St Pauli, in the vanguard of football fans

Anti-fascist flag flies among FC St Pauli fans.

Pirates, Punks & Politics, FC St. Pauli: Falling in Love With a Radical Football Club
By Nick Davidson
Sports Books, 2014
251 pp., $16.50

I must admit that I don’t know one end of a soccer ball from another, but having read this book I don’t care. I’m now passionately interested in this extraordinary German football club, FC St Pauli, with its skull-and-cross-bones emblem.

St Pauli are also-rans in terms of German football. They bounce around between the lower echelons of the Bundesliga (Germany's top division), often relegated to Bundesliga 2 or even lower. But it makes no difference to their fans, who are known as the most devoted of all European club supporters.

If you go to YouTube you can see the hard-core fans, the Ultra St Pauli, in action. They are wild, wonderful and rebellious. They keep singing and raising hell no matter how badly their team is doing and they stay after each match to keep on cheering them.

What makes them so different? It’s their revolutionary politics.

The fans, exemplified by the Ultras, totally oppose homophobia, fascism, sexism and racism. They have consciously reached out to other clubs, such as Glasgow's Celtic FC, to build a continent-wide anti-fascist bloc in the stadiums.

Not only that, the fans’ associations reach out to alienated youth in the local area with sports-based social programs to win them away from despair. The associations also struggle against the intrusion of big business morality into the club, which limits the financial base ― hence the difficulty of climbing the Bundesliga.

St Pauli is located in Hamburg’s old docks area, which is best known for its brothels and red light district. In the 1970s and 80s, it became the centre of a mass-based, anarcho-punk squatters’ movement.

These squatters slowly took an interest in their local soccer team and, over time, transformed it.

One of their early chants was “Never again fascism! Never again war! Never again the third division!”

Another chant was: “Who are the betraying rats? Social democrats! Whose betrayal will we never see? Surely it is St Pauli!”

As Nick Davidson demonstrates, the fans want a club that stays true to its egalitarian ethos no matter what the result.

Davidson is British. He was a Watford supporter, but could not stand the rise of Big Money and the English Premier League and stopped attending games. But since discovering St Pauli, he is prepared to travel hundreds of kilometres to see them play.

He loves the club for its politics and its fans. St Pauli is worthy of his devotion.

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