It’s quite a strange thing, my passion for FC St. Pauli – the German football Club from the port city of Hamburg which has spent most of its time of late in Deutschland’s 2. Bundesliga.
Truth be told, I can’t pinpoint when it was I started following this unique football institution, whose home is the 29,063-capacity Millerntor-Stadion (right near Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn district) oozing with what some unsuspecting fans, and probably rival outfits, would find downright obscure traditions and culture.
Certainly, St. Pauli the football club, plus their matchday, is about as far removed from the Hyundai A-League experience as any could imagine. And most probably, therein lies its appeal.
You see, FC St. Pauli has a rawness and edge to it that you just don’t get at most clubs, or in most countries or cities around the globe. Even so, don’t mistake this rawness and edge for anything confrontational, anything that ought put you off venturing to a game – attending a FC St. Pauli home fixture in Germany’s north is an extremely welcoming and rewarding experience.
Evident to my eye on my sole visit to the Millerntor for a matchday is FC St. Pauli’s vast and varied fan base. Packed into the Club’s boutique, beautiful Stadium on game day one of the 2. Bundesliga 2014/15 season as FC St. Pauli hosts Mathew Leckie’s FC Ingolstadt 04 are men and women of all ages. The most common thread that identifies them to the eye is the shades of brown and black in which they sport.
But the FC. St. Pauli fan base unite for much more than just their team. Indeed, the Club itself were the first in Germany to integrate a set of fundamental principles to dictate how the Club is run. These principles – chief among them “tolerance and respect in mutual human relations” – ensures that support of the Club extends far beyond sporting success, which is probably why the Club is so widely renowned and respected.
FC St. Pauli supporters regard themselves as anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist, and included in the Club’s principles is that the Club “owes its identity” to the “particular city district” from which it stems. This gives the Club “a social and political responsibility in relation to the district and the people who live there”. Beautiful.
The Millerntor then, is the shrine that represents the people of the district, and those who share the Club’s ideals. Graffiti and stickers adorn the walls, it’s rough around the edges, and not necessarily kept spick and span. I’d love to visit again with time up my sleeve to explore the venue in full – the stories the walls would tell. More Hyundai A-League clubs could look at this type of integration to tell their narrative, and reflect their fans – though until Clubs begin to start owning their own Stadiums, I won’t hold my breath.
The way FC St. Pauli integrates its sponsors and partners, plus sells its merchandise, is also unique and innovative – undoubtedly the Club would have it no other way. Half a Mini sticks out near the scoreboard, while everything from toasters that burn the Club’s unofficial emblem of a skull and crossbones into bread, to tees and scarves are sold from modified yet purposeful shipping containers dotted around the precinct. At the game I am told FC St. Pauli, despite playing in the second division, have merchandise sales ranking third in Germany behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. I can’t verify this, but if the sheer range of products, and products changing hands in the Club shop and from the shipping containers is anything to go by, it could possibly be true.
The entertainment outside the Stadium? An authentic fan and his guitar singing FC St. Pauli songs in a mix of German, English and Spanish. An open-minded lad probably pushing 40, but with brown and black running through his veins. It’s beautiful, and could well be adopted here. The guy’s clearly a hero among his comrades. And, like many places I have been in Germany, and generally Europe, the attitude to sipping a cold beer – in this case an ‘Astra’ – just outside the gates is also liberal. It’s great, and makes for a party atmosphere even before you step inside the venue proper. The sun shines, and life is good.
FC St. Pauli’s matchday programme, the 16 page VIVA ST. PAULI, is printed in on rough newspaper. It’s distributed free, but fans can opt to drop some shrapnel in the distributor’s tins if they wish – the money re-invested into game day tifos. The design of VIVA ST. PAULI is clean and cooky – in a positive way – and ticks the boxes from a content perspective, balancing partner promotion, community chatter, and match information. Even with only limited German I can get the gist of the articles – if I was fluent it’d be better still.
So, if you’re in northern Germany between August and May, do yourself a favour and look up when FC St. Pauli will next be frequenting the Millerntor. You won’t regret the experience if you attend, nor will attending break your travel budget – tickets are very fairly priced. Plus, if you’re the type of supporter who loves to immerse yourself in all sorts of football fandom and culture, then you’ll find this particular visit immensely refreshing.