‘Wir sind Hertha. Wir sind Berlin’
“Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear? Like you could fall and no one would care?…
Well let that lonely feeling wash away,
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay,
‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand… you can reach, reach out your hand.
Someone will come running and I know, they’ll take you home…”
If I was ever asked to describe my club and everything I associate with supporting it using the lyrics of a song, I’d think for a while… but ultimately there is one I would always come back to.
There’s a popular musical in the United States, soon to be making it’s away to UK, entitled ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. It’s the story of a young man that just struggles to belong, who struggles with what’s inside his own head and is searching for some means of acceptance whilst trying to make sense of the world around him, yet at the same time feeling utterly alone. Whilst the rest of the story isn’t necessarily as relatable, as Evan fabricates a like in order to popularise himself, the essence of his character is one that everyone, at some point in their lives, can relate too.
In that story, there’s a song… it’s called ‘”You Will be Found’. It’s a moment in the show where Evan is surrounded by people he barely knows, but of who are telling him he is NOT alone, that whenever you are feeling completely empty, broken or alone there is someone out there that cares, there is something that can pull you out of the darkest places you’ll find yourself in.
‘Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you, and when you’re broken on the ground, you will be found. So let the sun come streaming in cos you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again, if you only look around, you will be found.’
Lyrically, the song always reminds me of Berlin, more so of Hertha BSC.
It sounds totally over the top from a distance, I know.
It’s not clear or obvious from first glance just why. To link the two without understanding the personal background behind it, one could almost assume I was being a total sap, a soppy little fool who cares far too much about things that in the grand scheme of life, do not matter.
But the truth is, everyone who has been a low point in their lives that managed to claw their way back out of it, has a reason for that happening, whether it be a person, an event or something else… people invest their time into something that gives them sustenance, gives them life when they believed perhaps at one point they either didn’t have one or they didn’t one worth anything. This is our escapism.
For some its music, for some its theatre, for some it’s a little of everything and for me it’s Berlin. And this all shapes up because of experiences, the vast majority of them not exactly pleasant, an complicated heritage and a love of a sport shared with millions.
I could’ve chosen any club in Germany to support… once I established that German fans and their traditions were far more exciting, fun and meaningful than what the English equivalent had become over years of peeling away and disintegration, it could’ve so easy to give support to the likes of successful clubs like Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund… after all, I detest losing, and admittedly since childhood I’ve been a sore loser. But it had to mean more than that. It wasn’t Hertha BSC that grabbed my attention at first, but a more significant connect and bond with the city of Berlin. The tale begins with that moment… but the story of the ‘football girl’ begins way further back.
Football crazy: The family connection.
Most fans start of young. I was no exception to that.
Nor was I an exception to the fact most young football fans inherit their love of the game from their parents.
I may live in London now and have done for the past 6 years. I wouldn’t change anything about that, in fact I’d rather face a firing squad than be forced to move back to my hometown.
The place is so small it’d just drive me to the point of insanity now.
I wasn’t even born in my actual ‘home town’. Myself and my twin sister were born in Nottingham, only because the local hospitals were full… what a brilliant start to life that was, not even born and already not belonging anywhere.
The feeling of displacement and no sense of belonging was something that was going to haunt us throughout life.
We were raised in a small town in Northamptonshire, a little boring old market town called Wellingborough…where nothing much ever really happens, and probably never will.
In terms of footballing sides we had to pick and choose from, professional clubs were few and far between in the East Midlands. Our biggest club these days would ultimately have to be Leicester City, who brought huge pride to the region when they miraculously won the Premier League title.
Other than that we had the Northampton Town side, known as the Cobblers in League Two. Peterborough United were another side relatively close by, MK Dons were a side that no good soul was ever going to support considering the manner in which they were formed, and other than that we had very little to choose from.
Rugby was the sport that the area was more known for, with the Northampton Saints being a hugely successful club.
So what’s one to do instead?
Support the grass roots of course!
That’s exactly what me and my father started to do in 2004.
It all comes in the form of WTFC (Wellingborough Town Football Club), a tiny, non league side at the very bottom of the footballing pyramid in England.
In fact, Wellingborough town were known for something… they defeated Tottenham Hotspur in Spurs’ first ever FA match… but other than that? Not much to brag about.
Even at that lower level, clubs still struggle to run financially. It all depends on the efforts of the locals to keep the clubs afloat.
In the 1990’s, Wellingborough, know as the “Doughboys” from the traditional town food creation ‘Ock and dough’, were forced to fold entirely, having existed as a football club since the 1880’s.
Whilst it was a sad day for many of those that followed the team, in times where the club chairman was forced to play a game because the club couldn’t field a team otherwise, I was far too young at the time to be affected by it.
It was however, sad for my father, who had attended games at the ground known as the ‘Dog and Duck’ with his own dad, my Grandfather, since he was a child.
A tradition passed down, my dad was at one time, quite heavily involved with helping the club out, but over time, backed away and eventually WTFC was liquidated and ceased to exist.
Meanwhile, myself and my dad still enjoyed watching amateur football sides, there many of them around Northamptonshire. In fact, there was another club next door, who bore the name “Wellingborough Whitworths”, named after the “Whitworths” flour mill in the town. Sometimes we’d pop along to their matches, as well as Irchester FC and Raunds FC. Not once did we attend a professional game.
My father is the type of man that dislikes travelling and refuses to pay the ridiculous amounts money professional clubs in England now request for tickets. Instead, we’d watch all the highlights on Saturday night via the show “Match of the Day”, share thoughts and have a laugh about the game.
In short, football was the one thing myself and my Dad did together on a regular basis for years. Over time that changed, he became more involved in other activities and I grew up, whilst we parted a little on football we were stilled bonded over the sport as well as NFL.
In 2004, Wellingborough Town FC, began to slowly reestablish itself as the towns sporting team.
What began as a youth project, eventually developed into something more as the youth prodigies of the town gained more success and were rewarded by being formed as a ‘First Team’ rather than a competing youth side.
The first game of the season in Northamptonshire’s ‘United Counties League Division One’ attracted a large crowd for that level… in fact over the course of the next three years WTFC would be setting a few recorded for football attendances of the level they were playing at. The average attendance for lower level non league football here is around 70-100 at best.
During that first season, Wellingborough town were attracting crowds of over 500, on Christmas day, in a derby against Whitworths, over 1000 spectators were present.
The team was also marvellous to watch. A group of young lads who were just playing for fun on their weekends, not being paid any extensive amounts of money, just there to enjoy it. It was a group of ordinary guys, one was a builder, one was a decorator, and our keeper was my secondary school form tutor and PE teacher.
But the fans of the club were fantastic during those first few seasons, they were loud, fun, they were part of the atmosphere that really was unheard of at this level.
During their inaugural season back in the ‘UCL’, Wellingborough town lost only one game and were promoted as runners up to the United Counties Leagues Premier Division. They also reached the final of and won the local trophy “The Junior Cup”, where the final was played at Northampton Town’s stadium ‘Six fields’.
‘Always home: Wellingborough Town FC was my first ever experience as a football fan. Stay local, support your local club’
In the second season, the first after promotion, a new manager arrived, new players arrived and the wages increased a little, which wasn’t uncommon. The support for the team remained the same, even for away matches in which supporters were taken by coaches along with the players. Several of the new players that were introduced had already had professional experience with the outside “Rushden and Diamonds”. In fact striker Darren Collins were their all time top scorer. The new player manager had also come from the Diamonds.
Unfortunately, Wellingborough missed out on promotion to the ‘Southern League Division One’ because of an obscure rule in the promotion playbook. It wasn’t just UCL teams that could be promoted to the division, because the bracket of teams competing in the Southern League covered more ground than the local divisions such as the UCL. WTFC finished third, but missed out as another third placed club in a different division… from there however it all seemed to go down hill.
During the next season the team weren’t performing quite a consistently, the manager parted ways despite being well liked, and with him several of the players exited as well. When a new manager was brought in, it was clear his intention was to win games at literally any cost. The fans of the clubs often attended supporters club meetings to discuss the running of the club, me and my dad were a part of this set up too. The new manager was due to attend one of these but failed to show up. Along with that the demand for wage increases became greater, the new players brought in were not only failing to perform on the pitch but looked as though they just didn’t care anymore.
At which point the new manager was sacked for lack of decent results and with him about half the team left as well… and the club was beginning to struggle yet again financially as it had struggled to pay the players what they requested.
At this point, myself and my dad began to wonder “Is there any point in being here anymore?”
The prices for tickets to matches went up massively. You’re now expected to pay £5-7 for a home game, in a division where the standard is in contrast to some professional leagues that charge the same price, poor. The entire running of the club became toxic, luckily for us we managed to avert the implosion of the club before it took place.
What we have loved about the non league grass roots experience was that we as supporters had made it what we wanted it to be, but now it was following the same ridged path as professional clubs had in England, focused on money and success and struggling to keep those that given the club life in the first place i.e the supporters, involved.
In the end, we just stopped going… the same was happening to other non league clubs as well. The game in England had just become one massive money pot. It was not what me and my dad wanted to see any more.
