Mark Arrol encounters the cultural phenomenon that is St Pauli Football Club
St Pauli FC, situated in the Hamburg suburb of the same name, is a football club like no other in Germany. Whilst all German football clubs are deeply embedded within their respective towns and cities and are sources of civic pride (or disappointment), St Pauli has a bond with its neighbourhood which is completely unique.
The area in which it is located is not the prettiest. It’s not far from the industrial docks on the Elbe, in a residential area which is a stone’s throw from the infamous Reeperbahn and Hamburg’s Red Light district. No other club in Germany has its stadium in such an urban working environment.
Its five principles, which were passed by the club’s congress in 2009, includes one which states ‘St Pauli FC is the club of a particular city district and it is to this that it owes its identity. This gives it a political and social responsibility in relation to the district and the people who live there.’
As a result it’s the most ‘political’ of all the clubs, with a strong link to radical (though not revolutionary) left wing ideology, and it was the first one in Germany to ban right wing nationalist activities. The club is avowedly anti racist, anti sexist and anti homophobic. Two of the stands have the following permanent banners ‘Kein Mensch ist illegal’ (no one is illegal) and ‘Kein Fußball den Faschisten’ (No football for fascists).
Like a lot of clubs, it has a museum within the stadium. However unlike other museums it doesn’t feature a single trophy, because the club has never won anything. The museum was installed when a new stand was built in 2010; the police wanted to relocate their nearby station into the stadium…but the fans refused, coming up with the idea of a trophy-less museum to fill the space instead.
The club emblem, of a skull and crossbones, sums up its rebellious ethos, perfectly at ease with going against the prevailing winds of popular opinion. The story goes that it was adopted after the drunk lead singer of a local punk band (and fan) brought a skull and crossbones flag to a game in the early 1980s. Fittingly the teams runs out at the start of each game to the accompaniment of AC/DC’s Hells Bells.
Despite its lack of sporting success the club regularly features among the best supported teams in the second division. Games are permanently sold out and tickets are very rarely available for general sale. A full house of 29,500 generates an unbelievable atmosphere, helped by the fact that 60 percent of the stadium consists of Stehplätze (standing areas), a far higher proportion than other grounds in the top three divisions.
The lack of sporting success doesn’t bother the fans. In fact to a certain extent it probably strengthens the bond between club, fans and the community. They are fans of its ideology and ethos, more than they are fans of the football team, and commercial decisions are often taken with a view to their effect on fan sentiment, rather than the need to win.
So if you want a footballing experience where there is so much more going on than just the events on the pitch, St Pauli is the place to go…good luck in getting hold of a ticket though!
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