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Jan-Philipp Kalla is a seasoned St. Pauli veteran with several relegation battles under his belt. So it's kind of logical that our No27 was a go-to player last term when the Boys in Brown suddenly found themselves fighting to avoid the drop. In conversation with us, he speaks about the end-of-season run-in and takes stock of the 2017/18 campaign.

After the game against Arminia Bielefeld, a moment of disquiet enveloped the Millerntor. Then the results from elsewhere appeared on the scoreboard, and it was clear to all that St. Pauli would be playing second division football again next season. In moments like these there are lots of ways to express your delight. Jan-Philipp Kalla initially went for the quiet option. "After the final whistle everyone around me was celebrating," he recalls. "To be honest, my first reaction was to breathe a sigh of relief, although I wasn't 100% sure we'd done it, and go and sit down on the bench for a few seconds."

In view of the situation entering the last two home games against Fürth and Bielefeld, his reaction is all too understandable. "We knew what was at stake," he said. "Going down would have been hard to take for the local community, the club staff and the fans. No one wants to have that on their shoulders, of course. We were fully aware of our responsibility in the battle to stay up."

It was an incredibly challenging time for all, especially mentally, one that left its mark on the players: "Because the pressure we were under in the last few matches had built up over time, it also took some time for it to dissipate. It's obviously a huge weight off your shoulders when the final whistle goes, but you need time to process it fully, so I could happily go without a relegation battle in the next few seasons."

For many players, being shielded from the public gaze in training was a key reason for the strong finish to the season, something Kalla was keen to reiterate. "We spent and invested a lot of time on the training ground together and in the overall scheme of things I think that was good. The club went to great lengths to create the best possible conditions for us. Everyone made use of the time." Kalla took the opportunity to play chess with Mats Møller Dæhli during this phase of the season. "Mats said I was a good opponent even though I hadn't played for ages. I caused him a few problems with my aggressive style of play. You could say it was a kind of attacking pressing," he joked.

Though the season eventually finished positively for concerned, Kalla remains critical. "The season wasn't what I'd been hoping for, of course. I would have liked more playing time, but it didn't turn out like that. Eventually I got a chance to show I'm there when needed, though. In the key games at the end of the season I was able to make an important contribution to us staying up and thus end the season on a conciliatory note for me personally."

What remains to be taken from last season? For Kalla, there is no doubt. "The last two games showed just what an asset the Millerntor can be. We hadn't had that cauldron for quite some time, but that's our responsibility as well. When we take the crowd with us, they return the favour. It was magnificent. Together, I hope we can carry the atmosphere into the new season."


Photos: Witters