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External media: St Pauli oozes respect and pride when so many Premier League clubs are selling their souls

A day at Hamburg's ultimate 'hipster' team is a refreshing reminder of what going to football used to feel like — and still can

Credit: This piece first appeared on www.mirror.co.uk

By Brian Reade

The packed stadium fell silent as St Pauli marked International Holocaust Day (Image: Twitter/fcstpauli)

Sometimes, things happen inside a football ground which momentarily knock you sideways.

A goal of sublime skill, a sickening snap of a limb, a song sung so poignantly you gulp.

But it’s been a while since I experienced anything as moving as the scenes inside St Pauli’s Millerntor-Stadion before the Hamburg side’s game against Darmstadt on Sunday.

As kick-off approached, black covers were placed over advertising hoardings and fans’ flags.

When the two teams walked onto the pitch, the noisy, 30,000-strong packed house fell mute.

A huge banner with the words “kein vergeben kein vergessen” (never forgive, never forget) rolled down one stand, while St Pauli fans held up thousands of cards bearing the names of local people murdered by the Nazis.

Signs with the names of locals killed by the Nazis were also displayed in the stands (Image: Nordphoto)

Then held an impeccable minute’s silence to mark International Holocaust Day.

As someone who was in Auschwitz three Januarys ago covering the 70th anniversary of its liberation from the Third Reich exterminators, to witness such scenes at a German football match felt extraordinarily poignant.

But then St Pauli, with its skull-and-crossbones emblem that warns all right-wing nationalists they are not welcome, is no ordinary club.

I’d gone out of curiosity, having heard it was the ultimate “hipster” club and half expected to see micro-scooting dudes sipping qiunoa lattes and debating art-house cinema.

But it was more of a throwback to the old Football League days without the menace.

St Pauli is fan-owned — and an inspiration for those in Britain heading down the same road (Image: AFP/Getty)

The ground sits in the middle of a graffiti-riddled working-class area, a stone's throw from the docks and the red-light district.

The core of its fanbase are students, anarchists, old hippies, punks, bohos and hedonists — and boasts more women than any other club in Germany.

They congregate in the streets hours before kick-off drinking lots of beer as The Clash and Bob Marley blare out of speakers. Then, most pay a tenner to go inside and sing their hearts out, even though they follow a mid-table, second division side who play average football.

But what oozes out of every pore of this fan-owned club is respect.

In the messages on terrace banners like “Love Football Hate Fascism” and signs painted on stadium walls such as “No Place for Homophobia Fascism Sexism Racism.”

The Darmstadt game was a throwback to the Football League days — without the trouble (Image: Nordphoto/Witke)

In its moves against any individual or company that threatens its left-leaning, anti-fascist constitution.

In its attitude to supporters of both sides— small examples on Sunday being stewards carrying fans' beer through the turnstiles or letting a Darmstadt supporter onto the pitch, then helping him put up his banners.

We’ve become used to clubs viewing supporters as mugs to be exploited, and those who stand up to it as a problem to be ignored or insulted. In St Pauli, the whole day was set up by the fans for the fans.

They were the point of it all.

Thankfully, more and more member-run clubs are taking off in Britain, owned by people with similar principles aching for a different, more communal way to experience their favourite sport. Who believe supporting a football club is about being fiercely proud of your identity, not selling your soul to tread water in over-hyped, big-money leagues.

St Pauli's fanbase has more women than any club in Germany — and it's just £10 a ticket (Image: Reuters)

Some feel we should keep politics out of football because it pollutes what is effectively just an enjoyable pastime. But on Sunday at St Pauli, that wasn’t how it felt.

Everything good that I missed about football before the Sky era was there, and much more besides.

When I told one of them that I mostly watched the Premier League she sighed and said she pitied me, as its obsession with money has made it “completely soulless.”
I wouldn’t say English football needs pitying, but it is a huge pity we don’t have more clubs like St Pauli.
Credit: This piece first appeared on www.mirror.co.uk