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Football Focus visit Bundesliga mavericks St Pauli

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English fans feel St Pauli attraction

By Damian Johnson
BBC Sport

Like many football fans, I had heard of the German club St Pauli and its pioneering stance against racism, sexism and homophobia but my knowledge began and ended there.

So when the editor of Football Focus suggested I forget about the Premier League and head to Hamburg to see St Pauli make a bit of Bundesliga history, I leapt at the chance.

The club has been in existence for exactly a century but until this season had never entertained rivals SV Hamburg in the Bundesliga at their modest Millerntor Stadion.

On the rare occasions the two clubs had been in Germany's top flight at the same time, St Pauli agreed to switch the home game to SV's giant Imtech Arena to maximise gate receipts.

606: DEBATE

This year, the club that plays in the shadow of the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's notorious red light district, are back in the big time.

What's more, the Millerntor has been partially rebuilt. Two of the rickety ancient stands remain, making the ground a strange mixture of old and new - a Pride Park meets Plough Lane sort of thing.

It seemed that the time was right to host their neighbours in the Bundesliga for the first time.

The rebirth of St Pauli began 25 years ago. Before that, they went pretty much unnoticed in the working-class neighbourhood of the same name.

The decline of the shipbuilding industry led to large sections of the population moving out. Some of the old housing stock was taken over by the squatter movement. They brought radical politics as well as a passion for football.

The neighbourhood subsequently became more bohemian and St Pauli's attendances soared. From struggling to stay afloat on crowds of 3,000, suddenly the 20,000-plus capacity stadium was packed every other week.

Ruud van Nistlerooy and Carlos Zambrano
Ruud van Nistelrooy tangles with St Pauli defender Carlos Zambrano

Soon the new breed of supporters were agitating for a greater say in how the club was run. They supported initiatives to fight racism and sexism. They insisted the club resist the creeping tide of commercialism and keep ticket prices low. The cheapest ticket for this historic local derby was only 12 euros, about £10.

The approach may be novel but the atmosphere on match day is definitely old school. The teams emerged to AC/DC's Hell's Bells and a cacophony of noise from all four corners of the stadium.

Supporters of both sides were raucous throughout, much of their material straight from the traditional songbook of the English terraces. Large sections of German grounds still have standing areas.

We met a couple of fans from the United Kingdom who, to a certain degree, had been enticed over by the opportunity to stand up to watch their fix of top-flight football.

In truth, the game did not really live up to its billing, although the roof came off the place when St Pauli took a second-half lead.

Hamburg, who have former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy in their side, equalised late on. At the end, the home side and their fans still celebrated like they had won.

It had been a fascinating insight - different yet strangely familiar.

The packed terraces were a throwback to earlier times when virtually everyone stood to watch. There is no doubt that many of the St Pauli supporters are politically motivated. That may not be to everybody's taste but this is no happy-clappy Sunday afternoon gathering. The rivalry is real and intense.

Give it a try if you get the opportunity.

You can see more on one of Europe's most distinctive clubs on Football Focus on Saturday 3 October, from 1215 BST on BBC One.



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see also
Friday Focus with Jurgen Klinsmann
24 Sep 10 |  Football Focus
Friday Focus with comedian Tim Vine
17 Sep 10 |  Football Focus


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