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FC St Pauli: how it became the football team of punk and techno

Musicians are queuing up to show support to the Hamburg football club thanks to its politically engaged fans and entrenched activist ethos

Hamburg’s FC St Pauli occupies a distinctive position in world football. A bastion of leftwing activism and DIY arts, its supporters, particularly the legendary “Ultras”, are one of the western world’s most politically and culturally engaged fanbases, and the club is particularly beloved of punk and underground music fans. “St Pauli is unlike any other club,” says Tim McIlrath, frontman of American melodic hardcore band, Rise Against. “We went to their stadium, and to see ‘No Football for Fascists’ painted across the stand, to see them encouraging more girls playing football – it’s fascinating. I was looking for a club that transcends sport – St Pauli is a model of that.”

It’s late May, and FCSP are hosting Antira Sankt Pauli 2018. Antira for short, it is an annual international anti-racist football tournament to which progressive, fan-led global teams are invited. As the 2018 World Cup begins, promising to be a carefully orchestrated showcase of Putin’s Russia, this inclusive, DIY contest is an interesting counterpoint to the Fifa pageant. “Everybody in Europe should be concerned about the new far-right movement,” club president Oke Göttlich tells me inside the club’s Millerntor-Stadion. “We are not a party, we only can make our values heard. But we all need to stand strong. If St Pauli can play a little role in that, we are as happy as if we won a football match.”


From the outset, the atmosphere is jubilant, as enthusiastic participants waste little time in introducing themselves to one another, buying rounds and cheering each team (male, female and mixed) equally. I spend most of my time with East London’s Clapton Ultras, who praise the sense of community that they’ve found in this network of politicised sporting groups. “We’ll probably get beaten a lot though,” one player shrugs. “Because some of the other teams are actually … fit.”

True, this is hardly the most technically impressive football tournament I’ve watched, but it’s also the only one at which pints of lager are passed along the touchline between substitutes. The setting, though, is exceptional: a manicured Bundesliga 2 pitch in a 32,000-capacity stadium, adorned with progressive slogans (“no human is illegal”, “football has no gender”). There’s a decent showing from British sides: Republica Leeds win the women-only competition, and Bristol’s Easton Cowboys claim the mixed-gender title alongside Berlin’s TeBe Party Army. Yet these victories seem beside the point: at the closing ceremony, each team presents another with a gift, each of roughly equal value.

Away from the pitch, the Millerntor-Stadion and the surrounding area play host to a number of non-footballing events, including a workshop at which representatives of each team detail their concerns about the far-right in their homelands. DJs pump hardcore punk, ska, dub and electro through a soundsystem overlooking the pitch, and on Saturday evening, we’re treated to sets from Italian punks Bull Brigade, Connecticut rapper Ceschi Ramos, and Stuttgart ska band No Sports.

Each night, after the official Antira events have concluded, I’m whisked off by locals to various other DIY events around the area, further underlining St Pauli’s deep-seated musical connections. I find myself at two techno parties, the first in a cavernous community centre in Altona, and another in Flakturm IV, a former Nazi air defence bunker. A hulking mass of concrete and steel designed to withstand allied bombing, Flakturm IV dwarfs the Millerntor. Once inside, we’re nodded through a back door for a look from the roof of the building, thanks to the bouncers’ relationship with the Ultras leading our group. Apparently FCSP Ultras are often employed as security staff in Hamburg because “they’re intelligent, but know how to fight”.

To further add to the team’s punk credentials, their recent off-season American tour included a stop-off in Detroit for a Rise Against show. They’re far from the only band in thrall to St Pauli. Acts from Norwegian metal band Turbonegro and London indie group Art Brut to Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Rós and New Jersey rock outfit the Gaslight Anthem are vocally supportive. “They were one of the first clubs to not allow racists in, and they’ve been pretty left [wing], and punk rock,” Gaslight guitarist Alex Rosamilia has said. Punk and metal bars across Europe and North America are plastered with FCSP stickers and memorabilia; the team walk out to the strains of AC/DC every home game.

