s guys, too), about how the hero of the cup, hungover as all hell, found himself delivering fruit and veg through the miserable, grey early morning streets of Halle.

Schulz conjours the fag smoke hanging thick in the air, the yellowing walls of the Bahndamm Eck, the biting taste of korn with a pull of a beer as a cleanser, its droplets having run down the bulging tulip sides of a branded glass caught, and only partially absorbed, by a thin white paper doily fitting loosely around the bottom of the stem.

His uncle is the true hero of the tale. For it is he who drives Hoge back to Berlin in the end, in his “blood-blister” of a Trabant. And it is as it should be, because who would tell a great story in a setting like that and not put themselves at the heart of it?

Anyone who drinks in such boozers knows the people around that table, as they know how to keep them there through the fine old art of the well spun yarn.

Schulz read his story about his uncle and his encounter with Jimmy Hoge to a packed out audience at the Berliner Ensemble a couple of years ago. It was for the launch of the book and it was packed to the rafters. I was at the edge of the stage, partially worrying about the ghost of Helene Weigl, and what she’d think about me drinking a beer on her stage – she was a terrifying genius of a woman, Brecht’s wife, and she had a famous lack of patience for those who didn’t respect her theatre – but mostly I was looking out at the Unioner in the palm of Schulz’s hands.

Though they all knew the story, they’d heard it a thousand times before, it was so beautifully told, they were hanging on to his every word. They laughed and then at the end they also cried. As did Schulz.

For it was just a matter of weeks after Jimmy Hoge had died.

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