That didn’t stop me from being involved in football.
As a child my dad had never given his support to any particular professional outside, although he had told me that he owned a Manchester United Shirt as a child and admired the likes of George Best whilst growing up.
Growing up in a town with no professional club, instead being forced to get my fill of football from the Sky Box, I chose Manchester United as my team to follow.
Unlike those born in London, I had no affiliation to any professional local sides and whilst Manchester was not anywhere near close to where we lived, it was watching the likes of Ole Solskjaer, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, watching the 1999 European Cup final comeback against Bayern that really attracted me to them as a club. There was a philosophy at Man Utd… just give it everything you’ve got.
‘Back where you started : Me at Old Trafford, incidentally wearing a Hertha cap’
It was an era too before money took over. The majority of the 90’s Utd team were products of the youth setup there and their talented was crafted by Sir Alex Ferguson. It was that set up that made me love United for what they were, a success off their own hard work and backs.
Whilst football would change over the years especially in England, my own love for the game and those fundamental values, wouldn’t. But the love for German football and Hertha BSC would spawn from something other than just the values of football I grew up with.
Mental Health: The impact of a difficult upbringing
‘Hertha is unbeatable’: Hertha BSC create a choreo against FC Bayern München
Everyone goes through rough patches in their life and everyone’s life is difficult. I am no exception.
Some feel sorry for themselves, some develop difficulties and find themselves in dark places they can’t pull themselves out of and some eventually manage to discover something that just enables the light to shine through.
Not a single person on the planet can truthfully say they have had zero problems with mental health in their life. Some more than others, some worst than others, some diagnosed with issues and some that just struggle to process what’s happening around them. Half the time world doesn’t make sense, it would inhuman if anyone were able to go through life unscathed until the day they pass away.
And so, this is where my own story get’s a tad…emotional.
I don’t like pity, and I certainly don’t feel sorry for myself. What would be the point in that?
I wasn’t exactly an ‘easy child’ to deal with for my parents. I had major issues with hyperactivity, but that wasn’t the most difficult thing the family had to contend with.
My mother was diagnosed with a deadly disease, PVL (Periventricular Leukomalacia) along with Cerebral Palsy when she was a child. She was told she would not make it past 18 years old and that having children would be impossible. Well that clearly was false because my sister and I were born. Both diseases affect the brain and motor skills, and the affects of having two kids only made matters worse.
When we were just 5 years old, my sister and I were told (By our father who was informed by doctors), that ‘Mum only has 3 years to live’.
You can imagine the trauma that causes a 5 year old child.
But I always appreciated the honesty, rather than trying to hide the fact she was severely unwell.
Strangely, almost 18 years later, she’s still here… things aren’t perfect, the disease and her reaction to it has been something my sister and I have had to witness and gradually worsen over the course of a decade. This was just one factor though that made our upbringing difficult.
Over the years, especially when I moved to London, I began to hear stories from my sister about how difficult her home life with my parents was becoming. There were times that I began to blame myself for ‘abandoning’ her and putting my mother in this position because I was ‘the mistake’.
My sister and I were twins, in my head that meant that one of us was an ‘accident’, me being the youngster, to me it made sense that was to be me, and I began to blame myself for my mothers illness, believing that had I not been born, she’d never have become this unwell in the first place.
That sort of thought stems from depression, or at least depressive spells over time. It’s what happens when you have a rough life up until the age of about 18.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Our extended family didn’t make matters any better either, they were continuously at loggerheads with my mother, my fathers mother, our Grandmother, was constantly making any sort of normal family relationship difficult.
Something else happened when we were kids as well that had an impact. Someone we believed we could trust and treated like our own family, someone who we believed cared about my mum, attempted to break up the family entirely, and to make matters worse, attacked me and my sister… only when we, these two 8 year old kids, told someone, we weren’t believed.
Accompanied with the fact that we were easy targets in school as well, you can imagine things only got worse and worse, one thing after another.
Our Grandfather was born in Banja Luka, what is now modern day Bosnia and Herzegovina, but what was back then Yugoslavia. He had survived Nazi persecution and fought fascism as part of the Partisan movement. In 1948 he fled Yugoslavia and was given a choice… move to Germany or England.
He chose the latter, married and had four children.
But with him he had brought his foreign surname.
No one else in the school at the time had a name like it, this was long before the EU immigration debate began, before there was as many Poles living in the UK as there are now. It was extremely easy for other children to point at us and laugh, I recall being told to ‘Go back to your own country you dirty immigrant’ and ‘You don’t even belong here’ a number of times and when I finally reacted, I was the one that got into trouble for it.
Remember your heritage: My sister and I in Banja Luka, Bosnia, where our grandfather was born and lived until WWII
Teachers witnessed physical and verbal bullying and yet chose to just sit there and do nothing about it.
The mental impact of this sort of thing over a number of years can do and did indescribable damage, to ones self esteem, to ones self belief.
I was made to feel for almost a decade that I did not belong in my own country. I was a ‘tom boy’, the girl that liked guy stuff. The girl that liked sports and rock music, I was the ‘freak’, the ugly duckling, I was made to feel like I belonged absolutely nowhere and made to feel ashamed of my Grandfather, who, unbeknown to those that mocked our family roots, was part of the reason that they today, were free to do as they please, a man that had ensured the Nazis had no been victorious in Europe.
It took me almost a decade to feel a sense of pride in not being 100% British, it took learning slowly that this was their problem not mine, to understand that they were in the wrong…because if you’re made to feel a certain way or told something repeatedly for years, you actually begin to believe it.
Whilst I found some sustenance and release in music, learning to play 4 instruments and attending college where I actually began to made sense of the world, making friends that appreciated me for who I was, half the damage was already done.
There were times whilst still living at home with my parents where I would wander around the town in the dark at night time, coming to a bridge over the local rail tracks, standing there for minutes just for a split second wondering if jumping would be the easiest solution. The psychological damage was already done, it took substantial amounts of effort to walk home and then get up the next day.
It had been one thing after another after another, negative after negative, only after leavings school did things begin to look up but by this point both myself and my parents knew something wasn’t right.
My behaviour at certain points could not be deemed ‘normal’.
I was able to remember and recall certain events and information of importance to me, not to anyone else, in extensive detail. There were times I was able to memorise entire speeches or event details, pieces of history ect and no one could explain why. But there was also a problem with my hyperactivity. I found switching off difficult, sleeping was hard, my brain was often overpowered with information and I had a nasty explosive temper.
I found it difficult to stop talking and couldn’t bear it when a room was silent, I was always active and couldn’t stop, and along with that I had anxiety that was at some points, making me very unwell.
Doctors eventually established that I had ADHD, but there was anomaly on their test results regarding one significant factor that doesn’t appear in ADHD… ie the ability to remember things in detail. Instead this was a factor of ASD, Autistic Spectrum disorder, along with ADHD, it explained a lot about my behaviour but also personality. People would automatically just assume I was a chatty and loud person by default but the truth of the matter was I actually can’t help it, it’s a learned behaviour, a developmental disorder that is always present but often has a trigger…
Music, life, football: music was the initial escapism from ordinary life
It means we develop little obsessions, as means of a coping mechanism to the complicated world around us. It can also lead to complications later in the life, explaining depressive spells and the anxiety, difficulty communicating what we truly feel and saying sometimes what we don’t mean.
It explained the obsession with music, with football, we often look for things to invest our time in to get away from the overpowering information inside our own heads. It can be a blessing and a burden though. The blessing is that we can analyse things in microscopic detail and notice everything around us, incredibly observant. The burden? We notice everything around us and I mean everything. Even when we don’t want to see it.
The problem for me was that I still felt trapped at home and needed an escape out of that town in order to truly feel free.
I moved to London 2014, attended university studying aviation, another area of interest for me growing up. I’d always wanted to work in an airport, no idea why but it just fascinated me. 4 years in London, it gave me the opportunity to live in a city where you could start over, be anyone, a totally multicultural metropolis where your family nationality didn’t matter, but there were still points where I could feel that intolerance of foreigners creep up. London wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t a totally clean slate.
Just prior to moving down London however, was the moment everything would take a different shape… 2013, Columbiahalle, Platz der Luftbrucke, Berlin…
Finding purpose: Berlin 2013/14
Erste mal: My first time in Berlin was for a concert
In 2013, myself and a few friends were thrilled to learn out favourite band were going to be coming over to Europe for a tour… the problem? They were only performing at Download Festival in the UK and all independent venues were across the pond in Europe.
So what’s one to do? Simple… head overseas.
We discussed a few shows we could make, one was Amsterdam in the Netherlands, the other easiest option? Berlin.
It was also perfect for us, we had dozens of friends scattered across Germany and Austria who loved this band was much as we did. It would be a gathering of friends, a chance to have fun together in another country.
So we planned and planned and eventually managed to find the time, the funds to book flights to Berlin, tickets to see 3 Doors Down at the Columbiahalle and a hotel. Myself and two friends travelled together, the others met us over in Berlin.
The problem here was that we were there for so little time that we barely saw any of the city beyond the area of Tempelhof at Platz der Luftbrucke, where the concert venue was situated.
