Don’t bet on it

It was a beautiful night in Lichterfeld, and there was a clash between their own LFC and Türkiyemspor – two teams that know about bad runs of form. It was a corker (3-3) and the intrigue wasn't just on the pitch.

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Photo by Ian Stenhouse

Sometimes everything just clicks into place. A beautiful sunny evening, for instance, with the sun setting on the charming Lichterfelder Stadion seemed pleasant enough – the tree lined athletics stadium manages to feel both intimate and modern – but I wasn’t expecting a flood of goals, a smattering of amateurish tactical manoeuvrings, a hundred shrill kids filling the gap of the missing Ultras in the grandstand behind me and the machinations to get around the football authorities so that a Regionalliga team can be mentioned in the same breath as Manchester Utd.

Don’t let anyone tell you the Oberliga is boring. Lichterfelder FC, who has been enduring a torrid season so far and was still looking for their first home goal of the season – let alone points – was hosting Türkiyemspor, the team that only a couple of weeks ago had won their first game in over a year. It had been for them, needless to say, a very long year.

But Türkiyem’ have turned a corner after their relegation. They have a new manager in Marco Gebhardt, a footballer who the word classy barely musters justice. I sometimes thought that it was just his Zidane bald spot that made me think so, but (similarly to the man himself) he always seemed to have an extra second of time on the ball. It took Union a long time to replace him.

Despite Lichterfelder’s problems, they have a solution, one that is almost self-perpetuating. The first team are just one of the 53 teams that they manage to put onto the pitch every week. From kids to women to oldies, the majority of their over 1000 members play for the club in one way or another. It is hugely impressive. They know that they can’t offer the cash that others in the league can, but they know that their record in bringing through youngsters is exemplary.

The kids that flooded the stand behind me that were making the shrill noises? They were LFC kids. It helps also, on a quiet and balmy Friday evening to also have some vocal fans coming in after their game had finished on one of the smaller pitches across the park.

Türkiyem thought that they had found a solution to their own financial worries, and it came in the form of a sponsorship deal with Betfair, the English online gambling behemoth. In the press release that announced the deal the company really did mention Türkiyem’ and Manchester Utd. in the same breath. Really. They went on to say of the hugely likeable Kreuzberg club: “Türkiyemspor has … done so much for this neighbourhood in giving immigrants a hand and helping them integrate themselves into society. In our views it’s more than just a soccer club.”

Or as Betfair’s Barcelona client says, “Més que un club.

The trouble was that they hadn’t checked the rules out. It is against the NOFV regulations to advertise gambling on shirts. Türkiyem’ were threatened with fines or a points deduction and told that it had to stop.

Although I think the decision is absurd, I was caught in my tracks the first time I saw the new kit in the window of a sports shop on Kottbusser Tor. I didn’t clock the Türkiyem’ badge, but mistook it for a Turkey national kit. A Turkey national kit with the words Betfair emblazoned across the front, in the days just after Fenerbahce had been kicked out of the Champions League for their part in match fixing allegations.

The cunning solution was to just have the legend “Be Fair” on the front, a cunning solution, but it remains to be seen whether they will get away with it. But fair is exactly what Türkiyem were on Friday – impeccably so.

Cruising at 3-0 with half an hour to go Gebhardt’s team were bossing a game which had been so relaxed, it was lying down. Soporific would do it justice. But it roared into life with the excellent Tobias Dittmann’s penalty for LFC’s first home goal of the season.

Türkiyem’s keeper, Christopher Gäng, had made some great saves earlier, but now he was coming under real pressure. Gebhardt had opted to try and hold the midfield, but with it had given away the momentum. It was, nominally, an attacking change, 4-5-1 became 4-4-2, but it failed. Lukoki Kalixto slalomed through the Türkiyem’ defence, feeding Dittmann for the second, and then another free kick in minute 92 fell to Halil-Ibrahim Ince who hammered it home for the unlikely equaliser.

The kids went wild as their heroes celebrated such a comeback. For Gebhardt it will have hurt, but under his leadership Türkiyem’ can look forward to a bright future. And LFC? Well, if they can do that, then with the kids behind them, they can do anything.