This feature is part of A Tale of One City
If you want an alternative, exhilarating, football experience, then visit Hamburg. There, in northern Germany’s major port city, you will find the Reeperbahn; more commonly known as Hamburg’s Red Light District. Die sündigste Meile (the most sinful mile) is the bustling nightlife centre of the St. Pauli district in Germany. It has become something of a hipster tradition to eat bratwurst, neck an Astra beer or six and visit the Millerntor-Stadion, home to the most famous club in Germany after Bayern Munich, FC Sankt Pauli.
You’ll have undoubtedly heard of the left-wing, ever-popular band of hardcore fans that make up the majority of St. Pauli’s support. From tales of footballing nomads, you would expect being amongst a group of St. Pauli fans would resemble a hallucinogenic-induced nightmare from the darkest recesses of Hunter S. Thompson’s psyche. In one of the most refreshingly original and engaging football books written in recent memory, Nick Davidson gave voice to German football’s most radical club, who pride themselves on being different, embrace their much-publicised idiosyncrasies and stand for all the right things.
The fans are insanely entertaining, it must be said. When St. Pauli were effortlessly swept aside 8-1 by Bayern Munich – the club that occupies the exact antithesis to the anti-establishment leanings of their own – the supporters stood up, raised their fists in the typical socialist salute and sang their hearts out. It was Bayern’s biggest ever away win in the Bundesliga and St. Pauli’s heaviest ever defeat, characterised by a performance of sensational ineptitude. But the ‘punk footballing fans’ totally disregarded the result, opting instead to pay homage to Holger Stanislawski, their manager and long-time servant to the club who was departing for Hoffenheim at the time.
That evening, the St. Pauli fans turned out in the Reeperbahn in their thousands, celebrating long into the night. Beer was drank, weed was smoked and music was blasted unrelentingly from places like the Susis Show Bar – yes, the kind of place where John Lennon ‘grew up’ – as the legendarily vociferous supporters drew the positives from their team’s time in the Bundesliga; their top-flight journey was dead, but the funeral wasn’t going to be a solemn affair. It is an undying verve and positivity that the St. Pauli fans share with their arch nemeses; the fans of Hamburger Sport-Verein.
The rivalry between HSV and St. Pauli is a strange one. The two clubs have rarely played in the same league but the animosity between the two sets of fans is no less intense than that of other major European city derbies. It’s the sort of game that is regularly preceded by HSV fans routinely greeting their counterparts with a barrage of bottles, or vice versa.
They may not meet as frequently as the Nordderby, between HSV and Werder Bremen, but it matches that fixture for passion and fireworks. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find much standout quality in the St. Pauli team, but it wasn’t always doom and gloom for a club struggling in the lower reaches of German football’s second-tier. If HSV played St. Pauli in 2015 it would take a brave man to back a victory for the latter, but back in the post-World War Two days of late-40s Germany, it may have been much closer affair.
The HSV-St. Pauli rivalry existed long before the war. HSV dominated the majority of the meetings between the two sides before Hitler decided that a football stadium was better used for Nazi demonstrations than the participation of a globally-loved sport. After Hitler and the war, football began to re-enter the national consciousness and HSV versus St. Pauli was a regular fixture in the Hamburg Championship.
Original Series | A Tale of One City
St. Pauli, nutritionally bankrolled by the substantial portions of meatballs and sausages given to them by Karl Miller Sr., the father of their player Karl Miller, enjoyed their most productive spell in the history of the rivalry. In 1947, St. Pauli won the Hamburg Championship thanks to the emergence of Die Wunderelf. Wunderelf was the term given to the St. Pauli side, which featured Alfred Beck, Heinz Hempel, Josef Famula, Walter Dzur, Heiner Schaffer, Heinz Köpping, Fritz Machate, Rolf Borner, Hans Appel and “Tute” Lehmann.
It was during this time that St. Pauli could truly match the quality of their long-time superior rivals. However, it was to be a short-lived halcyon period for the buccaneering outfit, who would return to relative anonymity following the dissolution of the Hamburg Championship and the conception of the Bundesliga in 1963. As it were, HSV were to begin an upward trajectory, while their rivals embarked on a downward spiral that would result in them not seeing the highest-tier of German club football until 1975.
At a glance it would easy to conclude that for St. Pauli, football comes second after the partying and all the cultural eccentricities of this notorious club. But that is wrong. What Davidson’s book conveyed so eloquently was that St. Pauli is an institution that stands for much more than being merely anti-establishment. It is an anti-commercialist footballing oasis, far removed from the rabid corporatisation of the Premier League superclubs, or the prototype German powerhouse Bayern Munich.
The St. Pauli fans raise their arms – in many cases awash with tattoos – and salute to the beauty of football. It may be a different kind of fan culture, and a different type of football, but it is still football. Perhaps the rivalry with HSV is symbolic of a more orthodox footballing life, one that the St. Pauli faithful gladly embrace in harmony with the more chaotic elements of their lifestyle.
Of course, with fixtures being few and far between for this rivalry, the occasion is always cherished when it does come around, not least because the St. Pauli fans love to remind the HSV supporters that they’re ‘sell-outs’ or ‘soulless’. To St. Pauli fans, HSV represent much of what is wrong with modern football: star signings and hugely lucrative sponsorship deals. It is not jealousy – St. Pauli love their image as a club who sacrifice trophies for the telling of their unique story, but you have to acknowledge the consistent superiority of HSV.
