Dynamo can take page from German team's playbook

February 11, 2010 9:40:23 PM PST
The debate over the Houston Dynamo's soccer stadium has stirred a lot of emotions. Thousands of miles away, fans were so determined to have a state of the art stadium for themselves they took it into their own hands. Soccer is Germany's national sport. There are fans and there are FC Union fans.

"They stand behind them, they are our guys," said Christian Arbeit who works for the FC Union soccer team.

The East Berlin soccer club has a storied history. During the Cold War, the teams arch rival was affiliated with East Germany's feared secret service, the Stasi. The circumstances led them to an unofficial opposition against the socialist system. The fans would often sing veiled chants against the political authorities.

But when the Berlin Wall came down, the future of the historical soccer club became uncertain.

"After the wall came down, the whole sports system changed completely," said Arbeit.

While the team was doing well, the organization almost collapsed financially.

"It was quite difficult to keep the stadium in good shape without having much money," Arbeit said.

Two years ago, the football association told team management the stadium was in such disrepair they could no longer get a license to play there.

"No one could imagine to leave this place and just move to another stadium," said Arbeit.

But FC Union fans refused to give up. It was their idea to renovate the stadium with their bare hands. Week after week, more than 2,500 different fans showed up at 7am.

"Many others were nurses, doctors, dentists, teachers, every profession you could imagine," Arbeit said.

So day by day they rebuilt FC Union's house of football. Young and old, women and men, they painted, helped pour cement and kept on going through the winter snow. Sponsors donated equipment and supplies. The club paid for projects that required professionals like the roof.

By the time fans gathered for a rally towards the end of the renovations, the 8 million Euros renovation only cost the club 2.5 million Euros.

Fans spent 140,000 hours over 13 months improving the stadium. It not only brought the fans closer together, but it increased team morale. The team has enjoyed far more wins since the stadium improvements.

Fans were right there to celebrate and even after the new stadium opened this past fall, they kept up the work by cleaning and picking up trash at the home of FC Union.

"The people came here and said, 'Wow, how could you have done this?'" said Arbeit.

It truly is the house the fans built.

FC Union is having so much success this season they have moved up to the next division in European soccer. The team averages about 14,000 fans a game.