Supporting from afar

Friday 5 February and a roar goes up around the Zeitgeist pub in Vauxhall, London. No, tonight wasn’t one of those fiercely contested London derbies, nor has an England win further fuelled World Cup optimism. The final score? St Pauli 2 Karlsruher SC 0. 

St Pauli, a German second level team based in the port city of Hamburg, have attracted a worldwide cult following and boast supporters from all around the world.

The St Pauli cult phenomenon began in the mid 1980s, when the location of the club’s stadium, the Millerntor, allowed for the birth of a certain breed of terrace culture. The Millerntor is situated in the dock area of the St Pauli town, which is Hamburg’s main district of nightlife and also the cities primary red-light district. These factors combined to create a ‘party atmosphere’ that emerged on the terraces, and thus turning each match into an event described by many fan experts as “practically a rave”.

On match days, the terraces are still today awash with colour, choreography and an incredibly vocal support in hope of spurring the team to success. The Millerntor is the home to the incredible vocal support dubbed the “Millerntor roar”.

However it is not just the clubs party atmosphere that attracts fans from all over the world. St Pauli fans are notoriously political ‘lefties’, standing against and even banning rightwing, nationalistic displays from the stadium, this beginning at a time when fascist inspired hooliganism threatened the European game. St Pauli fans have also forged a special relationship with Celtic fans, as they both share similar political and supporting idealistic factors, as well as an ancient Catholic connection existing between the clubs.

St Pauli fans political leanings have led to the club being identified as a worldwide symbol for punk and other subcultures. The clubs fans have adopted a “skull and crossbones” symbol as an emblem

But why would an English football fan support and watch a team from Germany?

Nick, an English St Pauli supporter underlines how he came across the club:

“I initially read an article in FourFourTwo magazine and thought to myself that’s exactly how I want a club and its fans to be, I have followed and even been to games ever since.”

Andy Croft, another UK based supporter, can also testify to randomly discovering his love for the club:

“Back in 2002, I’d heard of St Pauli (the club and fans) via mainly an article in the Rough Guide to European Football Clubs, which was published around the late 1990’s and, thanks to my love of women’s tennis (Martina Hingis in particular), I visited a tennis tournament in Hamburg in May 2002 in order to see Hingis play. I’d never been to Germany before and had heard stories of the Reeperbahn/St Pauli area, so once I was in Hamburg I decided to visit a couple of German games as well whilst I was there.”

Andy has seen St Pauli play 15 times, and describes the atmosphere as:

“Something you cannot describe without seeing yourself. Passionate, passionate fans who can’t be beaten anywhere worldwide, the club has given me so many (and I hope many more) fond memories thanks to games I’ve seen.

Players interact with fans and value the passionate support, treating the fans as friends, I remember seeing the last home game of the season back in 2004 (I think) at home to KFC Uerdingen, a baking hot day with a somewhat flat match finishing 2-2. Cue the end of the game, Ralph Gunesch (St Pauli defender) comes up and is given the megaphone used by the head ultra and leads with a chorus of club anthem ‘Aux Armes’. A wonderful moment I will cherish forever.”

Lily has been a St Pauli fan for four years:

“Because for the first time I felt comfortable with a club. I didn’t have to be ashamed of or scared of either the player or fan behaviour. No racism, no homophobia, no violence, no misogyny. And as a girl I didn’t feel excluded or like I was seen as less by the other fans.”

No matter what the future has in store for St Pauli as a footballing institution, the world can be sure that the terraces of the Millerntor Stadium and wherever far flung fans may be watching the team, will be a holyground for celebrating diversity and equality and having a damn good time doing so.

This assertion is summarized by Lily:

“St Pauli is for me football how it should be. Above all else comes tolerance, respect and fun.”

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