There’s a special bond between German football club Union Berlin and its fans and the closeness of that relationship was honored in a poignant way over the weekend as the team made its Bundesliga debut.
Ahead of Saturday’s match against RB Leipzig, Union supporters held up placards of deceased loved ones with the inscription “Endlich dabei” (Finally there).
The deceased were even counted in the official attendance. The Stadion An der Alten Försterei’s official capacity is listed as 22,402, but Saturday’s attendance was recorded as 22,467.
The stadium, which is the largest purpose-built football ground in Berlin, was officially opened in 1920, but has undergone a series of structural changes over the years, notably the refurbishment and roofing of the standing areas between June 2008 and July 2009.
According to the club’s website, Union fans “built their own stadium,” with over 2,300 volunteers providing 140,000 hours of labor time, helping the Berlin team save millions of dollars.
Saturday’s tribute was organized by a collection of fan groups, with images of the departed fans raised prior to kick-off as the club’s anthem rang out. The costs of their tickets were paid for by supporters.
However, Union’s introduction to the Bundesliga proved a tough one – they were hammered 4-0 by Leipzig.
Last season Union finished third in German football’s second tier to earn a playoff against VfB Stuttgart.
Union’s subsequent two-legged victory and promotion saw the club become the first from East Berlin and the fifth from the former East Germany to gain passage into the Bundesliga.