There’s a sense of urgency in many artists’s statements about FCSP. “To stand for ideals together with FCSP is a big honour for us,” says Dema, frontman of Italian ska-punks Talco. “Especially to spread antifascist and antiracist views in a society in which the important and real things are brought out of focus.” Rise Against’s McIlrath adds: “Sport can provide sanctuary to a lot of rightwing motivations and hooliganism – FCSP taking a proactive stand against that is exciting.” And as one middle-aged Ultra tells me, FCSP supporters’ musical interests go beyond punk and metal. In the 1980s and 90s, many Ultras eschewed “cheesy German punk” for dub and reggae. His sentiment still holds – many of the younger supporters have little to do with rock and are active in Hamburg’s DIY techno, house and Afrobeat scenes.

It’s increasingly rare to see a subculture blossom to this extent, certainly in the middle of a major western European city. Yet it’s writ large across Hamburg, even away from its nucleus in St Pauli. One factor may be the German government’s fiscal attitude to culture: as Arts Council England’s year-on-year budget reduction since 2010 continues with a further cut of £156m by 2022, German culture minister Monika Grütters has proposed an increase to national arts funding of €302m (£256m) a year.

Affordable housing plays a part too – in 2015, Hamburg’s local authority became the first in the world to pass a law allowing the seizure of empty commercial properties in order to house migrants. Unlike London’s more covert equivalent, the city’s squat scene is not only well-known, but highly visible, particularly around such landmarks as the Rote Flora. This results in lower rents and far more public land, affording residents more time and space to engage with art, politics and charity. Combined with a port economy that relies heavily on unionised industry, and given a social institution around which to congregate – FC St Pauli – counterculture has thrived.

However, this is not an uncomplicated, wholly positive situation. I’m not alone in noticing a disconnect between the tournament’s messages and its demographic; the vast majority of people here are white, more often male than female, and although there may well have been a significant LGBT+ contingent in attendance, their presence was rarely explicit. And this subculture does not exist in a peaceful, progressive bubble. Clashes between FCSP fans and far-right hooligans are commonplace, and the Ultras are famously active in antifascist violence. Furthermore, the Millerntor sits, quite literally, between two problematic issues: the gentrification of St Pauli, which forces its resident subculture away, and the organised crime that’s bolstered by the red-light district around the Reeperbahn. There are real tensions here.

Nevertheless, a subculture on this scale, encompassing music, sport and politics, feels refreshing in 2018, particularly given the grassroots work that FCSP does for refugee and antifascist causes. Without this subculture, those good deeds may go undone; without comparable subcultures, who knows what else we’d lose? As Göttlich says, “If a musician is not working closely with his fans, the musician will disappear. A fan community is something to nurture. Our fans don’t always do everything right, but they are what make St Pauli special.”


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Underdogs from another city: 

Union Berlin: The German fans who bleed for their club

"The fans even donated blood. You get paid for donating blood in Germany. The money they got for it kept the club alive."

The words of German football journalist Jacob Sweetman reflect the sacrifices Union Berlin's fans have made during their club's journey towards a piece of history.

In May, they became the first club from east Berlin to reach the Bundesliga. On Saturday, they will meet their neighbours Hertha BSC, from the west of the city.

Never before has there been a Bundesliga fixture between east and west Berlin. Indeed, there was a time, when the city was divided by the Berlin Wall, that such a fixture would have been impossible.

After World War Two, Germany divided into two countries. East Germany came under the communist control of the Soviet Union, while West Germany allied with the UK, France, and the United States.

Berlin was also split in two; in 1961, its wall was built to separate the city and prevent people from fleeing the Soviet-controlled eastern half. It did not come down until 1989.

On the sporting front, east Berlin's teams competed in the East German league system until the reunification of the country in 1990 - with Union Berlin the first to make it to the top flight since.

Football Focus went to find out more - watch it live on BBC One on Saturday (12:00 GMT).



'The club belongs to the fans'

"Without the fans, this club is nothing," Sweetman told Football Focus.

Union play at the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei in the eastern neighbourhood of Kopenick. The ground, which is terracing on three sides, holds 22,000.

The club risked losing their licence in 2008 when those terraces were crumbling, but 2,500 fans volunteered to rebuild the stadium and put in 140,000 hours of work between them.

"They bought themselves back from the brink and they rebuilt their own stadium," Sweetman added. "You can feel that when you go there. It belongs to them, not to anyone else."


He said that, at a friendly against Hertha BSC, fans who worked on the stadium wore red builder's hats and "there was not a dry eye in the house".