Whilst it was interesting to look at Tempelhof Flughafen and the old Airlift, we never had time to venture into central Berlin in that short time we stayed there.
The concert itself was fantastic, we met a handful of Berliners of whom we got along with incredibly well, the Berliners were welcoming to us and friendly and the only issue we had was a mixup with the S Bahn tickets not covering ABC for our trip back to Schonefeld the next day, which luckily we managed to scrape out of thanks for a kindhearted police officer.
It was a brief trip. It wasn’t my only trip planned in that period of time. The following month my sister and I travelled to Krakow for a summer break to explore the medieval city as well as history. We visited Auschwitz and the Schindler factory whilst there, in what is a life changing experience. But this does eventually play a role in my return to Berlin, as odd as it sounds right now.
That was our first trip abroad without the accompaniment of our parents. It gave me the bug for travelling whenever the opportunity arose.
About a year later, with the funds to travel in the summer, I wanted to return to Krakow because we had adored the city whilst there and I had inadvertently pledged to our Polish taxi driver whilst there that I’d return and visit the Salt Mine, something we missed out the first time round.
I was literally within seconds of booking my flights, one click away on the Ryanair website and then something struck me… I stopped and pressed cancel.
I turned to my mum who sat behind me and said ‘You know what, I want to go to Poland in the winter… I think, I’ll go Berlin. I didn’t get to see it properly last time’.
So the search started again, flights to Berlin instead.
What I didn’t realise until later, was that the dates I’d booked to be in Berlin, were right slap bang in the middle of the 2014 World Cup.
In fact the day I arrived was the day Germany were playing Algeria in the last 16 knock out round.
Fan Meile: Germany took on Algeria and thousands watched at the Brandenburger Tor
And this is where the realisation of the difference between English and German football begin.
June 2014, I arrived in sunny Berlin just before mid afternoon and ended up walking around Treptower Park, purely our of curiosity. I’d purchased the away strip Germany shirt at Luton Airport and had read up on the fanmeile before arriving. I knew exactly what I wanted to be doing in the evening.
I was totally alone. No family, no friends just me. Whilst there were other English speakers around the city, I was for once, totally free to do what I wanted, whenever I wanted.
Around the time I made it back from Treptower park, I realised it was time to make my way to the Brandenburger Tor to the famous ‘fan mile’.
It didn’t go exactly to plan, I found myself with some Americans and we pretty much stuck to each other like glue throughout the entire evening, just to ensure we didn’t get lost.
But the S Bahn Station at Brandburger Tor was closed, meaning we ended up following the crowd to Potsdamer Platz and walking a good mile before reaching the screen at the Brandenburg Gate, in that time becoming drenched as we were caught in a downpour but… the hundreds of thousands of German football fans all there for one huge party.
We weren’t scowled at or looked down on just because we weren’t German. In fact we were openly welcomed to join the party by the German contingent, who despite being plastered were not the typical aggressive footballing drunks like we have the England.
Instead, the alcohol seemed to make the more mellow.
The 2-1 victory against Algeria and the party that followed was the perfect way to begin this summer trip the capital of Germany but my love of the Berliners started from the moment I actually got lost on the U Bahn.
The line I desperately needed to get back to my hotel, at gone 1am, was closed for the night. I had never used the bus systems in Berlin and at this point my German skills were less than acceptable.
So I ended up wandering around Alexanderplatz completely alone for about 30 minutes trying not to panic, eventually finding a bus stop where people were gather.
A young lady, a local, immediately offered to help me find my way, I didn’t even have to ask. She and a handful of young football fans from the fanmeile escorted me onto the bus, and then ensured I made it back safely to where I was staying, without their help I’d have been completely lost.
On that journey one of lads asked me why I was wearing a Germany shirt. I just told calmly told me “I love it over here, I love your football culture”…
All before the beginning of Hertha BSC.
Three days I was in Berlin, just exploring the city, taking a number of walking tours with guides around the place, absorbing information about this fascinating city and its turbulent history. What struck a chord in me the most was that after so much turmoil, the Berliners had come together to ultimately fight for the city that they wanted. No matter how many problems came their way, the Berliners kept going and going. Once divided now united, the same could be said of their biggest football club Hertha BSC, who’s fans stand together like a wall, who’s team has a turbulent history like the city.
When it came time to leave Berlin in 2014, I didn’t want to go. There was still so much more I wanted to do there, more to see, parts of the outer city I’d had yet to explore, and what’s more there was something I wanted to do that I ran out of time to cross off the list.
The last evening I spent in Berlin in 2014, I travelled towards Charlottenburg. There was one, very significant place in the city I had yet to see on my trip… history ridden, old and now one of the magnificent sports arenas in the world.
The sun was setting when I finally reached the Olympiastadion, the sun was on the horizon, just about to fade turning the day into night. It gave the stadium this wonderful backdrop, it just looked so glorious, peaceful. The Olympic rings were captured so perfectly in the sunset and I was just stunned by this remarkable piece of architecture. The most frustrating part of this little detour out of the city centre, was that it was 9:30pm by the time I reached the Oly, the place was closed to visitors for the evening and so I didn’t have the chance to explore inside the stadium.
I just left the Olympiaplatz thinking to myself ‘I HAVE to see a game inside that place. I have to experience that’.
It didn’t cross my mind that Hertha BSC were the tenants of the Olympiastadion at the time. My brain was filled with the world cup instead, so my mind was set on the Nationalmannschaft. In fact, I knew very little about Germany’s clubs until I returned home.
Love at first sight: The first ever photo I took of the most beautiful stadion in the world. The Berliner Olympiastadion
It was actually my dad that drew my attention to Berlins football clubs. He’d heard rumours about this ‘incredible atmosphere’ in comparison to what English games had become.
My first experience with actually watching a professional game live, came about because I’d moved to London. I managed to get to a game at Wembley, to watch England play San Marino. In the space of four years at University, I also managed to see my beloved Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Nothing would even come close in comparison to my experience at the Olympiastadion.
When I returned home from Berlin, just a few months before leaving home to attend university, the world cup was in continuation. Germany were the eventual victors, my dad and I watched the destruction of Brazil together. I recall at one point, as Germany’s 4th goal went in, turning to him and whimpering ‘This has to stop. This is horrible to watch’.
I had wanted Germany to beat Brazil, I hadn’t wanted Brazil to be embarrassed like that. It shocked everyone in my house watching it.
I have no idea how the conversation arose but I remember my dad was listening to my stories about my trip to Berlin. He knew immediately that I’d grown this connection with the city, I couldn’t stop praising the Berliners and speaking positively of the place.
He asked me whether I’d heard about how different football was in Germany, because he had heard that German domestic football had this wild reputation for being loud, exciting and far more inclusive of the supporters and fans than top flight English football had.
He then asked if I’d heard about Berlin’s two clubs, Hertha and Union.
I had heard the names, I just hadn’t done my research yet. I started to look into the clubs right away… I was fascinated by what I found.
What drew me away from Union, which is usually the first port of call for fans outside Berlin looking for an exciting experience with a club of so called ‘traditions’, was the fact the club seemed to constantly be riding that wave of ‘Look what we’ve made, we’re so important. We never win anything, poor poor us’.
Whilst Union’s history is interesting in regards to how they saved themselves ie the ‘Bleed for Union’ campaign, and the fact their stadium is 80% all standing, what acted as a deterrent for me was the fact this was used by some people as a means of ‘Oneupmanship’ and from my perspective Union was not a club inclusive of fans from all over Berlin, merely a large section of support from the district of Köpenick. Very few Union fans seemed to be from further afield.
Hertha on the other hand was the complete opposite. Shrouded in controversy as many clubs are throughout their history, Hertha fans were all over the city even when it was divided. Fans from the east would attempt to get their fix of blue and white by listening out for crowd reactions on match day, by standing near the wall. When the wall eventually fell, Hertha fans from the East were free to see their beloved team play.
Hertha fans, like Union, were passionate but Hertha fans were particularly passionate about their city, taking great pride in it.
What made Hertha however, all the more fascinating, was their lack of success.
There was nothing to pinpoint why anyone would support them. They didn’t have the booster cushion that Union have in the claims that they had created something unique blah blah blah. They also hadn’t seen success in domestic football in the early 1930’s. Champions League spells were the closest the club had ever really come to being a successful German side and then it was all disrupted by the financial disaster that struck resulting in the loss of several key players and relegation. The relegation battles between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 were consistent. Up then down then up again, there was no level of consistency, Hertha were always on the edge of danger…
And that is what made the club so interesting.
Hertha may not have found success but that was the entire point. Watching a club that is so unpredictable, even now after a period of 3 seasons of stability and no relegation worries, including Europa League football, is still far better than watching a team that wins everything every season like Bayern Munich.
What’s more, the fans of Hertha BSC stick by their club no matter difficult things can be on the pitch. Whether it’s relegation or European spots in sight, the Hertha faithful make their way to the Olympiastadion every few weeks and sing… and sing… and sing…something we would never see here in England.
