Torsten Mattuschka, Union’s favourite son, missed the Braunschweig away match in December due to suspension. He chose to watch the match sat with the Eisern faithful rather than in the Director’s box or at home on Sky TV.
Not only that, he was milling around in the coach park after the match, sharing jokes, posing for pictures and shaking hands with the Unioner. He described Union as ‘a labour of love’ in a recent interview with the Berliner Zeitung. You don’t for one minute suspect he’s paying lip service to the supporters or engaging in some PR – you genuinely believe he’s being sincere.
In Hamburg, when Union traveled to play St Pauli on a Friday night this season, Mattuschka was the undoubted star-performer for Union. Two rasping drives from outside the box salvaged a point for the Berliners, in what was a thrilling match that finished 2-2.
The fans serenaded ‘Tusch with ‘his song’ and he drank in the atmosphere. Not from the pitch but clinging to the perimeter fencing – looking the fans in the eye. He knows what it means to them. Interestingly, the video was uploaded to You Tube by a club physio, Hendrik Schreiber.
Union’s mantra, ‘Our love, our team, our pride, our association’ rings true for Mattuschka. He’s proud that he keeps his feet on the ground and does not get carried away with being an idol. Rather, he draws strength from the adulation and one suspects that the Union fans would not idolise a prima donna anyway.
He’s clearly proud of the achievements of the club and he talks in interviews of the strides that Union are making and rebuffs the assertion that such improvements are detrimental to the charm of the Berlin side. Facilities are improving both in terms of the stadium and the training facility at the club and he maintains that this much-needed modifications will only help Union progress.
He talks of the shock at players who came in from places such as Kaiserslautern. However, he adroitly adds that the togetherness of the players and the fact they have grown together is a key strength. When you consider Braunschweig’s league position this term, they sit top due to great team spirit that has been nurtured over previous seasons. One gets the impression that for Union, this will be their route to success – hard work and team spirit over big spending – and Mattuschka is canny enough to know this.
People band around the phrase cult club in relation to Union Berlin. I suspect that this is due to a loyalty and a passion for the club that is not driven by simply a yearning for success or a desire to see the club pay mind-boggling wages to players with no affinity to the club. Of course, Union’s players will earn on average more than most fans can ever dream of earning. However, they know that they need to put a shift in when they play for Union. Mattuschka describes the fans as ‘honest workers’ who expect the same of the team – quid pro quo for the support if you like. The fans will applaud the players after a 4-0 defeat (he mentions Fürth and I remember Eintracht Frankfurt as well) as long as the fans know that the players have tried their best.
Mattuschka’s faced a difficult start to the current campaign as he was dropped for the opening two games, appearing only as a substitute. It was either an act of genius from Union Coach Neuhaus or a gross mis-judgement of the team’s capabilities without the man from Cottbus. Union garnered a measly one point from their first five fixtures as Neuhaus tinkered with the starting XI and Union’s formation.
Whether Mattuschka needed that reminder that his name was not written in indelible ink on the team sheet is anyone’s guess. Or had Neuhaus wondered about Mattuschka’s readiness to play ninety minutes after the summer break – only the coach knows. The effect on Mattuschka appeared to be a positive one. He gave professional media interviews and talked of his willingness to knuckle down and fight for his place; after a slow start, with Mattuschka pulling the strings in an attacking role, Union steadily climbed the table.
An outsider may think that they are hearing clichés now. He likens the club to ‘a big family’ and adds that ‘everyone say hello, from the washer woman to the President’. We’d like to think of all clubs being like this, although I fear the reality, even in the second tier, is probably not often like this. Union have fostered a great spirit and their club captain is the embodiment of this.
He talks of being a coach in future years. He already spends a lot of time with the younger players and a man of his stature would be a welcome addition to any backroom. As Union progress, his presence would be a stark reminder to future players, about the sweat and blood fans have given the club. A fitting way for the es East Germans career to develop. However, at only 32 years of age, one suspects that Mattuschka will be on the pitch for a while yet. I certainly hope so.
Follow Mark on twitter @Unionberlinman