"There have been periods in history where the club has been on the brink of bankruptcy," said Sweetman, noting how fans gave the money they received for blood donations to keep the club alive.

Christian Arbeit, head of communications at Union Berlin, said the campaign "Bleed for Union" was created by the fans.

"This was a very strong symbol of what people are ready to give," said Arbeit.

The fans' love for the club is so strong that according to journalist Rylan James, a group once broke into the stadium to wish each other Merry Christmas - and it has been repeated every year since as a tradition.

"They were so fed up about losing the last game before Christmas and went home and sulked," James said. "Then they realised that they hadn't wished each other merry Christmas. So they broke into the stadium with some gluhwein and biscuits, wished each other a merry Christmas and sang carols on the halfway line."


'These rough emotions - it's what Union is about'

There is no half-time entertainment, advertisement or music played at Union matches. Arbeit says the club don't need to "give the fans any help to celebrate".

"If our team score a goal, it's an explosion of noise and emotion in the stadium," he said.

"The president crosses the same parking lot as a normal fan. We are close together. People know they are welcome with what they have to bring in - ideas, their own hands' work. They know the club is appreciating of that."

Fan Ingo Platz said: "I went to Union because it was a proletarian club. People loved to drink beer. There is a strong connection with bikers and people knew each other.

"These rough emotions - it's what Union is all about. Football is the last place you can live those emotions and Union is a place, a rare island, where it's welcomed to support the team in a creative and loud manner.

"People in society are looking for a place they are respected - not as consumers, but as human beings."

'The wall must go' and other tales of rebellion

Union Berlin were given their current name in 1966. In the 60 years before that, the club had played under a variety of names. According to Sweetman, they have a long-held "anti-establishment" identity.

"They have certainly rebelled against the establishment," he said. "There are great stories about them chanting 'the wall must go' at free-kicks - because that's the only time you could chant that in East Germany.

"They were a club that represented their people during the Cold War. Berlin is a city of rebels. You would struggle to find a club here that doesn't represent the rebels in one way or another.

Arbeit said this "rebellious" attitude led to the "alternative culture" that exists within the club today.

"Guys with long hair, growing beards and all that stuff - they went to Union and felt freedom and wildness," said Arbeit. "There was not explicitly political opposition, but if you were a young guy who wanted to feel freedom and live your life, then you went to Union.

"As long as they are free to do their things, they feel alive. Union gave home to this."


Being in the Bundesliga

During the Union's opening fixture in the Bundesliga - a 4-0 defeat at home to RB Leipzig - the fans held up nearly 500 posters of deceased supporters.

"The idea of having those people who couldn't be there represented, summed up the club in so many ways," said Sweetman.

Platz added: "It was very emotional. We bought our dead friends and relatives into the stadium. It was very respectful."

The day they gained promotion was emotional too and Arbeit said he "doesn't know when the feelings will stop".

"If I see the pictures these days I start crying immediately," he said. "It's so great to see what power football still has in these times when a fan experiences the most unbelievable success.

"The fans know it will be a very hard year in the Bundesliga. We will have to struggle until the very last game of season to stay in."








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and another tale of German fanaticism: 

Hertha Berlin v Dynamo Dresden: 30,000 away fans travel to German Cup tie

When it comes to fanatical away fan followings, the efforts of Dynamo Dresden on Wednesday night will take some beating.

More than 30,000 supporters from the Bundesliga 2 side made the 125-mile trip to Hertha Berlin - not for a cup final but for a second-round German Cup match.

The 70,000 crowd in the Olympic Stadium were treated to a thriller, but there was to be no upset as the Bundesliga's Hertha progressed 5-4 on penalties following a 3-3 draw after extra time.

In a thrilling match, Dynamo led twice as the hosts needed a 120th-minute equaliser from Jordan Torunarigha to force a penalty shootout.

Dynamo Dresden's supporters have earned themselves a reputation as a fanatical group of supporters.

Their average home attendance this season is 28,000 in their 32,000-capacity stadium and they have regularly taken huge numbers on their travels.

In 2016, Dynamo were accompanied by around 20,000 supporters when they played 1860 Munich in the Allianz Arena. And in January 2017, more than 10,000 travelled 220 miles to Nuremberg for a German second division match.

