St. Pauli: Another Football Is Possible - Chronicling the history of Hamburg's one of a kind institution

St Pauli fan

From a publishing perspective, there can hardly have been a more apt time for Carles Viñas and Natxo Parra to release St. Pauli: Another Football Is Possible.

In October 2020, football fans were treated to a hat-trick of soul-sapping concepts: Project Big Picture, pay-per-view fixtures and the much-maligned European Super League.

If anyone was feeling ambivalent about football’s rampant commercialisation, the month of October provided enough examples of corporate greed and fan commodification to force supporters to ponder if there is another way.

On English shores, there is an alarming scarcity of clubs who showcase a willingness to provide an alternative to the status quo. In Germany, however, St. Pauli’s counter-cultural values and steadfast commitment to resisting the capitalist forces swamping the modern game provide a beacon of hope.

Though the carefully chosen title suggests Another Football Is Possible, the book shows that another life is possible. Football is merely the vehicle St. Pauli’s politically engaged fans have used to champion progressive ideals.

The alternative road St. Pauli has trodden has been paved with turmoil, laden with violence and underpinned by financial struggles, but this one of a kind institution has survived plenty of challenges and, even in the absence of sporting success, garnered a 20-million strong international fanbase.

What is the book about?

St. Pauli: Another Football Is Possible chronicles the journey of one of world football’s most captivating mavericks in stunning, historic detail. While the publication is marketed as a sports book, it serves as an excellent contribution to the historiography of German social history.

The reader is taken on a socio-economic odyssey through the history of Hamburg, which is a fascinating topic in itself. In a city renowned for its liberal decadence, political engagement and eclectic mix of subcultures, there is plenty to unpick. Of course, there’s also the small matter of St. Pauli and its rivalry with HSV Hamburg, a fallen giant of European football.

St. Pauli

Intrinsic links to the local economy, the amalgamation of cultural movements within the North German port-city, the widespread commercialisation of football and intense political rivalries, including clashes with Neo-Nazis, serve as compelling backdrops to the tale of St. Pauli’s development.

A perennial underdog in a city dominated by HSV, the near total absence of St. Pauli’s on-field success is amplified throughout, and as such discussion of the club’s achievements, or lack thereof, plays second fiddle to the broader analysis of how the club’s ubiquitous identity came to fruition.

Though the authors rather ruefully admit that St. Pauli is not the revolutionary club it once was, and is certainly not impervious to the forces of the modern game, it is the closest thing to a neighbourhood club in existence.

For fans who are becoming increasingly disenfranchised by the overwhelming economic realities of modern football, St. Pauli offers an alternative.

What key points does it cover?

St. Pauli

Politics, consumer capitalism, autonomism, financial turmoil, the notoriously hedonistic Reeperbahn, fan activism, global appeal and the struggle for identity in the hyper-commercialised sporting world are just several of the prominent themes that run throughout.

At the heart of the book, however, is the fans. Supporters of St. Pauli are famously united against fascism, homophobia, sexism and all forms of discrimination, and have created a liberal, pro-refugee, inclusive identity. They are the real story behind the club, and that point is consistently conveyed throughout.

The melting pot of sub cultures, from punks and skinheads to sex workers and sailors, have come together to create an identity, influence boardroom decisions and take control of their own destiny. Though they don’t wield the power to make final calls, the fact the board even consult fans before making decisions speaks to the uniqueness of the club’s power structure.

In order to fully understand St. Pauli’s modern image and its anti-establishment routes, one must first familiarise themselves with the autonomist movement. Squatting in Hamburg was one of the pillars of global autonomy in the 1980s, and the correlation between that and St. Pauli supporters is discussed at length.

St. Pauli 3

The rivalry between HSV Hamburg and St. Pauli is a recurring theme that finds the sweet spot between football and identity politics. While Viñas discusses the various, interconnecting factors that stoke this fierce rivalry throughout the book, by his own admission there is one overarching theme that summarises the dynamic.

While speaking exclusively to GiveMeSport, Viñas said: “The opulent rivalry (winner, rich) versus the poor (loser, humble) still prevails, although this is far from being a problem for the St. Pauli fans, it is one of the elements that shape their identity and fills them with pride, being the team of the neighbourhood.”

The popularity of St. Pauli’s Jolly Roger emblem, an international symbol for the club’s left-wing political values, has contributed to the gradual erosion of the “neighbourhood” team reputation Viñas mentions.

Tourism and demand for Jolly Roger stamped merchandise has created something of an identity crisis. Do the iconic skull and crossbones still represent a way of life that the German left fought for in the 80s and 90s, or is it an emblem of gentrification used by the club to advance its own financial objectives? The authors leave no stone unturned in the quest to answer these types of pertinent, politically-charged questions.

St. Pauli

GiveMeSport's favourite anecdote

When St. Pauli earned promotion to the Bundesliga in 1977, the club rewarded the squad with a trip to Mallorca. A friendly against RSC Mallorca was organised as part of the trip, and the team managed to inadvertently go on the lash on the day of the game.

Complimentary drinks were offered at the hotel, which the thirsty players guzzled down like fruit juice, just hours before the friendly fixture. Little did they know, they were immersing themselves in a staple of Spanish culture: Sangria.

One player, namely Rolf Peter ‘Buttje’ Rosenfeld, had never drunk alcohol in his life, and the St. Pauli manager was said to have needed to identify where the goal was to some of his intoxicated players. Despite the handicap, the touring outfit claimed a 1-1 draw.

St. Pauli book

Pick up a copy of Carles Viñas’ new book, St. Pauli: Another Football Is Possible, from Pluto Books and use GiveMeSport’s discount code ‘BRAUNWEISS20’ for 20% off at checkout.

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