BERLIN (AP) — In the biggest attendance so far for a soccer team in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic, Union Berlin welcomed 4,500 fans for its 2-1 win over Nuremberg on Saturday.
The top-tier Bundesliga was suspended in March. No supporters had been allowed when the league resumed and completed its season after a two-month break.
Union fans were grateful to attend the preseason friendly match against second-division Nuremberg – a game that also marked the 100-year anniversary of Union’s stadium.
“It’s really fantastic, I missed it,” Cornelia Packhäuser told The Associated Press before attending her first game in six months. “It’s great that fans are allowed in, even with the (hygiene) measures. My family is totally split up. One is in sector one, one is in sector two, one is in sector three, but we can be there, and to be there is everything.”
Fans were only permitted to attend the game under strict conditions.
Tickets were for club members only, personalized and non-transferable to ensure contact-tracing is possible. The supporters had to show ID and their club membership card before entering, and they had to wear masks when not in their allocated place.
Seats were clearly marked to show which could be used, and standing fans had to keep their distance from each other on the terraces. Stewards asked supporters who were too close to each other to move. Journalists had their temperatures taken and were seated apart, while photographers were allocated places where they had to stay.
“It’s sad that it’s so empty, but it’s wonderful to be here again,” Union fan Mark Schôffler said. The stadium has a capacity of over 22,000.
Nuremberg was German champion when it played Union for the first match at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei in 1920.
Two second-half goals from Danish forward Marcus Ingvartsen, including a penalty, were enough for Union. Fans sang long and loud, as if to make up for those who were absent.
“I didn’t see much of the game as I was looking at the people,” Union president Dirk Zingler said. “When I see those happy eyes … They sung their hearts out because they were finally here.”
Union survived its first season in the Bundesliga but sorely missed its passionate fans’ support when it was forced to play its last games in empty stadiums.
The Köpenick-based club pushed hard for their return and even suggested in July that it could have a full stadium for its first home game of the Bundesliga season by testing all staff and 22,012 ticket holders in the 24 hours before kickoff.
That idea was rejected, but Union had more success with local health authorities after making a more modest proposal. Local infection protection regulations permitted up to 5,000 people at open air events from Sept. 1.
Union next faces Karlsruher SC away in the first round of the German Cup next Saturday before hosting Augsburg in the Bundesliga’s opening round on Sept. 19.
German health minister Jens Spahn criticized clubs earlier Saturday for not taking a unified approach to allowing fans back at games, less than two weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel asked a working group to look at the possibility of allowing supporters from Oct. 31.
Leipzig successfully applied to local authorities in the state of Saxony for up to 8,500 fans at its first home Bundesliga game of the season against Mainz on Sept. 20, and Hertha Berlin will have up to 4,000 in Olympiastadion for Eintracht Frankfurt’s visit on Sept. 25.
Bayern Munich is working on a concept that would allow 24,000 supporters in its 70,000-capacity stadium, but is meeting resistance from Bavaria governor Markus Söder.
Different federal states have different restrictions.
“It makes a difference if a club has 10,000 or 15,000 supporters in a stadium and other clubs have 500,” said Wolfsburg managing director Jörg Schmadtke.
Spahn is more concerned with a recent increase in the daily rate of new coronavirus infections. On Saturday, Germany registered 1,378 new infections, bringing its total since the beginning of the pandemic to 248,997 cases. The country’s disease control center reported two more deaths, bringing the total to 9,324.
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