That atmosphere is impossible to replicate, but what made Hertha my choice was that the club was inexplicably linked with the history of the city. Berlin was divided, it fixed itself, it tried to heal and the Berliners kept fighting no matter what curve balls were thrown their way. Hertha replicated this attitude, that philosophy is woven through the fabrics of the club.
‘It’s okay if we fail, it’s ok if we fall, so long as we don’t remain on the ground and do everything to pick ourselves up again’.
I recall being at home one evening, I was trawling through YouTube videos of Hertha fans in the Ostkurve. It was watching these clips that attracted me to being a Hertha fan in the first place. I was just totally immersed in this totally crazy experience, this totally different world of football, that we’d never seen in England.
My mum was sitting next to me at the time, she was curious too.
I was watching a video of the Einlauflied.
I remember turning to her and telling her ‘Mum this is so amazing. Listen. This song, it’s to the tune of ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart, but its called ‘Nur nach Hause’.
She watched it too, she couldn’t believe how loud these supporters were. She was laughing at the supporters jumping in the Ostkurve, referring to them as ‘Jumping beans’. The only qualm she had was that it was possibly unsafe for me there, as football hooliganism isn’t exactly a thing of the past across the world.
She didn’t need to worry. As she was to learn later, I would be very well looked after by the Hertha fans.
From 2014 I began to follow Hertha, watching them on TV. On my days off Uni, my weekends, I’d watch Hertha BSC. At a time were Jos Luhukay was still in charge after the promotion from Bundesliga 2, I joined the Hertha world at a time of desperation.
The first game I actually recall being hugely frustrated about was the 2-2 draw with Werder Bremen at the Olympiastadion, in which Hertha had been 2-0 up. From then it was all down hill, Hertha were in a relegation scrap and I was stuck with flatmates laughing at me for supporting a club on the brink of yet another relegation.
More fool them.
I started supporting Hertha at an equally exciting time. The sacking of Luhukay meant the appointment of Pal Dardai, a man who’s still around today.
I watched as Hertha’s fighting spirit became evident, they managed to, by the skin of their teeth, survive relegation by finishing above Hamburg on goal difference.
This is what I loved about the game. The gritty battle, the fight, the fact you could be given a heart attack by the frights your own team give you. Accompanied with an adoration for the city and its people, Hertha just became my club.
Finding Hertha: September 2015… everything changes and nothing changes
Finding home: My first time standing in the Ostkurve
I had just moved to University when I decided that enough was enough. No more delays.
I’d been watching Hertha for over a year and never had the confidence to travel to Berlin again, alone to a game was just out of the question. But not, I was alone anyway. Away from parents, mingling with new people, making new friends, in a city I loved in London… It was time to try the Bundesliga experience for myself.
The only issue I had was that Hertha had a home game, on my Birthday…. against FC Koln.
My birthday just happened to be the first day of returning to University. It was far too risky to not attend, so the date was pushed back to the weekend prior to that game.
Hertha vs VfB Stuttgart.
Ticket for the Oberring.
Totally alone and with a bag full of my stuff… my flight home was immediately after the end of the game. That’s a mistake I haven’t made since.
I did however, finally have the chance to visit the Olympiastadion and explore the stadium in all its glory. Standing in the Ostkurve the day a game, knowing that the place would be bouncing not before long, it was unreal.
But the understanding of being in an arena where I knew absolutely nobody and where I wasn’t familiar with the language, it was frightening, especially for someone with high anxiety.
Whilst I’d taught myself the odd German word, a few football related words such a ‘Tor’ and ‘Unglaublich’, and learned the Hertha hymne, I still wasn’t any sort of expert on German, I wasn’t at all sure of how other around me would react if they found out I wasn’t a Berlin but I was still mixing it amongst the truest of Hertha fans around the Oberring Ostkurve.
Turns out, I didn’t need to be worried about that. I was wearing blue and white, that’s all that mattered in the end. I could’ve been from mars and had green polka dots on my face, so long as I was there singing and supporting Hertha, the fans were never going to treat me like an outsider. That’s part of what made the experience the final piece of the puzzle… this was going to be my team for the rest of my life now.
That game against Stuttgart couldn’t have gone any better either. We had a team that at the time, could take on the world. There was no expectation from Dardai’s men in 2015/16 other than trying to survive relegation. No one expected a 7th place finish and a DFB Pokal semi final.
No club is predictable either so early in the season.
For the first time, I sang with the Hertha fans ‘Nur Nach Hause’. It was one of the greatest feelings of release and unity one can experience in the sport.
The atmosphere was like nothing I’d ever experienced, not even a concert atmosphere was this buzzing. Then the game begins.
1-0 up after a fantastic turn by Genki Haraguchi in the box, was cut out by Toni Sunjic who equalised for Stuttgart after some horrendous defending in the box.
But it wasn’t long until Hertha were back on top. Just before half time, from nowhere, after Marvin Plattenhardt’s free kick was initially cleared, Fabian Lustenberger smashed the ball into the top corner from outside the box on the volley.
And that’s how it stayed.
The first taste of the Bundesliga and it was clear to me why people had spoken to highly of German football and its atmosphere.
Not for a single moment did the fans below us in the Ostkurve, stop singing. 90 minutes, with 20 minutes pre match and 10 minutes post, the noise was constant. I left the Olympaistadion with my ears ringing, and unfortunately in a rush to get to the trains to catch the S-Bahn to Schonefeld to leave.
When I arrived at the Schonefeld Flughafen, an elderly gentle, an airport cleaner approached me, glancing at me in all my Hertha gear, full on with scarf, shirt and baseball cap.
“Hertha? Die Endstand bitte?” (“Hertha? What was the final score?”) he asks.
“Zwei zu Eins!” (Two to one!)
“Zwei zu eins fur Hertha!” (Two to one for Hertha!)
The gentleman just beamed, he smiled so wide as he began to return to his job.
“Ahhaaaa! sehr schon!” (Ahaaaa very good!)
Meine Hertha: the ostkurve below
It was that sort of encounter that made me realise very quickly the despite a lack of success in terms of trophies, people in this city lived and breathed and loved football, more importantly they loved club and they were not afraid to show it.
Every corner, of the north, south and west and even the east (or former east) of Berlin is decorated with blue and white stickers from various fan groups across the Hertha fanbase. Each group makes their mark on their territory but the truth is they are painting the city blau weiss.
After that first match in Berlin, there is no question… Hertha fan created, heart stamped with the mark of the ships flags.
And it was time to return only this time, it would be with newfound friends,
Since that first game I have never returned to a Hertha game and watch it alone.
Though social media can be a harsh world it has opened up huge avenues to allow people to communicate. That’s inevitably how my relationship with the Berliners began. I began to speak those who had grown up with Hertha, those who had been born and raised in Berlin, many of whom had seen the fall of the wall, and the rise and fall of their beloved team… even down to rock bottom in the Dritte Liga.
I cannot remember how I came to know all these incredible people but the Hertha fan base grows every single day. In fact Twitter is how I met the vast majority of my friends in Berlin now, including one of my best friends of which I now attend every game with.
But it was also the kindness and openness, the acceptance of these (to begin with) total strangers, that still fascinates me.
If I was asked a question about what my background was, there was no malice behind it like there had been when I was a child in school, where I was taunted for it.
Instead there was genuine curiosity about this girl from England who loved football but hadn’t been attracted to the success of other German clubs like Bayern Munich… this kid who loved Hertha BSC, who was not a Berliner but for some reason, loved this club.
I like the fear of not knowing how games and the season will pan out, the unpredictability of Hertha, but whats more, I love the passion of the Berlin faithful who make their way to the Olympiastadion every few weeks to cheer on their team no matter what, in total unity and unison for just a few hours.
Hertha family: Hertha UK at a friendly against Crystal Palace
No matter what is happening in your life outside those walls, for just 100 minutes on a Saturday, is immaterial. You are there with strangers who may believe politically something totally opposite to you, with people you may on any other day, absolutely despise for their attitude to life ect but for just those beautiful 100 or so minutes, they are brothers and sisters, in blue and white, singing their heart out for the same reason as you. You are not greater or smaller than anyone. You simply are one of the thousands, one of the thousands of voices, singing for what you love.
There is no other feeling like that, to know you are actually part of the game. That sense of unity is indescribable.
The beauty of not winning: Hertha times 23 and counting
Anything is possible: Hertha beating Bayern München is possibly the greatest moment of my life
You can easily be accused of glory supporting when you tell people that your English club is Manchester United… but having grown up in a place without a professional side, the temptation to support a club in which you enjoy the style of play and admire the philosophy, the mindset of the management, is too great.
There has to be of course, some connection there. For me it was simply to the sort of football we were being treated to. I enjoyed what was happening on and off the pitch and many of those players during the 2000’s had come up through the ranks of the United Academy, they were born and bred locals and that was something intriguing to me.
Whilst United were wealthy, had the cash to purchase (and they did so too), watching the likes of Scholes, Giggs and the Neville brothers was far more interesting. The manner in which they became professionals was far more inspiring than some of the success stories that were coming out of the ever growing money pit of the English Premier league.
But part of the excitement of the Premier League is that there is a top 5 or 6, a collective group of contenders for the title every season.
