1. FC Union Berlin are in the semi-final of a national cup tournament for the fifth time in the club’s history. Ahead of the match in Leipzig on Wednesday, Union can look back on four previous semi-finals and five matches – our goal difference stands 13:12 and we have progressed through to the final on three previous occasions.
Two years after the club was established in its current form, 1. FC Union Berlin tasted glory in 1968 – until the promotion to the Bundesliga, the greatest achievement in the club’s history. On the road to the final, Union took on city neighbours Vorwärts Berlin in the last four. Jürgen Nöldner put Vorwärts Berlin ahead in front of 10,000 supporters at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei but Hajo Betke and Wolfgang Wruck struck to secure a 2-1 win for the Köpenick club. The headline of B.Z. read “Unions Pokal-Trump stach” and Die Neue Fußballwoche highlighted “good game plan” in its report.
A different kind of challenge faced 1. FC Union Berlin almost 18 years later. First, a change in FDGB-Pokal format meant the semi-final would be contested over two matches, the aggregate winner progressing to the final at the Stadion der Weltjugend in Berlin. The second was the opposition: a famous name in Dynamo Dresden. With 20,000 at the home leg on April 30 1986, 1. FC Union went down 2-1. Ralf Minge and Ulf Kirsten netted for Dresden, with Union’s Ralf Sträßer managing to give the Köpenick club a lifeline to set up a decisive return leg a week later on May 7.
A Berlin final was still in touching distance. But Dresden was a stern opponent, winning the trophy three times in the early 80s and consistently finishing runner-up in league business. Dresden’s Matthias Döschner scored two, as did Matthias Sammer, while Dixie Dörner scored an own goal to give the home team one foot in the final and a 3-1 half-time advantage (2-5 aggregate). Something special would be needed to give Union a chance of progression – and it came. An iconic second-half ensued at the Dynamo-Stadion as 1. FC Union found a way to battle back. It was Sträßer who shot on 63 minutes before Ralph Probst levelled at 3-3 five minutes later. Rene Unglaube finished an incredible comeback on 73 minutes as Union marched into a 4-3 lead on the night, 5-5 on aggregate. A dramatic away goal triumph secured a final berth for Union in the FDGB Pokal. The Berliner Zeitung read “A great Union XI in the final!” while the Sächsische Zeitung wrote in its report: “When everything looked done, Union came back.”
Union reached the final four in 1991 of the FDGB Pokal with eastern competitions still existing at this point. Union met FC Stahl from Eisenhütterstadt who were competing in the top division of East Germany. Frank Bartz and Torsten Richert struck for FC Stahl who were too strong on the night. “Union’s revolt remained fruitless,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung.
In 2001, 1. FC Union Berlin reached the DFB Pokal final, and as a Regionalliga side in Tier 3. Borussia Mönchengladbach made the trip to Berlin for the semi-final on February 6 with 18,000 packed into the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. Despite Bozidar Durkovic scoring the opening goal, Gladbach fought back with two goals from Arie van Lent. Union dug deep with a huge atmosphere behind them and equalised through Steffen Menze to take the game to extra-time and then penalties. Daniel Teixeira, Michael Zechner, Durkovic and Ronny Nikol scored for Union from the penalty spot, which goalkeeper Sven Beuckert made some vital saves. The following day, Der Tagesspiegel wrote “Super, Union!” after a historic night in Köpenick. The final wasn’t to go Union’s away, however, as Schalke ran out 2-0 winners at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
History is still to be written for 2022.