"I hate football, but I love St. Pauli"
Hamburg’s St. Pauli is one of Germany’s most popular football clubs – and quite possibly the most popular openly left wing football club in the world.
When in Hamburg, be bold and wander off to a place where pirate flags wave and the “militantly tolerant” rule: get yourself a ticket to a St. Pauli football game.
You can’t call St. Pauli’s football playing anywhere near sensational. The Hamburg team has never won a cup worth mentioning. Still, Hamburg’s St. Pauli is one of Germany’s most popular clubs. With an estimated twelve million fans, and perpetually sold out matches – this underdog almost gives Germany’s number one, Bayern München, a run for its money.
So, what’s their secret? In typically Hamburg fashion, its political. St. Pauli is the most popular openly left wing football club in the world. With strong stances against homophobia, sexism, racism and violence they attract a totally unique football crowd. Offensive supporters are politely thrown off the tribunes by a united fan base; a big thing in a European football scene that regularly makes headlines for violence or offensive chants. A reliable source has told me that a St. Pauli match can truly be an experience of a lifetime, so it’s a good thing I’m about to go to one.
Offensive supporters are politely thrown off the tribunes by a united fan base
I’m on my way to Hamburg with a group of Dutch St. Pauli fans calling themselves the Brown White Tulips – so named after the club’s rather ugly color combination. This weekend, St Pauli will play low-league club MSV Duisburg. In the bus, I take my seat next to chemistry teacher Peter Budding, a long time St. Pauli fan. “In St. Pauli everything comes together for me”, he says. “My political preference, my ideals and my love for football.”
When we arrive at the Millerntor Stadium in Hamburg, St. Pauli's home ground, there’s already a crowd at the gates. Dressed in black t-shirts with white skulls – the official St. Pauli emblem – the vibe feels closer to a punk concert than a football match. All dressed in black, the St. Pauli lot have something daunting over them. But this is quickly contested by a Dutch fan: “they’re really all very nice.”
We take our seats on the tribune right next to the “St. Pauli Ultras” – the hard supporter core of the club. Punk songs are played continuously, and the Ultras scream at the top of their lungs, waving their pirate flags left to right. “Fun, isn’t it?”, Budding shouts in my ear. When the players arrive on field, the sold out stadium explodes.
St. Pauli was the first to implement a stadium ban for insults on race, religion, sexual preference or gender
The good mood on the stands isn’t necessarily a reflection of what happens on the field. Balls are foolishly kicked off-field, players miss the ball more often than then they kick it. But Brown White Tulip Gita Rozenbroek doesn’t care about the game’s quality. “Winning isn’t important, that’s what’s so nice about going to a St. Pauli match”, she says. “Everyone stays in a good mood. To be honest, I usually hate football, but I love St. Pauli.”
St. Pauli started as a regular club, with just a small following. But when Hamburg’s blooming squatting scene adopted the club and changed the logo to a ‘totenkopf’ (“skull”) it became the first club to implement an official stadium ban for insults on race, religion, sexual preference or gender. The stadium should be a safe, loving place. The club has been a success ever since.
Sven Brux was one of the first squatters that brought politics into the Millerntor stadium. Brux is an impressive two meters tall, bald, and wears a large silver earring in his left ear. He looks imposing, yet sweet. To him, St. Pauli’s success isn’t a surprise. “I know a lot of people that loved football when they were little, but never go to stadiums because of the negativity there”, he says. “They refound their love for football in St. Pauli. There are no hooligans here, and everyone is respected. For a lot of people, that’s very important.”
Five minutes before time, St. Pauli is two goals ahead of MSV Duisburg. An almost unprecedented achievement for the club. The black hooded ultras turn ecstatic when St. Pauli’s striker Mahir Saglik scores their fourth goal one minute before the end. Elated high fives echo over the stands. And the Brown White Tulips are happy. “Look around you”, Peter Budding says: “I know St. Pauli’s playing isn’t perfect. But to me, you can’t get closer to perfection than this.”