BY TOMOS KNOX
For most fans, supporting their club conveys pride and joy, to see the fruits of their youth team set up burgeoning is the greatest feeling on earth. They will follow their team through its highs and its lows. They will travel hundreds of miles to watch them playing, be they opposing Slavia Prague, or Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’. Supporting a football club is almost akin to marrying; you know, at the point you start supporting a team, that you will dedicate the rest of your life to watching them play.
However, if you happen to be supporting a team going by the name of FC St. Pauli, the fact that you are supporting them at all may have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you’re passionate about football; supporting St Pauli is about making a statement.
In Hamburg, there are two big football clubs: Hamburger SV and St Pauli. HSV, awash with cash, are dubbed H$V by St Pauli fans, in reference to their wealth. Meanwhile FC St Pauli, based in the Sankt Pauli district of the same city, are completely the opposite.
A poor yet popular district, Sankt Pauli was, in the 1980’s, an impoverished neighbourhood; a hub for prostitutes, thieves and lepers. Known as the “die sündige Meile”- the “kilometre of sin” it also plays host to FC St. Pauli.
In the 1980’s, with anti-Semitism and right-wing fascism sweeping over Europe’s footballing community, it was inevitable that clubs in Germany would be affected. That is, apart from one. FC St Pauli’s new left-wing fan base adopted the ‘Skull and Crossbones’ banner as their unofficial club emblem. They were the first team in Germany to ban all right-wing nationalist activities. These supporters had emerged in a period of transition for the club, most of them moving from the more successful Hamburger SV, against its right wing nationalist fans. An alternative fan base had been created. The typically idiotic fan who hurls obscene insults at the referee was not to be seen at the Millerntor Stadion; St Pauli’s followers were in fact peaceful advocates of left-wing politics.
Even now, St. Pauli’s cult atmosphere is still in evidence. Playing AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” before every match, and celebrating home goals with Blur’s “Song 2”, they are very much the same as they were in the1980’s. Famously, the club once had an openly gay president, namely Corny Littman. And in 2006, at a time when World Cup fever was gripping the nation firmly, the decided to create their own.
The FIFI Wild Cup was a concept made up entirely by FC St. Pauli, featuring unrecognised sides such as Tibet, Greenland, Zanzibar, Northern Cyprus, Gibraltar (now part of UEFA) and the rather dubiously titled Republic of Sankt Pauli!
The tournament was a success. Tibet’s side was lacking in experience, and suffered heavy defeats at the hands of St. Pauli and Gibraltar in Group A, while Northern Cyprus and Zanzibar dominated Group B, sending Greenland home without a single point to their name. In the semi-finals that ensued, Northern Cyprus would go on to beat Gibraltar 2-0, while the ‘Republic of Sankt Pauli’ crashed out following a 2-1 defeat by Zanzibar; the Africans proving superior to the host ‘nation’. The final was an exciting affair, held at the Millerntor Stadion, as had been the case for every match. The hosts were out, but a good crowd still turned up to the ground. The match was tense and at 90 minutes the score was still 0-0. Nobody was quite sure what to do, after all, this was a far cry from the FIFA World Cup. Finally, it was decided that the winners would compete in a penalty shoot-out, and Northern Cyprus emerged the victorious side, winning by a comfortable margin of 4-1.
FC St. Pauli does not exist for the purpose of making money, nor do their fans care if they are playing in the Bundesliga or the Hamburg regional league. One of its fundamental principles is that:
“In its totality, consisting of members, staff, fans and honorary officers, St. Pauli FC is a part of the society by which it is surrounded and so is affected both directly and indirectly by social changes in the political, cultural and social spheres.”
The first club in Germany to integrate Fundamental Principles, St. Pauli are a club that goes beyond football. With most of their fans priding themselves on being anti-racist, fascist, sexist and homophobic, the team have also embraced these views and in 2002, banned adverts for men’s magazine Maxim due to fan protests over the sexist depiction of women on the advertisements.
St. Pauli is also a global symbol for Punk. Many music groups have worn the famous brown and white shirt, including Gaslight Anthem and Asian Dub Foundation, while Andrew Eldritch, lead singer of the Sisters of Mercy is an avowed fan. Scottish band The Wakes also wrote a song about the club “The Pirates League” in reference to the club’s Skull and Crossbones links. Although not the official badge, the infamous pirate flag was used as the Republic of Sankt Pauli’s logo for the FIFI Wild Cup, and is also used by the club’s fans.
Despite the club and its fans’ rebellious endeavours, the team itself continue to play in the second division of German football, the Bundesliga 2. Having gained promotion to the Bundesliga in 2010, expectations were relatively high. However, in the ensuing season, St Pauli descended to the bottom of the table, and were then relegated. Still in the same league, the ‘Buccaneers’ finished 8th in the 2013-14 campaign, but promotion looks unlikely for the forthcoming season. Boasting a mediocre side, another mid-table finish looks attainable.
FC St. Pauli may not be getting promoted anytime soon, they may not have the best squad in Germany, but the basis on which it exists does not imply that it must be so. A club that attracts more fans than some Bundesliga sides, St Pauli do not care for the wealth and glory inclusive in a Champions League, nor do their fans care if the manager is undergoing a dismal streak. The basis on which they exist is to be the club that simply promotes key values in its own way.