A story is developing in the Regionalliga Nordost but it’s not a new story.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a club which averages little more than 2000 fans in the north of Berlin has been marooned in the lower leagues of German football.
Berliner FC Dynamo, better known as BFC Dynamo, has not risen above the fourth tier since 1999 and has not experienced a promotion in almost ten years.
That may all be about to change but understanding why this is an astonishing tale requires a look back at what happened in East Germany before the fall of the Wall.
A new documentary, Stasi FC, tells the extraordinary story of a Stasi-run football club in East Berlin where the results were guaranteed, players’ families were held captive and, eventually, most of their fans deserted them.
The documentary explains how, Erich Mielke, head of the East German secret police (the Stasi) used his beloved BFC Dynamo as “ambassadors in tracksuits”, continuing a long tradition of sportswashing.
“It was an open secret that Dynamo Berlin was the pet project of Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi, and that he held a protecting hand over the club”, remembers Ralf Minge, a former striker for BFC’s biggest competitor, Dynamo Dresden. “This meant that they became every other team’s No 1 rival. When you played them, you wanted to win.”
As Honorary President of the club, Mielke guided the club to 10 consecutive DDR-Oberliga victories and into European Cups, where they faired less well.
On the pitch, Referees were ‘selected’ for duty, results were manipulated, and players from across the East were funnelled to the club.
“If there was a player Mielke wanted, the lad was told: ‘after the summer you’re going to play for BFC, and if you don’t, that’s the end of competitive sport for you’,” says Falko Götz, who played for Dynamo from 1971 until 1983. “It didn’t matter what your contract said.”
Off the pitch, players sought asylum in West Germany, mysteriously died, and violence on the streets and in the terraces grew.
“I can’t say what really happened, because there’s a lot of room for speculation,” says Götz. “But there’s no question that the Stasi was capable of it.”
Fans turned their backs on the pitch in protest to the displays of authoritarianism and slowly, attendances diminished.
In 1986, BFC Dynamo were losing to Lokomotive Leipzig when the opposition captain was sent off. The referee kept the match going until he could hand BFC a penalty in added time. “To be honest, I was embarrassed by what was going on on the pitch sometimes,” says Götz. “No one wanted to win that way.”
By the time the Wall fell and the East was subsumed by the West, BFC Dynamo’s reputation as Stasi FC was entrenched in folklore.
BFC Dynamo remains associated with fascism to this day and the club has largely been banished to the footnotes of German football but that is changing.
After filing for bankruptcy in 2001, the club has rebuilt itself, stabilised its finances and now plays in the fourth division of German football.
In 2021-22, BFC Dynamo won the Regionalliga Nordost, only prevented from promotion to 3. Liga by defeat in the play-offs to VfB Oldenburg.
This year, they are at it again.
BFC Dynamo are second in the league with Rufut Dadashov top-scorer in the league with 13 goals. They have lost just once since early August.
In recent weeks, victories have come away from home against third-placed Cottbus, away to Hertha Berlin’s second team, and a dominant 4-0 win over eighth-placed Luckenwalde at home, interspersed with an entertaining 3-3 draw with Viktoria Berlin having been two goals down until late on.
BFC are the second highest scorers in the league only two points and one goal behind league-leaders, Greifswald.
Fortunes are also improving off the pitch for the infamous club.
A new stadium holding 20,000 fans is planned for 2028 in the Fredrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, and will meet requirements for the third and second tiers of German football.
BFC Dynamo may be a club that many people want to forget but they might just be rising from the ashes and into the headlines.
GGFN | Oscar O’Mara