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External media: Half and half

It’s over. German football is over. In the week where The Guardian officially imported ‘ultra culture’ to the UK, we sent half-and-half scarves in return. Yep, I saw them with my own eyes: ‘St. Pauli vs Berlin’ half-and-half effin’ scarves, the actual scourge of modern football – on sale outside the Millerntor.

This blog first appeared on Outside Left

Maybe it’s British entrepreneurs’ taking advantage of the weak pound to export their tawdry wares. Maybe it’s Theresa May’s secret Brexit plan: to undermine German football culture with our soulless consumerism. Or, maybe it’s happened before and I’ve just not noticed it. But why would anyone buy a scarf from a second round DFB Pokal game that pretty much everyone will have forgotten about in six months time? Aside from that, you don’t need to be an expert in ‘ultra couture’ (Guardian article to follow, ring me for quotes, I’m laying claim to inventing the term ‘ultra couture’) to know that brown and royal blue just don’t mix.

I guess in searching for a metaphor for the trip, the ‘half-and-half’ thing works. It seemed like a strange game: midweek, following a run of poor results and a dire performance against Sandhausen a few days earlier. There was none of the usual talk of a (c)upset, just the weary expectation of a routine victory for the Bundesliga side – a case of how many goals they’d put past our creaky defence. 

Anyhow, I’ve been trying to orientate myself around the district a bit more by getting off the S-Bahn at Landungsbrücken and wandering up from the Elbe. I pretty much managed to walk in a large circle, although I did manage to take in Park Fiction and the rebuilding work on the Golden Pudel before arcing back round via Beatlesplatz on the Reeperbahn. I’d never noticed the song titles embedded into the pavement before, a nice touch ­– I took photos of the ones that I thought might work as blog titles (this was before I’d seen THE SCARVES!) principally: ‘Help’ and ‘We Can Work It Out (Ewald)’.

As I said before, there was a strange atmosphere outside the Millerntor. Maybe it was because it was such a late kick off and people were arriving in dribs and drabs after work. But, for once, there seemed to be more people selling tickets than buying them. There was a distinct lack of ‘Suche Karten’ signs scribbled hopefully on bits of cardboard. It just all felt a bit subdued. The fact that there was no Museum Wine Bar didn't help, I'd not quite realised how much of a meeting point that had become. I look forward to its refurbishment and re-opening!

I had hoped to catch up with Dave Doughman and hear about the FC St. Pauli Levi’s Music School project, but ballsed up my timings. However, it looked like more worthy replacements were found as – with a little help from Yorkshire St. Pauli via Twitter – tickets for the game and a tour of the Music School were arranged for Leeds favourites, Kaiser Chiefs, who were in town before playing Fabrik the following night.

Maybe what really threw me off kilter was the news from FC Lampedusa. Over the last couple of weeks, the team have been hit pretty hard by a series of deportations. You tend to forget that the players from FC Lampedusa (and their families) are caught up in the asylum process. It’s a process that sees them shoved from pillar to post, with days lost to queuing for the appropriate piece of paper to temporarily extend their ‘stay’ – only to be told to come back again the next day and the next day. It’s process that – still ­­– after all that, can chew you up, spit you out and tell you and your family that you’ve got a week to leave the country voluntarily, or be deported. It’s a cruel, cruel ‘system’. It breaks hearts and ruins lives. Unfortunately, in Germany, at present, if you are claiming asylum from the Balkans, your chances of being granted the paperwork that allows you to stay are slim to non-existent. It’s a shitty system that discriminates against those who have fled oppression. Unfortunately, those most at risk of both deportation from Germany and of prejudice and risk to life when they are sent ‘back’ are the Roma people. The previous weekend, FC Lampedusa had to say goodbye to two of their young players. Given seven days to leave or risk being deported without warning in the middle of the night, they along with the rest of their family chose to take the bus back to Serbia. I only heard about the scene at the bus station second-hand, but it still broke my heart. A family stood with all their possessions packed in to five or six bags, leaving Hamburg after two years of calling it home. Standing with them, to say goodbye, were their teammates, friends and coaches from FC Lampedusa. The discrimination against Roma people evident was just from the looks on the faces of some of the other passengers and of the attitude of the bus driver who told them there was too much luggage and it was too heavy. Too much? Too heavy? This isn’t some shitty budget airline check-in for a cheap holiday in the sun. Those bags are literally all the possessions they have in the world. Eventually, the family was allowed to pay for the extra luggage. And then, something lovely happened: their FCL teammates climbed into the hold of the coach and rearranged the luggage, creating enough space for their friends’ bags and keeping the coach driver happy. It didn’t take away the sadness and injustice of having to leave, but that simple act of friendship, provides a glimmer of hope for a better future. It also shows the power of a project like FC Lampedusa: young people from completely different countries, religions and ethnic backgrounds coming together and forming a friendship through playing football. A team spirit fostered on the pitch but whose reach extends far, far beyond it.

Earlier today, there were reports that the authorities were driving a bus through Hamburg looking for Roma people to round up and deport. Read that sentence again: looking for Roma people to round up and deport. If it is true, well, you can draw your own historical parallels...

