Vince Chadwick writes:
Sam Newman take note: when the female fans at German soccer club St. Pauli took offence at a crude advert for a men’s magazine at the club’s low-budget stadium in Hamburg, the signs were promptly removed. The club was the first to ban sexist and racial comments by fans at games, and owner Cornelius “Corny” Littmann is openly gay.
These are just some of the reasons to celebrate St. Pauli FC’s promotion overnight to Germany’s top football league, and to ponder what is possible as the AFL tries to combat endemic chauvinism in our great game.
For St. Pauli, a tougher stand against the football hooliganism (sometimes with neo-Nazi overtones) plaguing some European teams, has led to it being considered one of the kult clubs in Germany and inspired fan clubs all over the world. In 2005, in conjunction with the club and a German NGO, striker Benjamin Adrion founded a charity, Viva con Agua, to bring clean water to kindergartens in Cuba and elsewhere.
Such popularity has meant that even when the club fell on hard times financially the result was not one of the dreaded mergers whose prospect still haunts the Australian fan, but instead a Retter (or Rescue) Campaign. This compromised a ‘Beer Action’ whereby local bars donated a proportion of each brew poured to the club coffers, as well as a jazz festival, moonlight movie nights, and a benefit match against German champions FC Bayern Munich.
Like in Australia, St Pauli found the key to success included keeping one’s sense of humor. When the team miraculously beat Bayern in 2002 soon after their opponents had won the European Cup St Pauli had thousands of t-shirts printed proudly declaring themselves Weltpokalsiegerbesieger or ‘world cup winner-defeaters’.
Tradition is also not forgotten. Corner flags at the club’s Millerntor Stadium forego the usual boring red markers in favor of the clubs cherished emblem, the jolly roger (adopted one day after Dogmar Buse, an ardent local fan, inexplicably brought along a pirate flag to the game). In a throwback to what could be Princess Park there is no VIP section and the seats remain steadfastly unheated. St Pauli was proudly the last club in the league to own and operate a manual scoring system until 2007 when a new electronic scoreboard was finally installed, in the same style as the old one.
So today St Pauli supporters all over the world are celebrating the triumph of heritage over hegemony; principal over profit. One such fan Malte Klüver described being at a game as ‘like being part of big family… maybe comparable with the world cup, when your country wins and all people are hugging each other, although they’ve never seen each other in life before’.
And if you are reading this thinking that such camaraderie is something Australia’s great codes are still capable of, remember this: St Pauli still run out each week to the sweet sound of none other than ACDC’s Hell’s Bells. Andrew Demetriou, take note.