UEFA’s grassroots football happens every week in September during the European Commission’s European Week of Sport. It has as its aim a means to encourage and inspire participation in all forms of football by all sections of society.
In these times of polarised social division its probably unthinkable that you would be able to find a club in the United Kingdom with a distinctive subculture that encompasses music, football and politics. But this is St Pauli FC and very few professional football clubs have shouted from the rooftops how much they support marginalised communities like SCSP have done.
There is FC United with its anti-Manchester United stance and there elements of the Celtic support who express a support for Palestine but none of them are clubs are imbued with alternative culture identities that is quite as strong as St Pauli.
A one time ‘punk’ club the German club have now themselves come to be recognised more as a symbol of tolerance and anti-establishment resistance. In fact, at times it has felt that they are more a home for just about every marginalised community group in society from LBGT to asylum seekers rather than home for a football club.
Walk down the Reeperbahn area in the northern German city of Hamburg and you will no doubt see mention of The Beatles but you are not far from the beating heart of Hamburg’s anti-establishment identity. The local football team, with its skull and crossbones regalia, is the most visible symbol of this attitude and they play at the now modern Millerntor Stadium nearby.
Although founded in the 19th century it was not until the mid 1980’s that St Pauli transitioned into the ‘cult’ club it now is. Essentially the locality of the stadium near Hamburg’s alternative Reeperbahn turned the team into a focal point for the ‘kult’ fan scene expressed via the skull and crossbones – the club’s own unofficial emblem.
These days a set of fundamental principles (club ethics) or ‘leitlinien’ underpins how the club is run. This ensures the club’s influence transcends beyond the unpredicable world of what happens in the cut throat world of the top three football tiers of the German Bundesliga.
If you walk around the surrounds or interiors of the stadium some of the messages expressed are staggering. While most football stadiums are homes to adverts publicising electronic goods manufacturers or mass car makers, St Pauli’s home seems more of artful dishevelled café-cum-art space. Even the boutique club shop is staffed by hipsters who sell gift items that range from indie band CD’s, to vegan friendly club motif’s. Currently the clubs third shirt have the LBGT rainbow flag sewn into them.
The St Pauli club shop is more of a Fairtrade product mart than a club retail outlet if truth really be told.
Thanks to intensive intelligent match-day policing, and a integral club tolerance of political messaging clashes between FCSP fans and far-right hooligans are seldom commonplace these days. Modern day Bundesliga rivalry is often expressed by chants and cheographed tifo rather than fists.
St Pauli Ultras are still famously active in anti-fascist circles but the gentrification of the St Pauli area – which has forced a one-time resident subculture away – has made the Millerntor Stadium the destination for new politically motivated incomer fans rather than hardcore Hamburg based locals.
It all worth the visit though just for the colour and alternative feel – its unlikely you will find anything else like this elsewhere in Europe.