by James Oddy
It’s not often it seems worth queuing two hours in sub zero temperatures, with a splitting hangover headache, to see a German Second division football club. But St Pauli football club have a reputation which precedes them. For a club which has garnered very little success on the pitch, the club has become the ultimate antithesis of the ritzy Champions league elites, and I was determined to see them.
The trip had been planned months before, taking advantage of cheap budget airline tickets, and even cheaper hostel rooms. Match tickets had however proved much harder to acquire. Correspondence with the club was confusing. Some emails suggested that date for a crunch tie with fellow promotion hopefuls Bochum had not been confirmed, and that it could be held at any point over the Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday. So we travelled more in hope than expectation. I had all but resigned myself for the horrendous fate of simply getting very drunk on very cheap German lager for three days, while being hassled by prostitutes on the Repperbhan and mocked in the hostel bar as I drunkenly tried to talk German to confused Irishmen.
A pilgrimage to the St Pauli bar, The Jolly Roger (named after the club’s striking skull and crossbones symbol), the day before match day, seemed to be the closet I`d get to experiencing the unique atmosphere of the club. However, our group began chatting with a small, red faced Glaswegian. He drew us a small map of an office besides the ticket office, which he claimed may be able to sell us some tickets, but only on the day. It wouldn’t open until two hours before kickoff, which he confidently assured us was at half twelve, despite our belief it was half one. He also filled us in on the connection between Celtic and St Pauli, which was some nicely obscure fan culture. He alleged (and I stress alleged, as I take no `sides` in the old firm rivalry) that Rangers and Hamburg fans had struck up a friendship, mainly due to some shared political opinions. In response, Celtic and St Pauli fans had reached out to one another and formed a similar bond. It was nice to be filled in early, as the frequency on match day of half St Pauli/half Celtic scarves would have been extremely confusing.
“Its pussy time, not coffee time” he shouted at me as I fled down the street.
After we all agreed to have an early night in order to be up nice and early to go and wait for tickets, we ended up in some questionable establishments until the early hours. The clear distinction between brothel, strip club and nightclub seems to not exist along the Repperbhan. As we made our way back to the hostel, slightly worse for wear, snow began to fall, and heavily.
It`s an interesting aspect of the St Pauli club’s fan culture that they come from such a phenomenally seedy area of town. Prostitution is legal, but that doesn’t detract from its grubbiness. Sex shows are open 24 seven, complete touts, cold and miserable, stood outside. One morning while heading for a coffee, a tout informed that me that if I had a hangover, “pussy” was the best cure. “Its pussy time, not coffee time” he shouted at me as I fled down the street.
It seems at odds with the clubs famously committed policy of sexual equality. Still, the club’s anti establishment bent would perhaps not ring quite as true if the club was located in the more exclusive areas of town, complete with upmarket restaurants and Gucci and Rolex shops. Furthermore, the Repperbhan is not far from the famous Hafenstarbe, the former squat and hotbed of radical left wing political activism, which sprang up around, and informed, St Pauli’s rebirth in the early 1980s.
We arrived at the ground at half ten, and resigned ourselves to waiting in the biting cold. There was very little sign of life, aside from a small group of Germans sipping from bottles of Astra larger and chain smoking, also waiting to pick up tickets. They seemed to regard us with both curiosity and amusement, as we were clearly ill-equipped to be dealing with the weather, and clearly, the Astra they enjoyed sipping. They also seemed to find our realisation that we were an hour early, the kick off time at being indeed at half one, and the annoyance of missing a precious extra hour in the warmth of the hostel, extremely amusing.
Still, we toughed it out, and eventually a bearded man, who carried the air of a university lecturer who was still down with the kids, strolled up and slowly began to unlock the office. After handing out some tickets to the German Astra drinkers, we gingerly stepped into the office.
“Four tickets?” we asked.
“Are you members?” He asked, in perfect English.
He began looking at some papers on his desk. As we slowly began to shuffle out, he looked up again.
“Usually, they’re only for members. But today, I make an exception.” We were in.
The brilliant intro of Hells Bells by AC/DC caused a hush, then a steady roar.
The euphoria of the success, despite our poor planning and generally ignorance, washed away any lingering effects of the night before. Soon, the area around the ground began to fill up with fans. A significant volume of Bochum fans, proudly displaying shirts and scarves, intermingled, with absolutely no tension in the air, or at least none that I could see. Tents were erected offering currywurst and bread rolls, and more of the ubiquitous Astra, at dangerously low prices. We picked up a programme/fanzine for only a euro. My spoken German is awful, and my reading is even worse, but a flick through reveals that the back pages are filled with book, CD and gig reviews. Quite a change from reading Ken Bates’ notes in the Elland Road variety of match day reading.
