You’ve probably seen the skull and crossbones flown at matches, maybe you’ve even heard of the little German club from Hamburg with the big spirit, but the story of St. Pauli, shows that if you don’t know the character and spirit of a team, outside of results and stats and trophies, then you don’t know the team at all.
Based in the red light district of Hamburg, surrounded by sex cinemas and neon lights, St. Pauli’s Millentor-Stadion stands alone in the 2. Bundesliga as the only club to boast a near 100% record of home attendance in their 29,000 seats. Regardless of results, or the lack of star signings, or even the hope of winning anything. FC St. Pauli is the epitome of a club which exists for more than money or trophies, but for the furious love of the game and the capacity it has to unite people.
The skull ad crossbones was unofficially adopted by the club when local punk singer Doc Mabuse arrived at the stadium drunk one afternoon brandishing a jolly roger he’d swiped on the way. Following that, the symbol has taken off like wildfire and become part of the legend, what the club stands for. It stands for the poor fighting and taking from the rich. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more left-wing, anti-fascist, anti-homophic, pro-immigrant club on the face of the earth. This is the club who printed a match programme for the visit of Bayern Munich with a skull and crossbones emblazoned with the words “CLASS WAR”.
St. Pauli actively banned racist and fascist acts or banners at their club as early as the 80s, while most of the rest of Europe’s clubs were mired in street hooliganism, St. Pauli were wearing anti-fascist t-shirts and singing communist songs. Anarchists, squatters, prostitutes, students and punks regularly comprised the guts of their home crowd, organising demonstrations and protests, using the football on the pitch as a clarion call for local working class Hamburg people to stand together. It’s something which has remained true even today. Fans still organise in local districts to support squatters or protest deficiencies in low-income housing areas. St. Pauli boasts the largest number of female fans in any club in Germany, having Maxim magazine recently banned from advertising on club grounds for sexist discrimination. Even today, the club maintains a healthy relationship with other left wing sides such as Celtic, Partizan Minsk and Hapoel Tel Aviv. Ultras regularly collect money outside the club to fund anti-fascist action in Hamburg and there’s a club-led initiative to help fans suffering from clinical depression.
It goes further. In 2010, St. Pauli hosted a tournament for recently arrived refugees (support for whom has become a driving force at the club too), in 2006 the club hosted a mini World Cup for teams from unrecognised nations, like Tibet and Greenland and play friendlies with Cuba in order to show solidarity with Castro. In 2005, St Pauli campaigned and raised funds to get clean, usable water for impoverished areas in Cuba and Rwanda. What has your club been doing?
It all comes down to the famous “5 principles” by which the club abides:
– “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.”
– “St. Pauli FC is conscious of the social responsibility this implies, and represents the interests of its members, staff, fans and honorary officers in matters not just restricted to the sphere of sport.”
– “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 social and political responsibility in relation to the district and the people who live there.”
– “St. Pauli FC aims to put across a certain feeling for life and symbolises sporting authenticity. This makes it possible for people to identify with the club independently of any sporting successes it may achieve. Essential features of the club that encourage this sense of identification are to be honoured, promoted and preserved.”
– “Tolerance and respect in mutual human relations are important pillars of the St. Pauli philosophy.“
But how do you maintain an existence in the murky, money-driven world of football while keeping your soul?
The answer is with great difficulty. St Pauli has almost gone under dozens of times. It was one man who really set them on their way; Corny Littman, the first openly gay club president in German football. Littman marketed the rebel nature of the club far and wide, seizing on the appeal of the underdog-rebels in a world of brash money, glitz and scandal. And it kind of worked. in the 1980s the club pulled about 1,600 fas per game, but by the late 90s this had sweled to capacity and that’s stayed about the same way since. The club today claims 11 million fans worldwide, many famous examples in the music industry (Bad Religion played a charity match with them and the guitarist of Sigur Ros regularly wears their shirts at gigs). St Pauli couldn’t ever stay true to their roots by pursuing the ‘marketplace’ transfer policy of larger clubs like neighbours Hamburg SV, buying low and selling high in order to make a profit. St . Pauli mainly buy young, German players with a local connection. “Hells Bells” by AC/DC starts every game.
For fans of St. Pauli, the results are less important than the club being a touchstone for the pure love of football and also something deeper and more important than trophies. It’s just not about the money. As one fan famously commented; “Even if we go down a division, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. ”
Photos Courtesy: David Coggins
Would you make St. Pauli your second team?