Even when United and Chelsea had their day, there was still a race.
Sadly the same cannot be said of Germany.
Despite the fantastic atmosphere’s the fill the terraces of German clubs, the story season after season is usually the same… Bayern Munich are champions, a no one, not even Bayern it seems anymore, actually care.
The focus goes towards racing for the European spots in the Champions League and Europa League instead and the battle for relegation.
Bayern gather momentum during the summer through transfers that only a handful of other German clubs can actually afford and then poach from other German teams too, cherry picking the best of the Bundesliga for the following season.
What makes this tactic so unfair, isn’t just that they are weakening potential rivals, but that even that sign players from relegation threatened clubs, it ensures that no other team in Germany can strengthen themselves either, and they can’t afford to pay for top players from abroad.
Hertha BSC are worth around 173 million Euros… Bayern are worth over 800 Million. The cost comparison is almost laughable.
What it does mean however, is that balance in Hertha results is always totally unpredictable. Since the Pal Dardai tenure began, the club has been steady, finishing in 7th, 8th and 10th, The season Dardai took over, he (just about) saved the club from relegation, on goal difference alone meaning Hamburg would be in the relegation playoff and Hertha were safe.
His rebuild work began the following season, with a 7th place finish and a DFB Pokal semi final.
But the results were still completely unpredictable, probably more so now than before he took over as manager.
At least before, Hertha fans fully expected to lose games.
Now however, there are certain fixtures that fans believe they should easily be winning, with the strength and quality that is now in the side.
But that also leaves Hertha fans at a loss as to what to expect. There is far more hope and optimism than a few years ago for certain but there is always without a shadow of a doubt, that tiny niggling feeling that something will go wrong.
The Dardai era ended when it was clear that had he continued, the development would’ve remained in stasis where it was. He could do no more than he already had. He had done a monumental task, he had stabilised the club. We were not longer relegation candidates. He has given us victory over Bayern, he had done everything. But it was time to move forward with new style which was where Ante Čović came in.
That’s part of what makes Hertha far more exciting to watch than Bayern or even Dortmund.
No one ever knows which Hertha they are going to get.
The other with flair, the one that plays exciting attacking football… or the one that defends for 90 minutes desperately trying to carve out a draw.
There are moments of brilliance, and moments of pure tragedy when it comes to watching Hertha.
It is exactly that which makes the team interesting.
Going into every game expecting to win, being used to victory as Bayern are, creates a dull atmosphere and makes the victories that are hard fought far exceedingly unexciting, boring and empty. Winning becomes a chore not the reward for hard work… who wants to pay to see that? It’s like paying for a movie you’ve seen 18 times in a row, knowing the outcome… it becomes tedious and boring.
The atmosphere at the Allianz arena notably suffers from it.
Years ago Bayern’s Sudkurve was rocking… these days barely even half of the space is moving. The decibel level in the stadium barely rises, even after a goal it remains the same as during the match, and Bayern fans become upset if they don’t win. The media makes it out to be a total disgrace as it the world is falling apart.
A loss for Hertha in the German papers is not met with such shock… like the club itself, it just moves on.
Turn the tide and see Bayern lose to Hertha and the world starts to take notice. The media outlets begin to whisper about a Hertha that could go on to challenge for titles… only for a few weeks later the be writing up a story about how they’ve lost their last few games and are back where they started.
Results such as the 2-0 victory over Bayern, is testament to the turbulent club that Hertha is. Since that victory, results haven’t come so easily but it’ll remain a treasured memory for eternity for the supporters. It meant more to the Hertha fans than any victory for Bayern could mean to any of their supporters, because they are simply not used to fighting clubs that are basically considered a band of Gods, unbeatable.
What it means for fans of clubs other than Bayern and Dortmund, is the feeling of walking directly into the unknown every match day. No one knows what the next 90 minutes holds and anything is possible.
For the likes Bremen, Hertha, Wolfsburg, Leverkusen, Augsburg, Köln and others, those clubs not really seen as especially threatening, every game for the players is a fight… for the fans every game is one that is there to be won OR lost. It makes your heart jump into your throat at some points throughout the day, but that’s part of the fun. It’s no always about quality on the pitch, it’s about determination, playing your heart out, and learning from mistakes if you lose.
Fans do not expect to win games, what they expect to see if their team give their best, leaving everything on the pitch. That is beauty of not always winning.
When you constantly win, even when playing badly, you don’t learn.
When you lose, you take time to review what went wrong both on and off the pitch, with the tactics and sometimes even the attitudes if certain individuals, and have time to rectify it before the next attempt the following week.
Winning all the time… is boring.
Being totally up in the air, is a thrill ride that can either end with tears of joy… or tears of heartbreak.
The beauty of not always winning, is also that beyond the game, the fans still support the team they love… even in desperate times. Through relegation, through defeats, even through off the pitch tragedy. Sometimes not winning, can be just as important, it forces one to reconsider what matters, which is not always the game itself, rather what the game does for those involved with it, such a creating friendships, new relationships, people finding a sense of purpose, easing the pain of their every day lives just for a few hours.
For Hertha, winning is not the primary focus, although the fans enjoy victory just as anyone would… instead the most important thing is that the fans see the team give their best, and at the same time, the fans give their absolute most in their support.
Bayern have the ‘Mia san Mia’ philosophy, ‘We are who we are’…
Hertha’s is slightly different. We know what we are, we know what can be, what is possible and what inevitably just ‘is’. We know what we are.
And amazingly, we are content with it. A Herthaner in London for the friendly against Crystal Palace, spoke to me and his exactly words were, when I asked him about qualifying for Europe?
‘I don’t care about Europe. All I care about is that my beloved Hertha do their best and that we don’t get relegated. We celebrate the games, the season but if we finish middle of the table then it’s OK.’
But like it or lot, there are changes coming to Berlin. Hertha seem to this season, have an ambition. They are looking to Europe. Perhaps they have finally started realising their potential, and stopped being ashamed of having that ambition.
The beauty isn’t winning, it’s the way that you play.
The greater moments as a Hertha fan come when the team gives everything on the pitch even if the outcome is not the desired as one. When however, your side doesn’t win and they deserved three points, it becomes ‘typical Hertha’.
That’s a Berlin thing. Shrug your shoulders after a draw or loss, or a last minute equaliser, it’s ‘typical Hertha’.
In 2017, Hertha played Bayern at the Olympiastadion. There had been a terrible rough patch just before that game. Every Hertha fan expected as horrible defeat. But we were still there to support.
20 minutes into the match, Vedad Ibišević latched on to a Marvin Plattenhardt free kick. It flew past Manuel Neuer. But we now all believed that we would just lose 5-1…
It remained 1-0 until half time and kept going. On and on. 50 minutes, 60 minutes, 70 then 8o then 90…we were starting believe this was possible. My friend and I were still standing, hands over mouths, biting our nails, until the four official held up the added Time board.
He knew. He slouched into his seat.
I tried to remain optimistic but in my heart of hearts, I knew too.
95 minutes comes and passes. But the referee is still playing. Everyone in blue and white is asking ‘why?’ We have the ball then suddenly Bayern do. They get a free kick near the corner flag. Even Neuer comes down for it. The time is 97 minutes played. The game should’ve been over. The game WOULD have been over had it been any other club but Bayern. 97th minute, ball is played across goal, Robben hits it. The ball hits Maximilian Mittelstädt on the line. Any harder it would’ve bounced, by out and away any softer and it would’ve been cleared. But it bounced straight out to Robert Lewandowski. 97th minute and Hertha has been screaming for the game to be over. But referees are seemingly obliged to give Bayern more time.
When the goal went in and the whistle sounded for full time, I was fuming. I wanted to wrap my hand around the throat of anyone in red. I felt we had been robbed in a game we deserved to win. And about 50,000 other Hertha fans felt the same.
It took a long time to accept and realise that we had In fact, prevented Bayern from winning, which in ordinary circumstances would have something to celebrate. This case took along time to get over.
Until that joyous Friday night in late September 2018. After the heartache of 2017, the 2-0 deserved victory was one of the greatest moments for means many Hertha fans too. But having experienced first hand that pain of the 97th minute equaliser, this victory drew tears from me. Because it proved that no matter what the world thinks of you, no matter the challenge, no matter how difficult it looks, no matter whether you’ve got the world against you, anything is possible. You can do anything if you believe it.
The darkest place: A moment realisation in a time of desperation
Nur nach hause, geh’n wir nicht: Singing Hertha’s beautiful anthem, with 50,000 Berliners.
This is the part where the ‘why Hertha?’ question for me, is answered.
I do not want people’s pity. It is one thing in life that I cannot stand is anyone feeling sorry for me.
Whenever I reveal the extent of my own personal and mental health issues, that is the response I’ve unfortunately received.
Everyone on the planet suffers. Whether it be a break up, family problems, illness, or just finding life exceptionally hard sometimes, everyone has moments that just wish they’d fade away into the night and never return.
For some people, those emotions become too much to handle, there is an internal war taking place in their head and every waking moment is a fight.
Heartbreaking but true, some do not make it through those dark moments.
