LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Cult football club St Pauli from Hamburg’s Red Light district host Celtic on Saturday. For this friendliest of friendlies, Peterjon Cresswell looks at the relationship between the two sets of fans, built up since the heady days of the early 1990s.

 

As you walk the short distance from Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn to the streets lined with football bars, you almost expect a ‘St Pauli – Twinned With Celtic’ sign. Nearly all of these bars, especially the legendary Jolly Roger opposite the Millerntor-Stadion, fly the skull and crossbones, symbol of the rebellious spirit of St Pauli’s anarchic, spiky-haired followers. Most of them also display scarves, divided into brown-and-white and green-and-white halves, dedicated to the long-term friendship between St Pauli and Celtic, who play a pre-season warm-up here on Saturday.

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‘We have friendship arrangements with many clubs but none is as deep as that with Celtic,’ says Stefan Schatz, who helps run the St Pauli Fanladen, the independent fan shop and information centre now based at the club’s newly expanded stadium.

‘It began the early/mid 1990s, when the liberal attitudes of both sets of fans brought us together.’

‘Liberal’ is perhaps putting it mildly. Forever the poorer, less successful city rivals of multi-titled HSV, St Pauli first gained promotion to the top flight in 1977, the year of punk. As the brown and whites (‘Unfounded in 1910’ as the pennants say) then yo-yo’d between top and second leagues, so they began to attract a following from Hamburg’s significant squat fraternity.

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With home games scheduled here at the start of the weekend, a kind of Friday night fever ensued, wild, noisy, drunken revelry more akin to a punk festival than a football match. Locals based at nearby Harbour Road or the Flora Theatre would wheel shopping trolleys heaving with bottles of Astra to the stadium on match nights.

There was a more serious side, too. ‘At that time in Germany, many fan groups were dominated by right-wing skinheads and hooligans,’ explains Stefan. ‘St Pauli attracted an anti-fascist following and fans of the left.’

The story is told at an exhibition opening to coincide with the Celtic game, curtain-raiser to the new season. Characteristically entitled ‘F*ck You Freudenhaus!’, the exhibition (Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun 11am-7pm, Thur 11am-10pm until Aug 30) is being unveiled in the stadium’s Gegentribüne at 6pm on Friday. Playing the opening party will be The Wakes, a folk punk outfit from Glasgow whose song ‘The Pirates of the League’ celebrates the cult of St Pauli.

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From Celtic’s point of view, the two sets of fans had met up on several occasions around Europe. ‘I first got interested in St Pauli when I met some of their supporters who had come all the way to Berne to see a Celtic game there in 1993,’ says Dixie, who set up Ireland’s only independent football store, Casa Rebelde, in Dublin three years ago.

‘Older fans from Celtic-friendly fanzine TAL then befriended their counterparts from St Pauli. Every year there’s a St Pauli-Celtic party in Hamburg. The Dublin St Pauli supporters’ club has been going for a few years now, firstly to get fans together to watch St Pauli games live on TV. We also attend home and away matches every season, the highlights being Rostock, Dresden and, of course, HSV.’

St Pauli’s now four-season stay in the lower flight has caused Dixie and his fellow followers no few logistical headaches. ‘It’s much easier when St Pauli are in the Bundesliga as match dates are set at the start of the season. In the Second, they only schedule five matches at a time, which causes problems when trying to arrange flights. Last season for the Köln match I had to change my reservations three times.’

As well as attracting significant interest from foreign fans – there are also links with Athletic Bilbao and Babelsberg 03 in Berlin – St Pauli have extended their commercial arm. The little cult club supported by squatters are now a major business. Punked-up wallets and dog bowls do a roaring trade in the club shop, set by the Clubheim clubhouse bar.

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The Millerntor can now accommodate 29,000 after a major rebuild dating back to 2006. Fans voted against selling the stadium name to a sponsor.

‘The changes since the 1990s have been enormous,’ concludes Stefan Schatz. ‘St Pauli have gone from a few followers to several million fans worldwide. It’s also a global clothes brand. But it’s still a cult club with enormous charisma. And also a worldwide symbol of anti-racism in all its facets.’

St Pauli v Celtic, July 26, 3pm CET.