St Pauli FC v FC Kaiserslautern: 2. Bundesliga
Sunday 15th May
Strolling around the sanitised opulence of Central Hamburg, you can tell that this is a city that has done well for itself commercially. Like seeing the neighbour who wears the golf sweaters with the very small logo that says his jumper is worth more than your inheritance, the district of St Pauli could be forgiven for peering over the garden fence in envy. Yet, while their garden may not be so neatly trimmed, it is infinitely more fertile. In several ways, St Pauli is incredibly rich: culturally, artistically, historically.
The streets between the Reeperbahn and the Millerntor Stadion remind me of every small gig venue for up and coming bands and student-dense accommodation. A property developer may comment that it has seen better days, but it has an authenticity that complements any faded grandeur. Its offbeat nature is also not a carefully crafted, semi-boho middle-class one and it is not place to be seen having a croissant and macchiato with the bourgeois bored housewives.
Much has been written about St Pauli FC but seldom in a footballing sense. And in spite of all I had read about the various activities the club participates in and organises, there was a part of me that suspected that, in this day of commercial prostitution in football, they had become a front for selling skull and crossbones hoodies. I had to see it with my own eyes. I wondered if it would be laden with contradictions, like the Goth kids who dress up identically to their peer group to express their individuality.
As it turns out, St Pauli only bought back the rights to the skull and crossbones merchandising in November 2015 having sold it (what a ridiculous idea!) a few years previous under different stewardship. While the range inside the club shop is actually fairly limited, St Pauli’s commercial success in this respect could be attributed more to club ethos and some ‘little things’ than any kind of ‘alternative market cornering’.
As this match was ‘part two’ of the weekend, I took the regional train from Bremen Hbf on Saturday evening, which takes thirty minutes longer than the express. However, on this occasion, I prioritised thrift over time and the train chuntered into Hamburg after 85 minutes of stop-startness. I hadn’t really slept in over 36 hours by this point and had no intention of doing any sightseeing, writing or anything until the morning.
Tickets and Accommodation
Having foreseen my lack of lucidity upon arriving in Hamburg, somewhere cheap(ish) and easy near the station was a must. I couldn’t have handled navigating by foot or metro at this point. The Ibis Hamburg City (yes, one of those) was ideal in its proximity (10 minutes walk from the train station), its simplicity and its comfort and met my needs perfectly. After mustering the strength to check in and fall into bed, I landed on a remote control and Eurovision lubed its way onto my screen. I wasn’t in the mood for this, and fell asleep just after the German Pixie did her song.
I was fortunate enough to be given a ticket for the match by the club’s Media department, to whom I’m very grateful. However, they can be bought at https://www.eventimsports.de/ols/fcstpauli/de . Prices vary depending on seating/standing and where you are although it’s never too steep.
The Millerntor Stadion
A few years ago, in the midst of financial difficulty, the club promised to never sell the naming rights to the stadium. While the stadium itself is pretty decent, it’s the people in it who elevate it.
The stadium has a 29546 capacity, which is surprisingly large given its dimensions but explainable with the three stands having terracing on the lower tier (how it should be!). That there were Greenpeace ‘Chuggers’ milling around next to a Vegan Burger Van and the membership ticket collection office is a disused, graffiti-enhanced shipping container, lets you understand that this place is a bit…different. There were also a fair number of people looking for tickets but the match was very much ‘ausverkauft’.
The café by the main door has punk music blaring out at least two hours before the game and there is beer everywhere. Given the proximity of so many fabulous watering holes, people are drinking outside the stadium because they choose to and not because the remote out-of-town stadium presents them with no other option. Which brings me to this amazing contraption;
Words cannot capture my amazement at this…thing.
Once inside the stadium, in the main stand, you go up into a large food and beverage area which reminded me a little of the Fan Treff at The Allianz Arena. I quickly made my way up to my seat to have a look around.
Unsurprisingly, although quiet over an hour before kick-off, the standing areas fill first. Chairmen and Chief Executives from all round need to get on board with the fact that some fans want to stand. Sometimes if you take too much of an edge off of a knife, it is unable to cut.
The abundance of red and white tape around various parts of the ground made me a little concerned. There was so much of it, I feared that it may be structurally important.
The weather was tumultuous and ranged from bright to stormy and back again and the players and some fans would’ve been soaked through long before kick off. However, while their hoodies may have been dampened, their spirits were not. With a pre-match display looking like a big St Pauli Latte – like an anti-Starbucks caffeinated beverage – reminding me of a school friend who used to dress in 50 shades of beige, the fans were ready for an end-of-season jamboree.
The club also bade farewell to some players, including the impressive Lennart Thy and Sebastian Maier.
The entry to Hell’s Bells is fabulous – it seems so misplaced for the event but works perfectly and is entirely fitting for this club. I blame the camera work on the temperature – icicles were nucleating on my nasal hair.
