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Goodbyes are always tough to say and this one weighs particularly heavily. In Jan-Philipp Kalla, who has not only worn the famous brown-and-white jersey since 2003 but also lived the values of the club like few others, a St. Pauli legend is hanging up his boots. As sad as the end of his professional career may be, it's comforting to know our No27 is set to stay at the club – in a position still to be decided.

After playing 68 times for the club at youth level (41 Under-19 outings/4 goals and 27 Under-23 games), Jan-Philipp Kalla made his first appearance in the senior squad for a friendly against Trinidad & Tobago at the Millerntor on 5 June 2006. Then aged 19, he featured for 23 minutes. Now, at the age of 33, Schnecke [Snail], as he is affectionately known, has called time on a playing career lasting 17 years. Only Jürgen Gronau (1975 to 1997) has worn the club colours for longer in recent times.

A lot of water has flowed down the Elbe since his first competitive outing for the club, a 2-1 defeat at VfL Wolfsburg with the Under-19s on 31 August 2003. Kalla went on to make 173 league and cup appearances for the Boys in Brown in a 17-year spell that saw him gain legendary status with the fans thanks to his unbridled commitment and sense of identification with the club.

Anyone can hoof the ball upfield from the penalty box, but when Jan-Philipp Kalla hoofs it clear, it invariably lands at the feet of a striker. And he goes on to score – as in the home game against FSV Frankfurt on 14 March 2015, when Lennart Thy was the grateful recipient of Schnecke's perfectly weighted punt. When it comes to scoring at the Millerntor, Kalla himself had soon shot his bolt, his one and only competitive goal coming as early as the 2009-10 promotion season against Union Berlin.

Kalla did score three times away from home, however, one at Bochum and two at Kaiserslautern, where he not only made his first second-division appearance but also his 100th. His crucial opener on matchday 32 of the 2014-15 campaign will live long in the memory, as the three points won at the Betzenberg ensured the Boys in Brown were able to celebrate avoiding the drop despite a 1-0 defeat at Darmstadt a fortnight later.

Full marks for presentation: Jan-Philipp Kalla celebrates his goal at the Betzenberg on 9 May 2015.

Full marks for presentation: Jan-Philipp Kalla celebrates his goal at the Betzenberg on 9 May 2015.

It was never Kalla's job to score goals, so it comes as no surprise to learn that striker was the only position he never filled in a competitive fixture (causing havoc in the opposition box towards the end of the game does not count as playing up front in our reckoning!). Kalla was the utility player every coach dreams of. Right-back, left-back, central defence, central midfield, right or left wing – you could put Kalla anywhere. On one occasion, he even managed a cameo appearance in goal for the second team against Osterholz-Scharmbeck. Not a lot of people know that. Kalla was never one to boast, but that outing between the posts left him claiming, with a grin, to be the only keeper in the history of the club never to concede a goal.

With his unshakable determination, injuries never held him back. Kalla fought his way back to fitness every time and was always there when needed. The same can be said for his engagement off the pitch. Attending the annual memorial ceremony on Holocaust Remembrance Day is standard practice for him, and he also takes part in the Run Against Racism organised by the club. Kalla can always be relied on to support important causes. Away from FC St. Pauli, he founded the Friends Cup Friends Association to raise funds for projects aimed at people in need. And during the coronavirus pandemic, he teamed up with Marvin Knoll to launch the 20359 Action, raising a notable sum of money to support people in the local community!

The pandemic arrived just as Kalla's playing career was coming to an end, denying him a fitting send-off at a packed Millerntor in keeping with his legendary status. Schnecke would have loved to bid farewell to the fans at the final home game of the season against Regensburg – and the sentiment is mutual, of course. In the end, it was left to his teammates to organise the farewell after the final whistle, a small but admirable gesture that was enough to show how difficult it was for Kalla to take his leave.

Schnecke leaves the Millerntor pitch for the final time after the home time against Regensburg – arm in arm with Henk Veerman.

Schnecke leaves the Millerntor pitch for the final time after the home time against Regensburg – arm in arm with Henk Veerman.

As difficult as it was to say goodbye to Schnecke on the pitch, we are incredibly happy that he is set to remain at the club. The nature of his new position – in addition to his role as assistant coach of our 3rd women's team – has yet to be decided. But we are looking forward to it and are sure he is, too. Who knows how many more years of service will come on top of the existing 17?

Thanks for everything, Schnecke! YNWA!!!

Photos: Witters/Antje Frohmüller/Michael Schwarz