By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Union Berlin to play friendly in front of up to 5000 fans

1. FC Union Berlin will allow up to 5000 fans to attend a pre-season friendly against 1. FC Nürnberg that will mark 100 years of football at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
Top tier Bundesliga side 1. FC Union Berlin has announced that the club will commemorate the 100th anniversary of its home stadium by allowing up to 5,000 fans in the Stadion An der Alten Försterei for an exhibition match on September 5th. Club officials deliberately scheduled the pre-season friendly as a means of emphasizing the club’s deep historical roots. Opponents 1. FC Nürnberg, who most recently only avoided relegation to the country’s third tier, were German champions when Union’s stadium first opened its gates to spectators in August 1920.

Many will recall that Union were literally the last resisters to spectator-free “Gesiterspiele” in the chaotic first week in March that preceded the COVID-enforced global lockdown. After the 24th round of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season was completed before packed stadiums of protesting fans, the decision as to whether to allow supporters in for the subsequent round was left to individual clubs.

At the time, FC Union president Dirk Zingler proclaimed that he would allow both home and traveling fans into the Köpenick venue for a high-profile fixture against FC Bayern München that coming Saturday. Zingler noted that German Health Minister Jens Spahn had stopped short of issuing any nationwide emergency decrees. German footballing magazine Kicker famously quoted him as saying “Mr. Spahn cannot advise us to obstruct our business.”

Rapidly shifting circumstances quickly forced the reversal of this decree. Within a span of three short days, the German Bundesliga joined the ranks of virtually every other global sport in suspending the domestic season. Passionate Union fans remained insistent that they be able to celebrate their team’s historic first-ever season in Germany’s top flight. In another highly publicized incident after the league’s 30th round, a group of ultras summoned the team for a visit to a biergarten adjacent the stadium following a 1-1 draw with Schalke. Though a controversial act to some, police reported that social distancing guidelines were observed.

Many other Bundesliga clubs currently plan to allow a limited number of fans in for their pre-season fixtures. UEFA has also announced that it plans to experiment with thirty-three-percent stadium capacity for coming SuperCup fixture between UCL winners and Europa-league champions FC Sevilla in Budapest on September 24th. In order to properly assist local contact tracing efforts, Union will only allow clearly identified local season ticket-holders into the stadium. Supporters shall be tested upon entry and must observe masking requirements whenever moving from their designated eat.

Such encouraging trial runs notwithstanding, it doesn’t look as if fans in the Bundesrepublik can hope to attend league matches before January 2021. A nation-wide ban on large public gatherings looks to remain in place through December. The 36 clubs in the first and second professional tiers remain bound by a mutual agreement barring fans unless uniform guidelines are observed. Clubs can only circumvent this pact with individually scheduled friendlies.

League officials have pointed out that experiments involving 100 remain a possibility. It appears as if any bolder moves will be put off until after the new year.

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