My parents knew there was something ‘not quite right’ with me as a child.
I was incredibly hyperactive, could never keep still or concentrate and was always loud, but at a young age it’s mainly mistaken for just being a pain in the backside and being a ‘naughty child’.
When those symptoms do not disappear however, there is concern that grows in parents that these signs are not only still present but also changing and progressing.
For me, I was always hyperactive but I began to grow obsessions with little things, I was able to memorise certain things, but other things would go ‘in one ear and out the other’. Subjects I didn’t enjoy in school I’d ultimately fail in, subjects I took an interest in were excelled in.
It took almost 18 years for them discover what exactly was causing this strange behaviour. I’d have random outbursts, both hyperactivity and anger.
School was a harsh world for me, I was an easy target for bullies, who would constantly pick me out for whatever reason they pleased. Whether it be because I had a foreign background or because I was tomboy or because I was just too scared to fight back. Being told I could ‘help it, didn’t make matters any better either.
That sort of suffering takes it toll internally. All those hyperactive symptoms begin to turn inwards and become internal. Instead of aggressive outbursts, the feelings become somewhat darker.
I was diagnosed with ADHD at 18 but there was an anomaly on their data. The one symptom that majorly did not correspond with ADHD was the ability to memorise certain subjects of interest to the person in question.
That characteristic was part of ASD (Autistic spectrum disorder).
The spectrum is vast, extremely wide. Some people are higher up it than others. Many are high functioning and have poor social skills. Mine is different. My brain is like a combination of a pressure cooker and a sponge. It can easily boil over by absorbs everything even when I don’t want it too. The information overloads.
I have certain aspects of it combined with ADHD, meaning my reception to certain situations socially is not always considered ‘correct’.
I often say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time without meaning to.
But I don’t have difficulty with talking… in fact I find it difficult to stop.
What accompanies this disorder are a number of complications and features of other mental health problems, such as a sense of displacement, anxiety attacks and spells of depression… it can lead to extremely dark places.
I was offered medication to prevent my hyperactivity… I refused. I asked the doctors to provide me with talking therapy instead to help with my anxiety. There had to be an outlet for the energy that I couldn’t expend.
They took so long to fix up any appointment that by the time it came round to it, the mental health clinic in my hometown had closed. There was no funding for it… so all these emotions, feelings, problems accumulating had almost zero output.
For a long time music had become my saving grace… but once college was over after 3 years that became difficult too.
It was still there, it was still something I was able to put my focus and attention on, but it wasn’t main focus anymore.
Instead I went university, studying aviation… another obsession of mine… and for a while I believed that was my new focus.
But the imbalance of information processing in my head became too much.
People on the spectrum find too much information so difficult to process that this is where the ‘other complications’ kick in, in other words the anxiety and depressive spells.
Whilst at university, it was required on the course to take a years work placement within the aviation industry. It didn’t matter exactly where within the airport that was. I’d moved down to Brentford where the University was situated and notably the closest airport happened to the UK’s largest hub, one of the busiest in the world, at Heathrow.
It could be assumed that it is therefore easy to access jobs there… but for the airport itself it’s incredibly difficult.
I now work as a security officer at the airport, employed by Heathrow directly, but that sort of employment takes months of training and the process was almost 6 months collectively.
We as students, especially those that had moved to London specifically to study therefore didn’t have the know-how of the city as well as those that have lived here their entire lives do, were given little to no help in finding a placement by the University… in other words it was all down to the student themselves, and the majority of us, including me, trying to balance that out with the assignments already given to us, were left with very little time to do so…
I did manage to find one, unfortunately for me it was in retail.
My interest was in the aviation sector itself, not selling products at exaggerated prices to the public who clearly didn’t want it.
But that’s what I ended up doing just to tide me over the placement year and this is where things got difficult.
The job was early hours 3 days on and off. Whilst working you were required to do a University portfolio, which at the end of long days of waking up at 3am, no one is in their right mind to do so.
But the job itself, whilst I loved the environment of Heathrow, was stressful. The demand from management was ridiculous and the early morning shifts were draining me so badly that I actually become unwell.
This was only made worse by the company I was working for who then called me in to speak with the for absences, when it was ultimately their fault that I’d become sick in the first place due to exhaustion.
With all this, balancing it with University demands which kept increasing, with them constantly pestering all students for their work, most of whom hadn’t completed their hours required, along with already crippling anxiety over time, led almost to a total break down.
Depressive spells are one thing. I’d had them as a teenager whilst still in the East Midlands. Moments of standing on bridges overlooking the local railways station in the dark just wondering what it might be like to jump. It’s natural to feel that isolated when everything just seems to be going wrong with no escape.
And it was only flashes of that, nothing ever got too much…
But this has. One never likes to admit they’ve considered suicide. But you have to face it. It is no shame. I was closer to the edge than ever before I my life. My brain was about to implode.
I was on the verge of giving up, quitting University all together, leaving this job I found myself stuck in and going home or just running away.
The only place I was ever going on my planned holidays away from work… was Berlin.
Shocked: someone didn’t wait for me to pose! We must’ve won a game!
The only place I was flying to on those annual leave breaks, was Berlin… the only thing I was doing there, was going to watch Hertha.
It very quickly became a countdown upon return from Berlin, to the next time I’d be back there.
I even recall changing a preplanned holiday by a few weeks, begging the company to let me do so because of ‘Unforeseen circumstances with family’, so I could attend the DFB Pokal Halbfinale against Dortmund… right at the beginning of my time in the job.
But after nearly 11 months there and so close to this assignment due date, everything began to close in. It was nearly impossible to even breath.
3am wake up calls, exhausted from work, no time to write the set portfolio and rushing to get it done along with everything else going wrong and becoming physically stressed and unwell, I was on the verge of total collapse.
It was extremely fortunate that one of my breaks had come at around that time.
I don’t remember who Hertha were even playing, my guess would be Hoffenheim. I remember that we lost the game I was at.
But at the moment in time, I couldn’t leave work fast enough. The last day before that trip, I was sprinting out the door as fast as my little legs could take me.
Stansted at 6am? Didn’t matter I was shattered, I was getting out of this place.
I remember getting to the stop on the S-Bahn, near the hotel I almost always stay in whilst in Berlin and walking around with this sense of familiarity. As if I had once lived here and I’d come home.
From the moment I’d stepped onto the train at Schonefeld, I was free, like a bird from a cage that was screaming in agony for a means of escape.
I don’t recall the game at all. If it was the home match vs Hoffenheim which Hertha lost 3-1, which saw Maximillian Mittelstadt sent off and Peter Pekarik scoring, then the result didn’t matter.
What I do recall however, is being inside the Olympiastadion for the first time in months. It had been at least 4 months since my last Hertha game before it. It was an evening kick off, it wasn’t freezing but it wasn’t particularly warm either.
And here I was, scarf held high, just like the thousands of Berliners either side and behind and in front…
There was this decisive moment that night. It came about during ‘Nur Nach Hause’.
It didn’t hit me until later, but during the rendition that night, I’d been in tears whilst singing the song,
In fact, whilst no one had noticed around me, I’d almost totally broken down inside during Hertha’s hymne.
After it was over, I could barely breathe, I was trying to hide what was happening. I did remarkably well to do so, no one seemed to notice.
And the game ended in a loss but it didn’t matter.
From that moment, whatever had been hanging over me, that darkness, was gone. It had melted away. I didn’t feel stress, pain, hurt, confusion, cloudy…. nothing.
I had been completely cleansed, pulled up from one of the darkest points in my life.
I had never been at such a low point. I had never wanted to just give up so badly on everything.
And then suddenly, it was gone.
I returned to London feeling completely different. I buckled down, finished my work, completed the placement and left the company and found instead a job I loved… which for the rest of my University career, was ironically at football stadiums working with supporters.
Whilst I still get to low points, none have ever been as difficult to hoist myself out of as that one.
But three days in Berlin, 90 minutes surrounded by all these people, all these incredible people filled with hope and optimism and love for their city and team and friends who don’t even realise they’re part of the solution, and it was therapy. Hertha Berlin had become a type of therapy.
It may be that because I spent most of my time as a child and teenager, never really fitting in, always feeling like I just didn’t belong, that there was bound to be something that would come along and ease tightening around ones emotions.
I moved to London to escape that difficult upbringing, I ran away from it and sometimes believe that it may have been cowardly to do so… but even then, whilst I love London with all my heart, something was still missing here.
I came to Berlin for an adventure, to learn about history, to just explore… I didn’t realise I was going to find something that I didn’t even know I was looking for.
There was judgement, no displacement, no fear of standing out… in Berlin I was welcomed and in Berlin, I could be anyone that I wanted to be.
There is a saying at Hertha this season “In Berlin you can be anything”…
I came to this city not looking for anything at all, and left in 2014 having found one of the most important things in my life. With a club spanning 125 years, came this amazing group of people, people who would become friends. A philosophy that met with my own way of thinking ‘No matter how much you suffer, just don’t give up. If you give up you’ve already lost’
This incredible city had suffered throughout the years and yet somehow had always come through and so had it’s citizens. The Berliners were strong, they never gave up on what they fought for and Hertha, despite falling so many times, was the same… a club that never gave up, that fought for what they had.