It is worthy of note that the pre-match proceedings also included recognition of the excellent support offered to Kaiserslautern by their fans who had travelled over 600km to see them. They were behind their team throughout the day and contributed massively to the spectacle – a visit to South-West Germany could be in the pipeline.
St Pauli FC v Kaiserslautern: The Match
While you wouldn’t want to be late for any St Pauli match as you’d miss the build up and anticipation, this contest was pure entertainment and action from the first to last minute. St Pauli forced two corners in the first two minutes but immediately afterwards, Kaiserslautern played a lovely one-two with a beautifully weighted pass and their number 9, Lukas Gortler, slotted it past an outstretched arm. At that point, I thought it was going to be one of those ‘great club, shame about the team’ stories. How wrong I was.
Almost immediately, ‘Mr’ Ryo Miyaichi, who had a great game, was waxing on and volleyed a cross into the far corner after some good work from Sebastien Maier down the St Pauli left. Eight minutes in, one goal each and it looked promising for more to follow. Lennart Thy continued to look threatening and the Kaiserslautern defence didn’t deal with him at all well. It was fitting that he’d head St Pauli into the lead after 21 minutes at the far post past a flailing ‘keeper.
The downpour of rain and hail became torrential and the players on both sides deserve enormous credit for maintaining the standard of play in spite of the deteriorating conditions. Kaiserslautern looked good on the break but St Pauli continued to make most of the play. A few yellow cards were shown as the odd poor tackle and moments of indiscipline crept into the game – a bit of needle is always good to keep the testosterone flowing and the game competitive.
At half-time, I popped down for a hot coffee which was made far tastier by the chill in the air. It had been over 25°C two days previous and I didn’t come dressed for 10°C with a Baltic breeze. Looking around, it seems the fans are making the most of this match as August is a long way away. That said, at least they didn’t have to evacuate the stands due to a toy phone-pipe device being left in a toilet like some fans in Manchester. News of this had filtered through at half time.
Into the second half and blue skies had come to greet us. The football continued to entertain as Mr Miyaichi hit the bar from a nice break on the 49th minute before scoring a delicious drilled shot into the bottom corner on ’57. Had he placed the shot anywhere else, it would have been saved.
The match continued in a similar vein until Mr Miyaichi was substituted for Waldemir ‘Daniel San’ Sobota of Club Brugge notoriety. Shortly thereafter however, the substitute provided an excellent cross for Maier to clumsily bundle over the line to increase the scoreline to 4-1 St Pauli.
The game could have petered out at this point with the result no longer in any doubt but Kaiserslautern had other ideas and Jenssen rifled home a great goal almost immediately afterwards. 4-2. The referee, Wolfgang Stark, had a pretty good handle on the game and booked players when necessary but otherwise let it flow. He was actually cheered off at full time – can’t think of many occasions where I’ve seen that.
It wasn’t long before yet another wonderful goal flew in, scored this time by Buchtmann, curling into the keeper’s bottom left and polishing off what had been a very accomplished performance. St Pauli clearly haven’t been playing this well every week or they’d be a lot higher than fourth. Very few fans left early and instead everybody stayed behind to cheer on their team and the backroom staff from both sides. The depth of sporting attitude, mutual appreciation and commitment shown in this game was commendable given that it was a ‘dead rubber’ and seldom have I enjoyed a match so much.
After leaving the stadium, a pizza in a nearby ‘not-very-Italian’ restaurant was enough to set me up for the evening that followed, walking back into Central Hamburg and avoiding the shadowy characters from the Z.O.B.. Perhaps it was a unique pitch, perhaps it’s a local trick but the shifty beggar who kept addressing me as ‘Julio’ nearly got a boot in the Goolie-o for his persistance.
Coming back to my original question and contemplating the uniqueness of St Pauli, one thing is certain. The place is saturated in authenticity and the club’s overt political position on many issues is in agreement with the younger generation’s, ensuring that their support will continue to grow as long as the club maintain their stance. It’s not anti-capitalist but more pro-inclusivity and pro-community and the two need not be symbiotic.
I guess St Pauli’s principal challenge is to maintain progress on the pitch by ensuring that their principles don’t compromise their revenue stream off it. Paradoxically, it may be this contrary position to wealth accumulation that will be the greatest source of stability and revenue – a loyal, committed and growing fanbase of shared values. And piercings. Lots of piercings.
- Quality of match: ****.5
- Stadium character: ****.5
- Stadium atmosphere: ****
- Hospitality: ****
- Ease of access: *****
- Things to do around the stadium: *****
- Overall: ****.5
Conclusion: It may not be the sexiest stadium on the scene, but St Pauli’s Millerntor is without doubt one of the most interesting and appealing in many other ways. It is fitting that its asymmetry and artwork characterise it.