Union Berlin fans silently protest RB Leipzig ownership and remember passed supporters

August 19 – Germany’s Union Berlin reinforced their cult status when their fans staged a 15-minute silent protest aimed at opponents RB Leipzig’s ownership by energy drinks company Red Bull at the weekend.

German ownership rules demand that members have a ‘50+1’ stake in the shares of a club. In one of few exceptions, Red Bull have a majority control of the club.

The protest highlighted the culture clash that is dividing German football between proponents of a further liberalisation of the ownership structure and the advocates of maintaining the ‘50+1’ rule. At kick off Union fans had already taunted Leipzig by unfurling a banner which read ‘After 10 years, once again an East German club in the Bundesliga’.

When the stadium finally did burst to life, the visitors took the lead through Marcel Halstenberg. It was the first goal in a 0-4 defeat that exposed the gap between the Bundesliga newcomers and RB Leipzig.

Union Berlin’s ascent to the top tier of German football has been a remarkable story with fans averse to promotion and a club wary of a rampant commercialisation.

Historically, Union Berlin were the worker’s club in East Germany, playing second fiddle to Berliner FC Dynamo, a club inextricably linked to former Stasi boss Erich Mielke.

In 2004 the supporters came to the club’s rescue, donating blood as part of a ‘Bleed for Union’ campaign to raise funds for their struggling fourth-tier side. In 2008, fans stepped in again as they volunteered to renovate the club’s stadium.

Sunday’s game at Stadion An der Försterei, on the outskirts of Berlin, was also notable for exceeding the maximum stadium capacity of 22,012 with the official attendance reading 22,467. Fans who passed away were also remembered and counted as part of the attendance.

Those 455 extra were part of an initiative called ‘Endlich dabei’ (Finally There), organised by Union fan groups, which saw fans hold up 455 banners displaying the faces of supporters who passed away before their club made it to the top flight. Fans also paid their price of a ticket for the game, hence Union counted their presence in the official attendance.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1585574764labto1585574764ofdlr1585574764owedi1585574764sni@o1585574764fni1585574764