I was standing in the Olympiastadion and it doesn’t matter that I am not German… I could be from the moon for all anyone cares.
For, if I am standing in blue and white, I belong.
In Berlin I was not just a nobody… I belonged. We all belong.
At the one time in my life where I was stuck, trapped in the dark, Hertha BSC became this light that pulled me out of that place… and kept me out.
Every trip to Berlin for me is a precious event.
Football is 90 minutes long (most of the time)… what comes before and after it is far more than just a game.
Even now, if I feel myself slipping back into that hole, there’s always someone connected to Hertha that can snap me out of that trance.
I have always thought about it like this however.
If someone to ask me, what has been asked to many football fans, “Would you die for your club?” I would ask “Do you mean would I give my life for this club”?
And if so, I would pause for a moment and consider and eventually answer
“Yes… because this team and this city, ensured that I have a life to give them”.
Even now, despite being in a better place mentally, there are days life is increasingly difficult to deal with. Wait keeps be going on those days, is the thought that in a few weeks I will be back in Berlin , surrounded by the best people in the city that accepts and takes you in. I count the days until I return.
Berlin became my solace long ago. It wasn’t just football but a instant connection with the city. I have never felt more free than when I walk the streets of Berlin.
Hertha BSC is Berlin, it captures the city perfectly.
Football is a passion.
But the two combined, is perfection… Hertha is Berlin. And Berlin, is engraved on my heart.
The Balkan connection: The pride of having Ibišević, Čović and Grujić
Vedo Hero: It its not a hidden fact that Vedad Ibišević has been my favorite player for years. The Bosnian made my 25th birthday a special once after meeting him at training that day.
So my surname is not British… I however, am.
I was born and raised in the UK as were both my parents. It was my fathers father however that passed down his name to myself and my sister.
The history of what is now Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro Macedonia, Kosovo, ect is beyond complicated.
My Grandfather was born in what was then Yugoslavia. In the city of Banja Luka, which is now modern day Bosnia… however Banja Luka is in the Serb region of Bosnia, the Republika Srpska.
Bosnia has two governments, two entities but is one country. Many in the Serb Republic want the country to be separated from Bosnia.
The way it works is that in Yugoslavia there were three main ethnic groups based on religion. Bosnian Bosniaks were Muslim, Serbs were Orthdox and Croats were Catholic.
In Yugoslavia the country was made up of the different states, named Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia ect, which became independent nations when the war took place in the 90s.
My Grandfather was an Orthodox Christian born in Bosnia. But at the time these divisions didn’t really surface, all Yugoslavs were just Yugoslavian.
When WWII began and the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia, he was just around 15 when he joined the Partisans in fighting against them as they aimed the massacre the inferior “Slavic race”.
He survived and in 1948, was given the option to flee Yugoslavia as it became a republic.
He’d seen horrors during the war, it’s understandable that he wanted a new start.
Germany and England were his options… he chose the UK.
Whilst the rest is history, he never returned to Yugoslavia, despite the fact his surviving family had remained there.
My father told me he and his brother had visited our cousins in the 1970’s, recalling that Yugoslavia was a ‘beautiful country with wonderfully hospitable people’…
But then Tito died…and the war came.
Nobody knows what happened to our family in the Balkans. We had family in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. No one knows whether they remained there during the war, whether they survived, but our Grandfather never heard from his brother after the war. They simply disappeared… in 1992, the year before my sister and I were born.
We never had the opportunity to meet our aunts, uncles or cousins and now, we’ve no means of tracking them down.
So many were murdered, so many were killed in shelling during the Bosnian war that it’s impossible to even know where to start. We lost family that we never even knew.
Meanwhile my Grandfather never shared his political opinion on the war. Instead he was forced the British media news outlets every evening with updates about how his country was being torn apart… whilst he could do nothing about it.
I can’t even begin to imagine how that feels.
Regardless of whatever he may have thought, my own personal opinion is based on facts… such as that Srebrenica was a genocide and must be acknowledged as so.
I was raised in a far more tolerant world than that of my parents in regards to race and sexuality. Whether a human being is a Muslim or a Christian is totally irrelevant to me… they are still a human being.
Having suffered a degree of racism myself, it angers me more than anything to see it happening to others. The hatred towards Muslims in today’s world frightens me more because of knowledge of what such hatred and intolerance can lead to, as shown in Bosnian war.
What also made baring this Yugo surname more difficult for myself and my sister was that because of the intolerance amongst our classmates at a time the EU was opening up and more Eastern Europeans were coming to the UK to work, we were an easy target for their hate.
It got to a point where we were made to feel ashamed, so ashamed that my parents considered changing our surnames legally to avoid any more taunting.
In fact, at a local job centre, my sister was once told to change her surname, because employees were look more favourably on British surnames on a job application.
That was the final straw.
We’d had enough.
It took almost 15 years for us to become proud of that background.
When my Grandfather passed away, we wept at his funeral, a traditional Orthodox funeral, and then realised that we were not ashamed and should never be made to feel so. He had fought the Nazis, something to be proud of. But his homeland had suffered more than many could possibly understand and is still to this day rebuilding.
Bring this into the context of the modern day and it is difficult to find Bosnians, Serbs and Croats that find success.
Always welcome: Upon meeting Marko Grujic last season, I told him that no matter what, he would always be welcome in Berlin. Oddly enough, he has stayed this season too, on loan from Liverpool
In football, the Balkan nations still have very little in the way of resources in comparison to other more wealthy nations, because of the fall out of the war.
Take a look at the most successful footballers from the three major Balkan nations and the vast majority of them grew up in warzones.
Now considered the worlds best footballer, Luka Modric of Croatia, played football on concrete as a child whilst trying to avoid shelling in his village.
Nemanja Matic of Manchester United explained that he refused to wear a poppy on remembrance day because the British had been complicit in the bombing of Belgrade in the 90’s, in which he was trapped, a scared little boy.
Dejan Lovren of Liverpool spoke about his experiences as a young boy, fleeing Croatia and running to Germany where he found refuge with his Grandfather… but still terrified they’d be sent back to Croatia which they inevitably were after years in Germany. Lovren didn’t speak Croatian and was haunted by the war, saying that the situation in Yugoslavia changed like the flick of a switch, one moment everyone was getting along and the next moment they were killing each other.
But the most tragic of stories mainly come from Bosnia.
Edin Dzeko is the only member of the Bosnian national team to have stayed in the Bosnian capital during the war. He survived the entire siege of Sarajevo, and forged a football career after the war ended.
It is remarkable that out of such suffering, these men are providing such joy to the fans of their clubs.
It’s also massively important to those with a connection and affiliation to the Balkan’s, to see the representatives of those nations, become a success.
Success stories from the Balkan’s are so rare because the resources just aren’t there still. The football leagues in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia are notably lower in standard compared to the Premier League… but seeing players from those regions that had been devastated by war find success in the best leagues in the world provides a lot of pride in being from the region and having ones roots there.
Vedad Ibisevic rarely, if ever, speaks about his escape from Bosnia.
He survived the war, and his family escaped to Switzerland and then the United States. It’s where his career began. But the story for Vedo really took off in Germany.
Having failed at PSG to make an impact, he moved to Aachen, then Hoffenheim, then Stuttgart and then Hertha BSC where he became captain of the club in his second season.
Ibisevic faced a lot of trials along the way, but he persevered over the doubters to become on the Bundesliga’s more recognisable figures. What’s more he represented Bosnia at their first ever world cup and scored their first goal at the finals against none other than Argentina.
People in Bosnia are immensely proud of their ‘Vedator’. His dedication and passion for the game and love of his country display what is likable about him, but what he does is make those with a connection to the region, proud of their heritage.
For us, watching players like Ibisevic fills us with hope, pride and love. It’s a special feeling to watch them play especially as they represent the club you love.
Alongside Vedad this season, is another Balkan boy in the form of Marko Grujic.
A lot younger than his Bosnian captain, Grujic has represented Serbia at international level but isn’t old enough to have experienced the war… therefore, there should never be the assumption that a Bosnian and a Serb cannot be friends.
Football can be political, but only should be if it’s spreading a message of decency, such as anti violence, anti racism or tolerance and remembering events like the war, sacrifice ect.
Football should not be about politics that are not clear. Tolerance and anti racism are not political matters, they are humane matters.
The Balkan’s conflict is so hugely complex with so many factors that many just do no understand, that those politics have no place in football.
Unfortunately in the Balkan nations themselves, this message is not understood. Meetings between rival nations have ended in disaster in spite of the fact that most of the time the players have tried to remain professional… the exception being the Serbia vs Albania drone incident.
What’s wonderful about Vedad Ibisevic and Marko Grujic being in Hertha’s ranks this season is that, despite being from two nations that the outside world could assume, should despise each other, Vedo and Marko are from two different generations, and have no case of politics, they are professional but most importantly they are human beings.
