Union Berlin marks stadium centenary with return of fans

Bundesliga club Union Berlin welcomed 4,500 fans to a pre-season friendly match on Saturday in what marked the largest football crowd in Germany since the COVID-19 shutdown.

The match against Nuremberg was held at the 22,000-seat Stadion An der Alten Försterei to celebrate the ground’s 100-year anniversary.

A limited number of tickets were made available and social distancing guidelines were in place for supporters during the match. Mask-wearing was also required when fans were walking to and from their allocated seats.

The match, which the home team won 2-1, marked the first time that fans had been in the stadium since Union Berlin’s 2-2 draw against VfL Wolfsburg on March 1.

“It was a good feeling,” said Union coach Urs Fischer. “It gave me goosebumps, even when the stadium wasn’t full. It’s just good to have spectators in the stadium.”

In July, Union Berlin said it would offer free COVID-19 tests to more than 20,000 fans as part of plans to play in front of a capacity crowd when the 2020-21 season gets underway later this month.

Club president Dirk Zingler said at the time that the club’s stadium experience “doesn’t work” with social distancing. The club had planned on granting entry to any fan that tested negative but the proposal was ultimately rejected, although the club was granted permission to allow 4,500 fans at Saturday’s match.

Last week, Leipzig’s health authority gave permission for up to 8,500 fans to attend the 2020-21 Bundesliga season opener against Mainz 05 at Red Bull Arena on September 20.

The figure represents 20 per cent of the stadium’s 42,000 capacity. RB Leipzig fans will be required to wear face masks, with tickets to be raffled off among the club’s 22,500 season ticket holders.

Hertha Berlin is set to welcome 4,000 fans to the Olympiastadion for the visit of Eintracht Frankfurt on September 25, while Bayern Munich is hoping to allow as many as 24,000 fans at matches. Restrictions on crowd attendances in Germany differ from state to state.

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