German football has been incredibly well served by the quality of the books about it either written or translated into English. In particular, Uli Hesse, Raphael Honigstein and Ronald Reng have brought the story of German football to English readers in a number of excellent books. ‘Scheisse! We’re Going Up!’, Kit Holden’s upcoming book on the Union Berlin football club is another wonderful addition to that list.
Up-to-date Bundesliga fans will know that Union have been on a remarkable run of form the past three years, reaching 5th place in the Bundesliga having only reached the top flight in 2019. Union Berlin has fast become the football hipster’s latest club of choice (sorry St. Pauli) thanks to their rise to the Bundesliga, their forest-surrounded stadium in East Berlin, their romanticized history of resistance to the Stasi, their fan-developed stadium, and their viral Christmas Carol sessions (yes, seriously).
The story of Union however is much more than a football club. It’s not however the story of a romantic past of resistance to authoritarianism. Holden, like the club itself, is careful to burst the bubble that the club was a hotbed of anti-Communist activity during the dark days of the GDR- rather it was a relatively safe space for normal citizens to vent and sing and the rivalry with Dynamo, the Stasi’s ream, a cathartic way to express disapproval for the repressive East German regime.
The book instead is about community, belonging, the meaning of football clubs, and the challenge of keeping what works while facing the inevitability of change. It’s also about the city of Berlin and the challenges posed by both its unique history of partition and by its vibrant future.
Holden tells the history of the club and the city through interviews with a variety of fans and officials. It’s an inspired choice and the narrative weaves excellently between personal recollections and the over-arching story of both the city and the club’s past, present and future. The book is packed with stories and recollections of fans and their passion oozes out of every page. It wonderfully captures the essence of the club and what makes it special.
Scheisse is an absolutely brilliant book. It captures the very essence of why sport matters, the importance of recognizing that clubs are more than simply entities to be commercialized, and the often overlooked fact that change, while inevitable, does not have to mean the loss of that which was special about what already exists.