Grujic has comments numerous times on how Ibisevic helped him settle at Hertha, one factor to note was that it was made easier as they both speak the same language (Bosnian and Serbian are classed as two languages but do actually sound audibly the same).
He’s also commented on the fact that Ibisevic is a leader and true captain and the respect they have for one another.
For us with knowledge of the past history of the Balkan’s, seeing this is a beautiful sight. It has happened before at Manchester City with Kolarov and Dzeko but to see it at your own club is wonderful. To see representatives of your families nations brings about a sense of pride, especially since we have the veteran in Ibisevic, and the young talent emerging in Grujic.
For me, I don’t see myself as Bosnian, Serb or Croat, but instead Yugoslav. We had family all three of those nations, and for me, it strikes a chord to see these lads representing the nations on the pitch, it’s always a special moment… and just makes one even more proud to be part Balkan.
The season anew: Here we go again
Welcome to the big time: my first Hertha season as a member and season ticket holder.
This will be my 5th season visiting the Olympiastadion for the reason of watching Hertha BSC.
It will be my 6th year of visiting the German capital however it’ll be my first ever season at Hertha as a full paying member and season ticket holder.
The season, regardless of any results or the type of season the club may endure, will be a special one anyway.
Of the 17 home league games I currently plan to attend 14. The only reason behind skipping three matches was that my work annual leave doesn’t cover the amount of days required to attend all the games and the fixtures haven’t been set for the entire season, instead they’re confirmed about 6 weeks in advance.
It means that as soon as the fixtures were announced I had to book Friday to Monday as leave, despite the fact I may not need all four days. The only way to plan it out was to discard those unneeded dates when the next set of fixtures are released, or to ask for ‘shift swaps’, in other words, swapping my day at work, for someone rest day, and in return I work their day on my rest day.
It’s a tough get around but either way some of the dates look improbable. I had to select 3 games to miss.
So far it is Augsburg, Mainz and Hoffenheim, all of which are weekends that something is happening in the outside world. For instance, East Sunday or the end of half term.
It may be possible to get around it but the games fall right in the middle of the day’s at work. To add to that, a yearly refresher to approaching at work and failure means losing my job anyway. That hopefully won’t happen.
The games that were an absolute must were naturally, the Berlin derby in March, Bayern in January and Dortmund in late November to early December.
After half a decade of coming to Berlin to support the team, it important to now at least become a member of the club. The season ticket idea came about once qualifying for my job since the idea was affordable.
It’s a special feeling, and it’s taken a long time but here we are.
There’s a sense of optimism in the air this season, despite the opener being in Munich against Bayern on the Friday evening. Bayern haven’t really changed where as Hertha are unexpected, they can’t be cracked because their system hasnt been made obvious or anaylised even by the clubs own fans. But facing the record champions anyway isn’t going to be easy.
Personally, whatever the result, the season truly begins the following week at home against Wolfsburg. Despite it being a Sunday game, it’s the chance to fully open up to the new system and coach.
Hertha have a new look squad with old and new names, Bayern however seem very much the same. No game changers.
The optimism comes from the fact that Hertha want to have a brand new approach. Attacking football, no fear in doing so and no fear of new things. But the defence is unpredictable as well. Its a mixed feeling but as always in Berlin the impossible only exists if you believe it does. There are no expectations going into the first game. The expectations begin against Wolfsburg.
Being able to have the chance to be a part of the season, more games than I’ve ever been to before, is something that is special to me personally. It is not any sort of achievement but rather something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and finally, have been awarded the chance to try it.
And we can only hope as fans of the club, that we see a team that gives nothing but their best through the entire season.
That’s all we ask!
Bang bang boom!
The hardest task:There is no shame in losing in Munich… Except we didn’t
To add there, that the game against Bayern München on opening day, seemed to have been a blessing in disguise.
Not only did Hertha avoid losing the match, which the bookies had against odds the entire 90 Minutes despite the score, but Hertha BSC, the underdogs, managed to to go 2-1 up.
A bit of lax defending from Maximilian Mittelstädt allowed Robert Lewandowski to pounce early, and it looked as though it was the same old Bundesliga… But
Not longer after, Bayern’s ‘nemisis’ as he was called, Dodi Lukabakio, in his first appearance for the club, fired a long range shot that smashed into the back of Vedad Ibišević and flew last Manuel Neuer.
Whether it was going in, wide or striking the post and whether Neuer would’ve gotten to it had it not been deflected is questionable, we will never know the answer, but Lukabakio remains in Bayern’s nightmares as he scored a hattrick against them in Munich last season for Fortuna Düsseldorf in a 3-3 draw.
That said, Bayern were still favorites to score again but only moments later a breakaway and work by Ibišević allowed him to lay the ball off to Marko Grujic, who had huge amounts of work to do still against Pavard. Work he die. Grujic controlled the ball and slotted it past Neuer for an unexpected lead of 2-1.
Hertha fans going wild, everyone asking what the hell is happening and Grujic collapsed to the ground immediately after celebrating scoring. No one had noticed that on his run through, that he had classed heads with Benjamin Pavard. Pavard had stopped running by Grujic, full of adrenaline, had not.
That would be an excuse used later for the goal along with the claim of offside, which if looked into, shows that Ibisevic was level with the defenders and Grujic certainly wasn’t offside.
Now Hertha had a lead to defend and defend they did, until Grujic perhaps felt the effects of concussion clouding his judgement in the second half when it came to defending Lewandowski.
Grujic would also bare scars from the battle. He brandished a horrendously deep purple shiner following the game. Thankfully a black eye can heal rather quickly.
Ouch: Marko Grujic suffered a nasty black eye whilst scoring against Bayern.
The courage and determination of the this seasons team to not lose the match was plain to see. The defence that had looked frail Preseason, stood firm against an onslaught of Bayern attacks. We’re talking about the beer team in the country here.
Whilst Grujic was the savior by scoring the goal to put Hertha ahead, his inexperience showed in his off the ball manhandling of Robert Lewandowski, who had already tried multiple times in the first half to con the referee. It was just foolish of him to react in such a manner which conceded the penalty that ultimately ensured the game was a draw. But the defence managed to stand firm and ensure the game wasn’t lost either.
In fact Coman and Lewandowski’s battle with Lukas Klünter, who stood out as Hertha pick of defenders, was the most entertaining part of the match.
Crying wolf: Robert Lewandowski went down under several fair challenges from Lukas Klünter.
But the entire mentality of a mid table team fighting for something greater showed here massively.
Hertha were always expected to lose, therefore they had nothing to lose by trying everything they could. Whilst luck plays a role as well, there’s no deny that the fearlessness of the Hertha team, enabled them to score and then hold on.
The belief that anything is possible even when on paper it doesn’t seem like it, may be a belief that Hertha have to carry this season. For once there are certain expectations of the team, to perform well. They have an ambition, to reach Europe. The fact it exists provides a new outlook for Hertha this season. They can afford players and they’ve shown that they can compete with champions on their own patch.
The draw certainly was met well by Bayern ‘fans’ who expected an easy opening day victory as they had the last 11 seasons. Things are changing. Bayern are rocky and Hertha are looking forwards.
This attitude is nothing but positive and provides a good outlook. Had Hertha lost then the season would’ve truly started against Wolfsburg, the first home game of the new season. The result in Munich however has shown massive potential in the squad and although expectations are changing slightly Hertha fans remain level headed about the changes that may come on the pitch and the table.
This is the beauty of Hertha BSC… The fans are realistic and known exactly what can happen but despite that always stand behind the team no matter what.
It wad their support, a huge trek on a Friday night to Munich, that boosted the team to do as well as they did. When they made the error and conceded, they did not let their heads drop, as was seen sometimes last season. Instead they kept pushing. The fans, in that top corner of the Allianz, pushed them too.
The fans of the away side are purposefully placed in the worst section of the arena at Bayern, a tactic to silence the away support.
Sadly for Bayern though, their home support is so lax, so quiet, that that small segment of away fans is the only thing you can hear still.
This is what makes Hertha special. The doubters doubted, the fans in Munich believed. They sang until the end, and despite not winning the game, didn’t care. Scoring twice in Munich is an achievement and to come away from there, first game of the season, with at least one point, ja something we could’ve only dreamed of.
Hertha fans are a rare breed.
Unlike Union, they do not gain recognition for the amazing things they do achieve on around match days, but Hertha fans have no need for fame or cult status. Instead they’ve got something better… A city that comes together, every region, on match day, and celebrates that city. Hertha isn’t a ‘cult club’ and it doesn’t need to be, or just needs to be proud it be itself… A lesson they have taught many, including myself.
What my newfound friends in Berlin may not realise is that both the club and they, the fans, the people, my friend’s, are the ones that get me through the dark days, the thought of Berlin, Hertha, gets me through my days at work. I owe alot, perhaps even my life, to them…
There is no shame in being you.
In Berlin kannst du alles sein auch Herthaner
In Berlin you can be anything
In Berlin kannst du alles sein auch Ausländer
In Berlin you can be anything even a foreigner
In Berlin kannst du alles sein auch….
In Berlin you can be any thing.
Even…? Anything, anybody… You are you. And Berlin will always welcome you home.