Our queuing for tickets had put us at a disadvantage when it came to securing a good place to stand, and we were stuck in an awful spot, semi obscured by the dugout shelters. Still, the novelty of being in a stand, at a football game, was too great for me to feel to disappointed. It struck me as the game wore on that some spectators cared little for the actual game, and instead just used the occasion to catch up with friends, and enjoy a beer and a pretzel. One `fan` stood in front of us mainly seemed concerned with enjoying his two spliffs (presumably he rolled two pre-emptively, as the cold was too great to have functioning hands), followed by necking from a bottle of Jagermeister smuggled in via his backpack. Most of the fans seemed to be young, alternative student types, or grizzled, old men in biker jackets. There was also a surprisingly large amount of families with young children, something which I had never really questioned the absence of at English football grounds.
As we got settled and admired the Millerntor-Stadion, a woman went through both match day squads form the centre circle. When she reached the St Pauli players, she would only say their first name, leaving a gap for the fans to chant their surname. I particularly enjoyed shouting “FUNK” along with thousands of others. Eventually she scuttled off, and the anticipation levels began to build.
The brilliant intro of Hells Bells by AC/DC caused a hush, then a steady roar to build up around the ground. The two teams emerged from the tunnel to be greeted by a giant banner unruffled by both the travelling Bochum fans and the St Pauli fans. Some were simply of the club’s crests; others displayed political sentiments and opinions. In particular, a giant hammer and sickle caught my eye, proudly displayed in the `house of pain`, the nosiest and most densely packed stand, complete with a shaven headed man sat atop a metal fence, bellowing into a megaphone. Ticker tape also rained down onto us and the adjacent stands.
A half time mulled wine and a pretzel replaced my usual pie and pint.
The game kicked off, and St Pauli played some nice possession football in their own half, the centre backs knocking it around confidently. This is it, I though, continental sophistication. A vast improvement on Leigh Bromby hoofing it hopefully up field. Unfortunately though, this didn’t last, and as the ball crossed the centre circle, all sense of composure seemed to evaporate. Chances were snatched at, passes were mis-timed and Bochum began to look dangerous on the break. Japanese striker Takashi Inui, who was so tiny he resembled a mascot who had refused to leave the pitch, made up for his small stature with some zipping, skilful runs. After a failure to clear the ball properly, St Pauli went a goal down after Azaouagh sent a lopping shot from outside the area over the despairing keeper. The roar from the travelling fans was enough to make me forget I was a St Pauli fan for the day, momentarily.
St Pauli picked up where they left off, building slowly from the back, and eventually they managed to force a corner. The floating delivery was easily dispatched by defender Schachten. Bochum almost pegged St Pauli immediately, after a header thudded against the crossbar before being scrambled away, as the half ended just as both teams seemed to be warming up.
A half time mulled wine and a pretzel replaced my usual pie and pint. One thing that had struck me in the first half was that, although both sets of fans and teams were clearly passionate and wanting to win, the whole occasion had seemed fun. A Bochum player, Toski, was heckled and booed for some play acting and niggly play, but the hatred and venom I so often see at British grounds seemed largely absent. Instead, most fans seemed content to chant “We love you St Pauli, we do”. Of course, I could have simply lost the nuances or subtitles of a certain phrase or chant, but for the most part, both sets of fans seemed most concerned with supporting their own team, rather than abusing the other. The fans then began an impassionate, full throated, version of “You`ll never walk alone” in impeccable if heavily accented English, followed by quick, repeated chants of “ST PAULI” as half time drew to an end.
You could get St Pauli baby grows, Zippo lighters, club branded cigarettes. It seemed slightly at odds with the hammer and sickle proudly displayed earlier.
The second half continued as the first had ended, with both teams full blooded but scrappy, as the tension and aggression levels rose. St Pauli went agonizingly close from a free kick, the player (my view was obscured) somehow scooping the ball over the post rather than under it. Some wild challenges went unpunished, before a flurry of bookings resulted in Bochum being a man down. St Pauli made the numerical advantage count immediately, this time managing to score from a free kick, Scachten again, blasting the ball into the net after a neat knock down. St Pauli then seemed to grow in confidence across the pitch, playing some neat stuff as the clock ran down.
The final whistle saw St Pauli prevail 2-1, and both fans and team seemed satisfied with a hard won victory. We struck up a conversation with a German, who seemed thrilled to have us at his club. We discussed a few topics with him, and I was shocked to hear him tell us that an incident had happened at a previous game in which a referee was struck with a bottle. It seemed at odds with what I had seen that day, from both sets of fans, and suggested that even the most well meaning sets of fans can be infiltrated by idiots.
The club and its image were also heavily merchandised. You could get St Pauli baby grows, Zippo lighters, club branded cigarettes. It seemed slightly at odds with the hammer and sickle proudly displayed earlier. However, being `left wing` is a broad church, and evidently large sections of the fan base have no issue with the Jolly Roger being flown proudly on hoodies and woolly hats
All in all, the trip left me some great, and hazy, memories. Reading about the Suarez and Evra handshake shenanigans on the plane home, it caused me to reflect on what I had witnessed that cold, snowy Sunday afternoon. The standard of football may not have been the best, but it highlighted to me the fact that what players do on the pitch is a game, and what fans do off the pitch can often be constructive, positive, and above all, enjoyable.