It is easy to see why such a story - supporters literally bleeding for their club - has become such a popular reference point for what it means to be a Unioner, yet without the arrival of current President Dirk Zigler in the same summer, it is likely their stirring efforts would have been in vain.
Zingler’s arrival in 2004 can essentially be considered the starting point for Union’s rise from not only the shadow of the Berlin Wall, but also its status as a perennial underdog. A Union fan and local businessman, Zingler is that rarest of things in modern-day football - a chairman beloved by his team’s fans, who are able to look at him and see an image of themselves reflected back.
In 2008, with the club’s home, the Stadion An Der Alten Försterei (Old Forester’s House), urgently requiring a new stand, Zingler spent 12 hours a day on the ground alongside the volunteer workforce (drawn from 2500 Union fans) to help build it. He also speaks like a fan.
Earlier this season, following a request by fellow Berlin club, Hertha BSC, to mark the city’s first ever Bundesliga derby by arranging the fixture for November 9th - the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - Zingler responded, “I don’t understand the request, for me it is a derby. It stands for rivalry, for division; it stands for football-based, class-conflict in the city”.
His tenure has been no Leipzigian tale of manufactured success, however. Rather, it is a story that contains elements that would resonate with any fan for whom obscurity is the norm and success a fleeting bedfellow. Indeed, within 12 months of Zingler becoming president, Union would suffer a second successive relegation and the indignity of playing semi-professional opposition. It would be another three years before they would again play in the German second tier, the 2. Bundesliga, with promotion followed by seven successive seasons of thrill-free mid-table finishes, never placing lower than 12th or higher than 6th, a run remarkable for its consistency if nothing else