It wasn't the only bumper crowd of the evening in the competition though, with 81,000 at Borussia Dortmund as Julian Brandt scored two goals in three minutes to put the hosts into the last 16 with a 2-1 comeback victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.







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more on St Pauli:

St Pauli: The cult German football club that wants to change the game forever

Money talks in football. It attracts the best managers, buys the best players - it even helps bring the game back from a global pandemic.

It supposedly leads to glory and joy. For some of the world's smaller sides, it often feels like the only path towards the top.

But one club, tucked away in Germany's second tier, does things a little differently. St Pauli are Hamburg's unapologetically political team.

The football here has never been distinctive. There is no grand silverware to display. St Pauli have spent just eight seasons in the Bundesliga in their history and, in 2011, finished bottom in their only top-flight campaign of the past 18 years.

This term they came close to relegation to the third division, yet merchandise sales exceed all but three of Germany's biggest sides. On match day, in more normal times, there is rarely a ticket going spare.

St Pauli's fervent global support has little to do with what happens on the pitch and everything to do with the culture surrounding it.

And now, at a time when many clubs will be left on the brink in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, they offer a window on a more sustainable future in the modern game.

Banners and signs rejecting fascism, racism, homophobia and sexism are customary furniture at the Millerntor, the 29,500-capacity stadium where St Pauli's "way of life" is put on bold display.

It wasn't always this way. St Pauli were founded in 1910 but did not emerge as the unlikely beating heart of its working class district until the mid-1980s. Even then, the rebirth occurred through chance and circumstance.

Home to Hamburg's infamous red light district and the neon-lit "mile of sin", known as the Reeperbahn, the social dynamics in the port city's rebellious quarter provided the foundation for an identity which now unites more than 400 official supporter clubs across the globe.

There was no grand plan when a supporter from the local Hafenstrasse squats waved a pirate flag defiantly on the terraces as a light-hearted representation of poor St Pauli taking on the rich. But it was then that St Pauli was adopted as a footballing home for those seeking a different way.

The humble Millerntor, once attracting gates of just a few thousand, was transformed. The message behind the Jolly Roger symbol consolidated a fanbase prioritising social and political values. With an inclusive party atmosphere reflective of the district's alternative scene and aided by a rise from the third division to the Bundesliga in 1988, attendances boomed to sell-out crowds of more than 20,000.

Ever since plans for a new multi-purpose stadium were scrapped following organised fan protests in 1989, St Pauli have continued to stand proudly as perhaps the game's greatest tribute to fan power - as Michael Pahl, chair of the club's fan-founded museum, can attest.

"St Pauli is about authenticity," he says. "It's about doing things differently, finding your own way and staying true to your values as much as possible in a very commercialised environment.

"That's what St Pauli has been trying to do for decades. And it will forever remain a struggle."

Though the challenges have evolved, the club remains inseparable from the gritty activism ingrained in its fanbase.

The values central to St Pauli's ethos are protected by 15 guiding principles, ranging from a commitment to the club's social responsibility to lobbying for supporter-friendly kick-off times.

An open dialogue with supporters is key. The fans have voted against selling the stadium's naming rights at a cost of millions to the club. The minutes before each game are kept free from publicity to allow uninterrupted chanting. Sexist men's magazine adverts have been driven out of the stadium which, during the 2006 World Cup, hosted a tournament for nations unrecognised by Fifa.

The football is undoubtedly important, but it has to align with the bigger picture.

Pahl, co-author of the club's 100th anniversary book in 2010, never looked back after attending his first game aged 14 in 1987. Hooked by the scenes on the terraces, his fascination with the club developed with his own political awareness.

"The club has developed a culture of listening to everyone's opinions and trying to find a compromise," he says. "It's not always possible to make everybody happy but it is something St Pauli is known for and I value a lot.

"The do-it-yourself spirit is very strong in the fan community and something that is very different. It defines what St Pauli is about. If I want to change something I can. When fans get active and organise, a lot of great things can happen.

"St Pauli really is my club. I can decide who is on the board and I can voice my opinion. To me, that's outstanding and sets the club apart."

There are inevitable daily challenges for a football club prioritising ethical and sustainable actions in a commercialised world. Just take the 'ghost games'.

Since German football resumed on 16 May, following a two-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, matches have been held behind closed doors under strict safety protocols. Spain, Italy and England have since followed suit.

