Every season in football, you see things that make you take notice and can’t help but fall in love with. Last season it was probably little old Fulham fighting their way to a European final, or perhaps Chile’s ‘Defending is for the weak’ attitude in the World Cup.This season for me it’s been Bundesliga side Fußball Club St. Pauli.
A club from the Reeperbahn, one of Europe’s most infamous (or famous depending on your views) red-light districts, on the port of Hamburg.
A club that has risen in the past few years, like a phoenix from the ashes of neon street lights & Strip bars, to the summit of German football this year. What sets them apart from other shanty town, success stories, is that they embrace it.
The club pride themselves on a left wing mentality, bred through the passionate fans that drastically outshine any performance on the pitch. With an unofficial club symbol of a skull and cross bones, used to symbolise the clubs anti-establishment mentality, it leaves me struggling to think of a team with a more fitting badge.
’It’s a symbol: we, the poor, are against the rich. Like pirates fighting for the poor against the rich’ – Sven Brux, President of the St Pauli fan club.
For the majority of the clubs history, it has spent its life in the shadow of its larger city rivals, Hamburg SV. Even in what many would call their greatest period, the 50’s, St Pauli could only manage to finish runners up to Hamburg five times over the space of seven years.
The club found themselves crawling up and down the league ladder for the best part of two decades after that, with an ultimate low point in 1979 when the club had to file for bankruptcy and where in effect relegated to the bottom tier of German football – the Overliga.
Like all things in football, nothing is permanent and while pushing themselves back up the league’s in the the mid 80’s, the club found themselves in the middle of a fad that would transform them into the club they are today. At this time, an alternative fans phenomenon based on left wing politics and partying found itself a home in the club of St Pauli.
This transformed the clubs matches into something perhaps more fitting to a Brazilian carnival, with a strong fan majority of prostitutes, students & punks filling the terraces. At the time, the club was branded with such nicknames as “Freibeuter der Liga” meaning ‘Bucaneers of the League’ and ‘das Freudenhaus der Liga’ which literally translates to ‘Brothel of the league’ but meant ‘Fun house of the league’ as the word Frendenhaus means ‘house of fun’.
Perhaps more symbolizing for the club’s history though is that it separated St Pauli from the hooligan infested bigger clubs in the Bundesliga. What St Pauli stood for was a club that was against the fascist, hooligan violence of German and European football in general, at the time.
The club where the first in Germany to launch anti-racist and anti-phobia campaigns, twenty years before FIFA’s fair play or ‘keep racism out of football’ equivalent and had a tradition of fans and players mingling after the game over tea and biscuits that still stands to this day.
Over the course of the past two decades, the clubs cult status has won the hearts of millions across the world. A recent report by sports marketing agency UFA Sports showed that the club had a world wide fan base of just over 11 million fans, which was demonstrated in the club happily announcing that they made around 8.6million Euros last season from merchandising sold all over the world.
The team have done relatively well this season. At the time of writing, they are sitting in 13th position 5 points off relegation coming off the back of an unfortunate 3-0 defeat to Schalke04 and now three games without a single point.
The club are unsurprisingly expected to bobble around the relegation spots for the remainder of the season as they do their best to stay in the league, with a manager in Holger Stanislawski who’s never managed in the top league before, and a squad that’s considered by most to be a squad full of Bundeliga 2 players, the club have a lot of work to do.
The club started the season hitting the ground running with a 3-1 away win at SC Frieburg to then loose their next two games 1-0 at home to Hoffeinheim and away to Cologne. They then picked themselves out of the form of the last two weeks and surprised most by holding Hamburg to a draw in the first derby of the season. Following that, the club went on an impressive streak of form winning three in four, losing only to Dortmund but picking up important points from lower half teams Borussia M’gladbach, Hannover, and Nurnberg. Unfortunately the teams luck ran out the week after at Stuttgart where they lost 2-0 and continued the pattern in the following two games with a lacklustre home performance to Frankfurt losing 3-1 and then of course, Fridays defeat to Schalke.
They are however showing positive signs, with one of the best away defensive records in the league and a passionate home support is showing St Pauli as hard opponents to break down. You can of course look at the table and argue that it looks a little harsh on them. Of the 17 points they’ve dropped this season, 11 of them where against top league sides and out of a possible 18 points against bottom half sides, they’ve managed to pick up an impressive 12.
The next opponents for the Buccaneers are in-form Leverkusen at home next Saturday, the 13th, at their Wilhem-Koch stadium which should prove to be an interesting contest in one of the leagues most vibrant venues.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be sitting with my Skull & cross bones flag, waiving on the coolest club in the world.