Retiring football shirts for symbolic reasons has long been a part of football’s tradition. Many clubs devote number 12 to the fans — regarded as the “12th” man on the pitch. Other clubs pack away shirt numbers as a tribute to legendary players. West Ham United, for example, retired the number six in tribute to Bobby Moore, a World Cup winner with England in 1966. More recently, Ajax decided that no other player could wear No.14, of course as an honour to the late Johan Cruyff.
The number 22 won’t be worn on the back of an Union shirt for the foreseeable future — until someone manages to break the all-time Union scoring record of Karim Benyamina who scored 87 goals in 213 appearances for the club. “This is a great gesture by president Dirk Zingker. That is the reward for six successful years,” he said in 2016. Over 14,000 fans turned out to give Benyamina his career send-off alongside another legend, Torsten Mattuschka, who is often seen as the face of that particular era for Union.
Benyamina’s arrival in Köpenick marked the start of the club’s long revival. Following three seasons in the second division, the club dropped as low as the Oberliga, then Germany’s fourth tier. In his first season with the club, Union returned to the third-tier Regionaliga Nord and Benyamina struck 18 times, including a hat trick against rivals BFC Dynamo. Success in Germany’s regional divisions secured a place in the new nationwide third division, which was established by Germany’s FA in 2008. A full year later, Benyamina scored one of the title-clinching goals against Jahn Regensburg as Union achieved 2.Bundesliga status again — five years after the collapse to the amateur levels.
His performances at Union propelled him on to the international stage for Algeria, the country of his father’s birth. Benyamina was born in Dresden, but he grew up in Berlin around Märkisches Viertel with father Moussa and mother Andrea, who is German. “It’s a dream of mine to run out for Algeria,” said the then 28-year-old striker. He earned his first cap in November 2010 against Luxembourg, before appearing in competitive action against Tanzania in qualifying for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. “It was something new for me to see green and white in the stands, and not red and white like at Union,” he reflected on his stint with his national team.
The curtain came down on his time in Köpenick in 2011. From then, he embarked on something of a mini-odyssey. He marked his return to Union with a goal for FSV Frankfurt before going on to play for Karlsruhe, who achieved promotion to the 2.Bundesliga. A seven-month spell in Algeria followed before Benyamina made a rather impressive return to the capital. At Berliner AK, he scored 19 goals in the 2014-15 campaign. He averaged almost a goal every 2 games for Viktoria Berlin at the age of 36, but his contract was dissolved due to financial problems. He switched to their rivals Tennis Borussia Berlin and is still playing, still scoring to this day. Indeed, it’s still possible to support Karim in an Union shirt at the AOK Traditionsmasters each January — one of his final contributions to Union history as he helped the Union legends lift the trophy for the first time in 2018.