The absence of fans at stadiums renowned for their vibrant support - not least in the Bundesliga, which averages the highest attendances of Europe's 'big five' leagues - has starved the action of atmosphere and emotion. Hence the term 'ghost games', or Geisterspiele.

While the return of football has been a welcome distraction for many, financial motivations in the form of broadcast obligations, sit uneasily with others.

For St Pauli president Oke Gottlich, the current crisis presents an important opportunity to discuss football's future.

"There is so much money involved now that we are forced to play games for TV and not for the fans," he says.

"This is really bad because football was always for the spectators and the people and it brings a togetherness. If you are a community-based club taking care of your region then a game without fans is a nightmare."

Gottlich, 44, is a long-time supporter himself. He started his own record label before being voted in as president by club members in 2014, and was also elected to the board of the German football league in August.

"We must ask, what are we doing? Is it a sport or is it economics?" he adds. "For me, it's a sport, that's priority number one. There is lots of TV money coming in and how we are sharing that money is a very important thing. Is it an interesting competition we are running? Or is it a competition where four or five clubs are always winning?

"I think the Covid-19 virus is bringing a potential mind shift. I'm really positive. I think we are learning in this pandemic and I really hope - and this is where I am a romantic and a fighter for community-based football - that we can create a model for competitive integrity, to create a level playing field and think in new ways.

"Community-based football is the sustainable way because it is carried by people. We do not have one investor but lots of people who care. But we shouldn't be too romantic about it, it helps so long as the management are making the most of the resources they have.

"At St Pauli we have established a sustainable way that avoids wild investment. Getting an economic balance while also building a sustainable football team is something we are in the midst of."

There have been times when St Pauli's football has been so bad as to threaten their very survival. Successive relegations to the third tier left the club on the brink of financial ruin in 2003, before the fan base rallied to help plug a 1.95m euro (£1.74m) hole through the sale of brown T-shirts.

Another fall to the third division was dodged by a single point in 2015 and Jos Luhukay's side came close to the drop again this season.

"We definitely need to aim for higher goals," Gottlich says. "We're trying to find the right balance between our values and the need to be tough, structured and organised as a football club.

"It is a balancing act. As long as the members and fans want St Pauli to play professional football, they know we need to have some money coming in. We definitely want to perform because we see football as a platform also for social matters. We can make ourselves heard much better if we are successful.

"The art of management is trying to make more good decisions than bad ones. We take feedback very seriously in our member meetings and it leads to positive things. This is what St Pauli is about."

The skull and crossbones symbol synonymous with St Pauli is worn boldly and waved proudly by supporters irrespective of results. The tension arrives when the delicate balance between business and values appears to fall out of sync.

Consistent hints of commercialisation during the club's last Bundesliga campaign in 2011 forced a reaction by the fans who feared the club had lost its identity.

The introduction of significant business seating in the new main stand, along with corporate boxes of which one had been rented to a local strip club, laid the foundations for unrest. An LED screen allowing supporters to pay to share their messages tipped the scales.

A letter titled 'enough is enough' was drafted by fans to the club. The Totenkopf symbol, once a light-hearted representation of the club's stand against the rich and later bought by the club for its merchandising potential, was turned red in protest.

"The fans felt the meaning behind the symbol was becoming empty and so they created a new one to take back the initiative and their club," Pahl explains.

"It led to discussions. They are always negotiating how we can make enough money without sacrificing too many of our values. The club is constantly trying to find the right way and there's always lively discussions going on.

"We don't make it easy on ourselves by taking these decisions, we limit ourselves to a certain point, but you must accept that if you're losing a source of income you cannot expect the club to be near the top of German football."

As St Pauli's board wrestles with ensuring competitive football within the club's self-imposed social responsibilities, the fanbase continues to pursue social causes ranging from the support of the city's vulnerable squatter and refugee groups to initiatives supplying clean drinking water worldwide.

Doing things the St Pauli way - the odd Bundesliga season aside - may mean slow progress on the pitch. Yet, while the football might not be special, being part of the action at the Millerntor will always feel so.

"People could say we could make more of what we have, certainly if you see the possibilities the club has," reflects Pahl.

"It's so successful because it stands for something. That's what makes it appealing to a lot of people.

"This image that the club has is, to me, a miracle. To see how people identify with this club and the values shared by fan clubs all over the world, there's something fascinating about that."





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