In the last couple of years, Germany, as a nation, has done so much to offer sanctuary to refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and the middle east (compared to the shameful racist hysteria generated by the British media at the arrival in the UK of a few coachloads of vulnerable, unaccompanied child refugees, this week) but it does feel that there has been a recent shift in emphasis from the German government. All refugees are at risk of swift deportation, especially if they are designated as being from a ‘safe country of origin’ – a piece of hollow bureaucratic terminology that makes a blanket decision and removes any understanding of personal circumstance or danger. Again, FC Lampedusa and projects like it prove that it doesn’t matter where you are from: what matters is the support, friendship and humanity you show each other.

This news makes the football – that I’m ostensibly here for – seem irrelevant. But as kick-off inches closer I take my place on the Südkurve. Contrary to my gut feeling from earlier, the atmosphere inside the stadium is good. There singing is loud with much of it being led by the Gegengerade, so much so, that the USP Capo on the fence, frequently ditches the chant he is leading to join in the one emanating from the GG.

The choreo both on the Gegengerade and Südkurve is impressive. The till rolls that form part of the USP choreo are, of course, accompanied by a slip of paper explaining when and how to use them (we’ve been here before with rogue till rolls lobbed from the terrace, remember!) 

There was, however, one minor incident that happened in front of me as the match was about to start. Two young lads, no older than 14 – and who I’m pretty sure would be familiar to anyone who has stood having a beer outside the Fanladen either before or after the game, as they are often there collecting beer cups – were standing near the front as the choreo was about to be unfurled. One of these kids was wearing a half-and-half scarf. This caught the eye of a bloke helping to raise the banner at the front. He wasn’t happy. I can see his point: the Südkurve is USP’s end, I understand that this sort of scarf isn’t, perhaps, appropriate (let’s not forget, I hate a bloody half-and-half scarf at the best of times!) But I’m not sure this guy’s actions were appropriate either. He snatched the scarf of the bewildered youth, shouted a few words in his face and then ran off up the steps with it – either chucking it over the back of the stand or putting it in the bin. He then returned to the front still berating the young lad. I’m sure other people will have seen this incident play out? I’d like to know what they made of it. It just didn’t seem right to me. He could’ve explained why the scarf wasn’t appropriate and asked the lad to cover it up – these were kids, after all. Boys who probably didn’t understand the significance of wearing a scarf with (half) the opponent’s colours on it; they wouldn’t know about the Hertha fans disgusting homophobic banner either (Hertha fan group ‘Harlekins’ displayed a banner in a recent match against 1FC. Köln that said, "We'd rather have one mother than two fathers" because Köln is renowned in Germany as a hub for the LGBTIQ movement*). They weren’t even ‘football tourists’ being disrespectful, or rival fans taking the piss, they were just kids. To be fair, the steward by the gate did his best to comfort them, I’m guessing explaining why the scarf had caused such a reaction, but they just seemed a bit dazed and confused by it all.

The choreo (when I saw it later) looked great (click here to see Kleinertod's photo or here for the report)and the till rolls and confetti all added to the atmosphere. In the guest-bloc, the Hertha fans went big on pyro, causing the game to be stopped for a few minutes as the Millerntor was engulfed in smoke. It made for a lively opening.

As for the football, it was certainly an improvement on Sandhausen. The players showed much more commitment and held Hertha for a lot longer than I imagined they would, especially with 19-year-old, Brian Koglin, making his debut at centre-half. But despite all our efforts, we still shipped the inevitable first half-goal. As far as I could see a shot was blocked but the ball broke loose on the edge of the area and was lashed home with the sort of finish that separates Bundesliga strikers from their 2.Liga counterparts. It’s also exactly the sort of goal you concede when you are on a run like ours. You could visibly see St. Pauli heads drop with the crushing inevitability of it all.

FCSP came out fighting again in the second half, but just as we were building up some momentum, looking for an equalizer, we did what we do best: got done on the counter attack. From our own corner, the ball was headed clear. Hertha broke at pace: two or three passes; a cross into the box; and BAM! They’d scored a second, decisive, goal. This is what happens when you are on a bad run.

0:2 Final score. Looking for positives: we were much better without the ball: closing players down and hustling. The negatives: we were still too slow and ponderous with the ball: too many times playing it back and forth across the backline, without ever looking like creating an opening. Ewald has a lot of work to do. I just hope it is Ewald that gets to work it out. There can’t be many clubs where a manager with one win in ten league games gets his name chanted incessantly by fans at the end of the game? It was a touching moment, although you felt Lienen was a little embarrassed by the adulation. But, he knows as well as anyone: we are St. Pauli, we do things a little differently here.

And that was it. My last trip to the Millerntor this side of the winter break. Perhaps, that too added to my ‘half-and-half’ melancholy. Nice to be here again, but sad that I won’t be back for a while. I have to remember, in light of the ongoing deportations, I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve got a passport that ­allows me to come back and visit old friends whenever I want. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Solidarity with all refugees.

 * Explanation of Hertha banner situation, stolen from Dani’s Facebook. Thanks!

This blog first appeared on Outside Left