Upon their seventh consecutive season in the Bundesliga 2., there is great news for Union Berlin.
No, its not a transfer coup. Union already confirmed a replacement for last season’s top-scorer (by far) Sebastian Polter, who joined England championship club QPR. Besides, American Bobby Wood, scorer of winning goals for the USA in back-to-back friendlies against the Netherlands and Germany, heads to the capital club from rivals 1860 Munich. No, Unions’ news concerns the return of a player, who missed the entire second half of last season.
Before you think about one of those players with a long-standing injury, I must made it clear here that this story is different.
It’s the story of a fighter, battling a rare case of stomach cancer. Only missing a single match during the Hinrunde, veteran Benjamin Köhler was on the verge of playing his 500th match of his overall career, which started way back when he signed his first professional contract with Hertha BSC in the turn of the millennium. But a diagnose with Hodgkin’s lymphoma just days prior to the season restart turned all attention from the football to life itself.
Eisern bleiben Benny!
The first match of 2015 saw Union Berlin hosting VFL Bochum with only two points separating the teams in the standings, however, something else was more important than the stakes or the scoreline; rather, it was Köhler’s diagnosis.
The entire players and coaching staff showed their support with a banner that read “Stay Strong Benny,” as well as wearing t-shirts that said “Fight Together,” not just before kick-off or after the final whistle, as one might expect, but in the middle of the match. After 7′, the players suddenly rushed into the main stand, where their number 7 was sitting, in one of the great gestures in football that left everyone with goosebumps and tears.
Prior to the match, Union Berlin extended the player’s contract for another year, which was due to expire at season’s end. Union Berlin are well-acquainted with loyalty, as the club gave fans the chance to own part of the stadium, which they voluntarily helped rebuild in 2009. The club’s integrity goes as far as coming up with the idea of inviting fans to watch the 2014 World Cup in the club’s stadium at the luxury of their own sofas.
Veteran of the Game
The highlight of Köhler’s career is undoubtedly from his time at Eintracht Frankfurt. He joined the Eagles when they were in second-tier, but after they were promoted to the top-flight in his maiden season, in which he contributed seven goals and assists each, he spent seven seasons with Eintracht in the Bundesliga.
Once again, he was instrumental in helping the traditional-laden club return to the Bundesliga in 2011-12, and his versatility for playing in any midfield position made him one of the familiar faces of the Frankfurt side.
But with playing time hard to come by under Armin Veh, Köhler joined second-division side Kasierslautern in 2013. His time at Fritz-Walter-Stadion was short-lived, however, as he signed with fellow Bundesliga 2. side Union Berlin after six months with the German Red Devils.
He’s featured in total of 49 matches for Union since his arrival, and with all his experience, he is the team’s star player hoping to follow the recent underdogs’ stories of climbing to the Bundesliga.
At the time of diagnosis, Köhler was full of courage to fight cancer with everything he had. Last week, the player confirmed the great news that he wins the battle via the club’s official website. On his facebook page, he also thanked everybody who has been there for him in his relentless fight against this uncommon form of cancer. The season start will see Union Berlin play host to Fortuna Düsseldorf, but as it has been the case six months earlier, the result will be irrelevant.
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