Normally when I am planning a holiday or break with my very understanding wife Sammy, we will agree on a destination and I will decide on the date (which just so happens to coincide with one of the teams based in our destination having a home game). However our trip to the St Pauli district of Hamburg in May of last year was very different. Due to my leftist political leanings and love of unconventional football clubs, seeing FC St Pauli play at the Millerntor was very much a bucket list experience for me and this particular trip would centre around going to the Boys in Brown’s final home game of the season against Greuther Fürth.
For those that are unaware, FC St Pauli are THE “Kult” Club for those with more liberal, left wing, political views, the club and their supporters are extremely active in bringing attention and action to campaigns, causes and generally standing for inclusivity (anything remotely racist, homophobic or discriminatory in any way will not be tolerated at the Millerntor) and providing for those in need such as refugees. The refugees welcome movement may have been adopted by many clubs around the World but St Pauli have gone one step further in formally adopting FC Lampedusa a club set up to support the “Lampedusa refugees” who arrived in Hamburg having fled the war in Libya. They are a club like no other, a phrase I deliberately use as St Pauli also shares a special friendship with fans of Glasgow Celtic (another favoured club of mine). This connection is evident from the green hooped shirts dotted amongst the St Pauli brown on match days.
We’d be joined in Germany by three other couples all of whom were friends of ours, some would join us at the game with the rest of the group no doubt managing to entertain themselves in one of the notorious, Reeperbahn area’s numerous drinking establishments. Indeed the infamous red light and entertainment area known as “the sinful mile” is a short walk from the stadium.
It had been a difficult season overall for the Kiez Kicker (a solid run of form in the final third of the season enabling the club to pull clear of the threat of relegation and finish comfortably in 7th place) not that you’d know it from the many fans in the vicinity of the ground carrying pieces of cardboard denoting that they were looking for a ticket to the game.
Sammy, my good friend Blowsey and I stopped by the Jolly Roger (a bar just a stone’s throw from the Millerntor & somewhat of a rite of passage among overseas based fans and named after the iconic Totenkopf flag which is synonymous with the club and its punk roots) for a couple of pre-match Astras (the district’s local beer and a partner of the club) which also involved a rather cool game (cool used subjectively) of recognising as many different Ultras’/Supporters groups’ stickers as possible – I know we know how to enjoy ourselves right?!
There was a real celebratory atmosphere among the various supporters groups dotted around outside with the team having guaranteed their 2.Bundesliga status over the previous weeks and we met and chatted with fans both local and from around the world.
Outside the ground the only way to describe the atmosphere was festival-esque, with fans milling around in the sunshine, enjoying €1 Astras bought from a guy’s shopping trolley whilst the distinct smell of marijuana hung in the air.
We stopped by one of the merchandise stands having just entered the stadium and I had my eyes on something a little controversial, an FC St Pauli / Celtic FC half and half scarf. Now, normally I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of a half and half scarf unless it was a charity game, testimonial or match of that ilk but this represented more than a time when one club played against another, this represented a solidarity and ongoing friendship between two clubs and two likeminded sets of fans and it was getting purchased!
Blowsey sharing the same affections for both clubs also purchased the scarf & with our necks suitably adorned we went to take our seats.
The ground’s walls are decorated with various pieces of street art depicting images of support for the club’s various key, guiding principles of inclusivity and counter fascist ethos. It’s a welcome change from the sterility of many modern stadia.
After a fan led rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, the first chimes of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells could be heard which signifies the team are taking the field. Greuther Fürth fans travelled in large numbers & were just to the right of us in the North stand and brought the pyro as green smoke billowed from near the front, but I was more interested in seeing the bouncing St Pauli Ultras in the Sudkurve at the opposite end of the ground.
The game itself was typical end of season fayre, both sides moved the ball well but with nothing on the game neither really played with any real intensity. I’d been a fan of St Pauli midfielder Mats Moller Daehli for a while and he played his usual, technically excellent game finding pockets of space and kept the game ticking.
Fürth took the lead on 37 minutes and threatened to put a bit of a dampener on the day but this was cancelled out in the second half by a towering header from then St Pauli centre back Lasse Sobiech who connected with a cross from the superb Christopher Buchtmann which was greeted with Song2 by Blur being blared through the PA.
The game finished all square; the players thanked all four stands of the ground in a manner customary to the German leagues. This was greeted with fervor, enthusiasm and more pyro especially from the Sudkurve. The club and partners Astra were to host a celebration as a thank you to fans for their support through a difficult season in the market area close to the ground with the local brewer providing three thousand litres of free beer to attendees.
We’d considered attending but these plans were derailed by the large consumption of beer and rum that our group went through at several other Reeperbahn locations after the game.
Nevertheless it was a brilliant day at the football, at a club that really is one of a kind and which left an indelible mark on all three of us.
The next trip to the Millerntor to visit this fantastic, fiercely working class, punk as hell football club is very much in the works.
I mention that the club left an indelible mark on me and it really has, visiting St Pauli and understanding its history and how it takes action in support of all that it holds dear has made me think more about the causes that matter to me and to actively do something in support of these, as FC St Pauli said after taking in 200 protestors against the controversial G20 summit which took place in the Reeperbahn area of Hamburg last year after their right to assemble and protest was being threatened; “If not us, who?!” This really is a special club and I can’t wait to come back.