By Martin Smith
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 359

Pirates of the Bundesliga

This article is over 13 years, 1 months old
If you hate football with every fibre in your body, then read on. If you love football with a passion, then you need to read on too.
Issue 359

How can I square this circle, I hear you ask. The answer to this conundrum lies in Hamburg, Germany. There, nestling between the Reeperbahn (Hamburg’s red-light district), the docks, and poor migrant and working class neighbourhoods is the Millerntor stadium, home to the football team St Pauli.

St Pauli is, by a long mile, Europe’s most left wing football club. The club has launched a new T-shirt which reads: Love St Pauli – Hate Racism, and, yes, it is inspired by Love Music Hate Racism’s message. I was invited by a group of supporters to talk about our struggle against the racist English Defence League, to promote their T-shirt and watch a game, last month.

One thing strikes you as you make your way to the ground. From every bar, shop and seemingly every block of flats, flies the pirate flag, the Jolly Roger (Totenkopf). My host for the day is Bruno, an ex-squatter and libertarian socialist. He explains that the flag symbolises the fight of the poor against the rich clubs.

The second thing that grabs your attention is that St Pauli supporters are not your average fans. They are a mixture of punks, tattooed rockers, anarchists, blue collar workers, and for good measure St Pauli has more women supporters than any other club in Europe.

These supporters are attracted to a club that wears its political heart on its sleeve and one that encourages an alternative culture to flourish on the terraces. They were the first European club to promote an anti-racist and anti-fascist culture on the terraces. The team played a tournament in Cuba to show solidarity with the country and in the 1980s and their goalkeeper Volker Ippig took a year out to help the Nicaraguan Revolution.

Matches are like a festival. The team comes on to the strains of ACDC’s song “Hells Bells” and when they score, Blur’s “Song 2” blares out around the stadium. After the game sound systems are set up outside the ground and mini street parties are held.

Bruno explained to me that the transformation into a radical club began in the 1980s. At that time St Pauli were playing in the lower divisions.

A group of squatters began to attend games. For a laugh some began to bring their Jolly Roger flags into the ground. Slowly the group grew and other football supporters, tired of the fascist elements and overt commercialism associated with other clubs, began to follow St Pauli. Today you see Che Guevara flags and anarcho-syndicalist banners held aloft all around the ground.

Until recently the club’s president was Corny Littmann, an openly gay man. A few years ago an opposing group of football supporters chanted homophobic taunts at Littmann. When that team made a return visit to St Pauli, the terraces were full of “rainbow flags” – the perfect response.

Last year St Pauli won promotion to the Bundesliga, Germany’s top division. The pressure to remain in the league has seen the club succumb to commercial pressures. Business seats have been introduced and, unbelievably, a VIP box was sponsored by a Hamburg strip club. Outraged fans fought back. Sozialromantiker (Social Romantics) began to cover the strip club adverts in the ground during the games. The “Jolly Rouge” (red pirate flag) was flown by fans at the ground in protests at the strip club adverts.

Today the ads are no more and the club has terminated its advertising contract with the strip club owners. Fan power won the day and all over the ground the “Jolly Rouge” is still flown.

After the game I am taken by Bruno and some other fans to the Jolly Roger bar. It is heaving with punks and is festooned with every conceivable anti-racist and anti-fascist sticker. I am introduced to four people sitting at a table outside the bar. They look slightly out of place. They are not punks or rockers and neither are they covered from head to toe in St Pauli gear. Yet they appear to be having a great time. They tell me they are asylum seekers – guests of Bruno and his friends.

Bruno adds, “At home games a group of us invite a small group of refugees to come to the match. After we eat and drink late into the night; we pay for everything.

“We were once outsiders. Now we have found a home. We want these people to have a home at St Pauli.” For me, that sums up the ethos of St Pauli.

You see, you may hate football, but how can you not love St Pauli? And if like me you love football – can you think of a better place to spend a Saturday afternoon?

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