In the 1970s, when St. Pauli didn’t feature on the European footballing map, HSV were busy establishing themselves as a force, both domestically and on the continent. They won the DFB-Pokal in 1976 before achieving international success in lifting the European Cup Winners’ Cup and managing to lure England superstar Kevin Keegan, who would be named European Football of the Year twice during his time in Germany.
Read | When Kevin Keegan went to Hamburg
After Keegan really found his feet in Bundesliga, they got even better. Under Branko Zebec, Die Rothosen won their first-ever league title in 1979, with Keegan finishing top-scorer and earning himself the coveted Ballon d’Or. Then, the peerless Ernst Happel guided the club through its golden era, which saw them dominate the club scene in going 36 league games unbeaten before defeating the mighty Juventus to lift the European Cup in Athens for the first, and only, time in their history in 1983.
This history sequinned with trophies and prestige reminds the St. Pauli fans of a side of football that remains alien to them. For some teams, winning trophies and signing the biggest superstars is the dream while, for others, the overriding ambition is to see equality and end to prejudice.
St. Pauli’s club president, Oke Göttlich, stressed to German football writer Uli Hesse that, although the club would always be about socialist principles and taking a stand against racism and homophobia, the football had to come first. So how do the players usually perform when they meet HSV? Well, usually not well, but the St. Pauli were given a moment to savour in February 2011 when they travelled to the Imtech Arena and walked away from an intense Hamburg derby with three precious Bundesliga points.
It was a time when HSV were struggling by their lofty standards, while St. Pauli were flying. HSV’s malaise was a source of great happiness for the St. Pauli fans and they travelled to the arena of their great rivals in fine spirits. The game is usually punctuated with isolated episodes of violence and this particular derby was played against an especially charged backdrop.
HSV decided to replace the grass on their pitch halfway through the season but, strangely, they did so four days before the derby game. Then, three days of relentless, torrential rain fell from the sky and the game was subsequently cancelled. It was an embarrassing situation. There were several club rivalries taking place throughout Germany that weekend but there was to be none in Hamburg. A small minority of HSV fans took it upon themselves to vent their frustrations on the infamous St. Pauli club shop, The Jolly Roger.
The HSV fans certainly didn’t care much about stoking the rivalry even further when the game was eventually staged nearly two weeks later, unfurling a banner which read: “Rebellious skull and crossbones – sold out! Self-managed home terrace – sold out! Trendy legend – sold out! The person who has nothing left, must dance on the pole.” It was a painful reference to growing concerns at St. Pauli that their club was slipping into the temptation of commercialisation and about to perform the unthinkable act of selling-out.
Read | A World of Ultras: St. Pauli
The St. Pauli fans responded by pointing to the countless drinks and food promotions dotted throughout the arena, adding an extra bit of spice to an already feverish atmosphere. But the noise really erupted when the players emerged and the whistle blew. St. Pauli fans, their nerves already jangling due to the looming relegation scrap they were trapped in, voiced misgivings at their team’s inability to get out of their own half. Indeed, HSV dominated possession and generally looked sharper, quicker and smarter.
St. Pauli’s goalkeeper Benedikt Pliquett had an extra agenda. After the Freibeuter der Liga’s opening day 3-1 victory over Freiburg, the stopper had been attacked by a group of HSV fans at a train station. He was not to be fazed by a particularly harrowing personal setback as he played a storming first-half, quelling the constant bombardment of aerial balls by the HSV players and silencing the considerable menace of Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Then, after the pyrotechnics exploded at 19:10 to commemorate the year of St. Pauli’s birth, the atmosphere descended into unruliness. The police, fully armed with riot gear, entered the stands and made their presence felt with the St. Pauli fans. Although the away supporters continued to sing, jump and cheer their team, many became distracted with what was happening in the polished terraces of the Imtech Arena. When it did die down after half-time, fans could focus on the actual football being played. Then, it happened.
Gerald Asamoah had met a corner at the back post with a header to put St. Pauli a goal in front. The fans in the south stand went absolutely ballistic. The rest of the match was unbearably tense for both sides. HSV were on the verge of losing to their rivals for the first time in a generation, while St. Pauli were on the precipice of one of the club’s greatest moments.
The inevitable onslaught came from the HSV players, but the goal never did. St. Pauli held on for a famous victory and their first triumph over their rivals since 1977. The St. Pauli fans stayed inside the stadium long after the final whistle and saluted their players, who came down to the corner flag beside where they were seated to celebrate. The scarves, flags and flares created an intoxicating atmosphere as St. Pauli toasted to a historic moment for the club.
However, there was to be no happy ending for the smaller club in Hamburg. St. Pauli were relegated and haven’t been seen since in the Bundesliga, while HSV remain. St. Pauli’s stay in the top-flight may have been brutally swift and there are no signs of a return anytime soon, but that matters little in the grand scheme of the club.
St. Pauli will continue to express their left-wing politics and serve as a symbol of a type of punk football that is easy to fall in love with. HSV may be a less fashionable team to follow, but without their superiority and former dominance on a European scale, this rivalry wouldn’t be as great. As with any rivalry where the two teams are in different leagues, it may be another few years before we see another game between HSV and St. Pauli but, when we do, it’s likely to be an occasion to savour.
By Matt Gault. Follow @MattGault11