FC St. Pauli – Hamburg’s modern-day pirates

By Sonja Nikcevic

There was something in the air last night in Hamburg. And it wasn’t just the endless, pouring rain, the beginning of a long awaited weekend, or the Christmas market magic. It was time for football, and St. Pauli were playing.

Just like with so many others, Hamburg’s city lines are divided by football. And while around the world  these lines can run as deep as religion, class and politics – have you ever heard of a dynamic where one club is mainstream & (arguably) successful and the other just plain übercool?

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Without a doubt the übercool Hamburg sibling is FC St. Pauli, one of those rare and specific clubs that are known worldwide for their fans instead of their players.

Famed for their loyalty (despite playing in Germany’s second league “Der Zweite”), leftist politics and skull and crossbones symbol, it’s the St. Pauli fans that give the club its alternative, punk-rock aura and “Kult” status.

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Now, while both HSV and FC St. Pauli have been around for more than a century, it wasn’t until recent decades that St. Pauli snatched some of the limelight for itself. HSV had money, Bundesliga tradition and  that ever-important Champion’s League title from 1983. But then, in the mid 80’s, as nationalist hooliganism threatened to take over football, FC St. Pauli became the club with morals.

The club’s unified supporter groups became the first in Germany to officially ban displays of neo-Nazism or any form of right wing nationalism, choosing instead to build a reputation known for tolerance. A term that, we can all agree on, isn’t normally associated with “Ultras”.  The St. Pauli Ultras claim themselves to be anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist, with an actual written constitution stating their outspoken beliefs, rarely found in football. A long-standing tradition have been the supporters’ demonstrations concerning squatting, low income housing and other social issues local to their very own neighborhood of St. Pauli.

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And it’s the embracing of the neighborhood that adds to St. Pauli’s image. Located near Hamburg’s docks, and the Red-Light district and nightclubs that inevitably come with them, games at the local Millerntor stadium (renamed after fans complained that the previous title ‘Wilhelm Koch’ had Nazi party ties) have become a festival of tolerance, slight sexual innuendo and punk-rock cool.

The neighborhood itself has now become overrun with stamps of the skull and crossbones variety, something that the fans adopted from Hamburg’s century-long pirating tradition. Hamburg was also the home of Germany’s most famous pirate Klaus Störtebeker and very own Robin Hood, known for, you guessed it, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. His statue graces Hamburg’s Harbor City and he’s the man behind the symbol of St.Pauli’s higher beliefs.

I leave you with a video of the fans, the club and the all-round party, and with a promise that I’ll experience it for myself before I leave.

Oh, and some more fun facts:

  1. FC St. Pauli’s colors are brown and white, adding to the all-round alternativeness.
  2. One of the club’s nicknames, apart from ‘The punk-rock football club’ is ‘das Freudenhaus der Liga’ – The brothel of the league.
  3. Even the corner flags at the games are super cool.

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4. The club has the highest percentage of female followers in all of Germany. Tolerance? Common sense? I wonder why.


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