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Jacob Sweetman: Return of the Mac

Sports should be as removed from the hardships of life as Goethe's nightingale is, but sometimes the levity breaks through and it becomes easy to forget. In Köpenick as 1.FC Union played against Bochum there were a couple of moving examples.

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I often try to labour the point here. This is the sports desk, not the desk of constant sorrow and not the desk in charge of the quest for knowledge and light. Sports should be as removed from the hardships of life as Goethe’s nightingale is, but sometimes the levity breaks through and it becomes easy to forget.

There were two such examples on Monday night in Köpenick as 1.FC Union lost at home to VFL Bochum. It started with a sign – a massive fucking sign that merely stated “Kämpfen Günni Kämpfen“, a message to Günter Langer, a Unioner desperately sick in hospital. That the Eisern faithful erected a ten metre banner for him to see from his sickbed on TV shows the respect in which he is held. If there was shit needed shoveling, it turns out, then Günni would be there to do it. Uwe Neuhaus spoke movingly about him a couple of weeks ago and it is obvious that his illness has shocked the club as a whole.

Without people like him, after all, there would be no Eisern Union. There would be no football at the Alte Försterei. Sure it’s a stupid game, but the connections sometimes between a club and its fans run as deep as the lines in Friedhelm Funkels craggy old face. It was nice to see that these connections can still exist in Sepp Blatters 21st century world of football and that there is still room for a bit of heart.

Not that the crowd that night was feeling particularly charitable, it has to be said. The referee, the appropriately named Robert Hartmann, had a stinker, booking Bernt Rauw after 17 seconds (maybe he’s a Cure fan, the miserable sod) and thus ensuring that a poisonous atmosphere would remain. And remain it did, with every botched decision came the whistles of derision from the terraces. Although someone to jeer does keep one’s mind off the cold almost as well as the joints being wolfed down before the game outside. 

But after 50 minutes something else happened to put a bit of perspective on things. Under a late, but not particularly malicious looking challenge from Macchambes Younga Mouhani, Matias Concha’s leg collapsed under him. As the howls from the stands around him grew feverish Mouhani reeled away to the halfway line. He knew it was bad, and looked shocked. Concha’s shin was now jutting out at a right-angle in a hideously familiar angle to anyone who has seen the pictures of Eduardo for Arsenal, or for that matter David Busst playing for Coventry against Man. Utd. years ago, whose break actually made Peter Schmeichel wretch inside his own penalty box. It was a bad one.

Concha will be out for a long time. He won’t be seen until next season and that is a long time for a young man in his career to miss. Poor old Mac looked mortified about it, and he apologised immediately after the game. This is the guy who always led the ridiculous celebratory dancing. To see him so cowed was weird. The cliché whenever this happens is to say that “he’s not that kind of player”, something that seems to be repeated about Robert Huth (the Stoke City and former Union defender) more than should be necessary. Mouhani certainly isn’t “that sort of player”, but he has the pace of a 37-year-old. It could well be argued that Christoph Dabrowski’s single goal of the game for Bochum would have been stopped forty yards up the pitch where it began if Mattuschka was playing.

Bochum held on for the rest of the game, with Union switching to a revolutionary 2-1-7 formation at the end, Mouhani’s partner at the back, Bone Uaferro, playing his first ever game at this level indicating how stretched their squad has become in the run up to Christmas. Bochum played like all of Funkel’s teams; with two banks of four so flat you could be playing table football with them. You could almost make out the poles going through them.

Anyway, it was a sickener and seems stupid arguing about a refereeing performance afterwards, or even about three points lost. To Concha and to Günni, let’s hope there will be plenty more games to be won yet.