FC St. Pauli: The Unknown Story of the World's Greatest Football Club

The chances are, that unless you are a proper football buff, you may not have heard of FC St. Pauli. On the pitch they are entirely unremarkable: floating between Germany's first and second divisions. But off it they have become a 'Kult' club, recognised for their fans' unique counter-culture.

Based in Hamburg, FC St. Pauli are the football wing of the larger St. Pauli sports club, which includes other pursuits such as: rugby, American football, baseball, bowling, boxing, cycling, handball, softball, table tennis, skittles and chess - yes, they have a chess team. 'The Pirates of the league' as they are known, officially formed in 1910. The team played as an undistinguished lower league side until, in 1934, they made their debut in the German top-flight. This wasn't quite the achievement it first seems as football had been reorganised by the Third Reich, so that all 16 divisions in German football were determined as 'premier divisions'. Promotion and subsequent relegation followed St. Pauli for the next decade, until the outbreak of World War II meant all football in Germany was cancelled.

After the war, leagues resumed normal practice, and once again, promotions to higher divisions were followed by relegation. The 1950's were topsy-turvy for St. Pauli, and by the end of the decade they found themselves being overtaken by their great rivals SV Hamburg. 1963 saw the introduction of the Bundesliga as Germany's sole top division and unfortunately for St. Pauli, they weren't invited; instead being instated to the league below: 2.Bundesliga. The 60's and 70's saw the side yo-yoing between 2.Bundesliga and the German third division. And towards the end of the 70's St. Pauli very nearly went out of business; living above their means and only attracting crowds of around 1,000.

It was this near escape from bankruptcy that jolted the club and its fans into action. Moving the club's ground from the outskirts of Hamburg to the city's infamous Reeperbahn region - or, Red Light District - the team started attracting a different type of fan, a politically left-leaning one, who used the games to create a party atmosphere in and around the ground. The fans adopted the 'skull and crossbones' as its unofficial emblem, and became the first team in Germany to ban right-wing nationalist activities and displays within their stadium - this at a time when fascist-inspired football hooliganism was threatening the game across Europe. The fans quickly became known for their anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-sexist sentiments, and was soon attracting crowds of well over 10,000.

During this period, the club, as for the previous 70 years, were constantly moving between Germany's second and third divisions until, in 1988, they reached the promised land of the Bundesliga. Unfortunately, this didn't last long, and were relegated back to 2.Bundesliga after only two years.

The team's 'Kult' aesthetic however only grew stronger. Punks and Goths became a large part of the fans' community and the club went a step further to integrate these groups by announcing the club's official song as "Hells' Bells" by AC/DC. And still fan numbers grew. By the 1990's St. Pauli had the largest number of female supporters in Germany, and continued their anti-sexism stance vehemently - removing advertisements for the men's magazine, Maxim, within the stadium after the club's fans protested at the sexist depictions of women.

Into the new millennium, and things looked to have picked up on the field. A sustained period in Germany's top division lasted a full six years - the longest in the club's history - and this coincided with St. Pauli's ever-growing popularity, not just throughout Germany, but the whole of Europe. Fan links were created with  Scottish side, Celtic and Israel's Hapoel Tel Aviv. Over 200 fan clubs were created, and it's estimated that St. Pauli now have over 11 million fans in Germany alone. The turn of the millennium also saw a change in ownership for the club. And only St. Pauli could be owned by a man like Corny Littman. Owner of the Schmidt Sex Theatre in Hamburg, Littman is openly gay and often works in the nude. He introduced a 'sausage and beer train' that runs through the stadium's executive boxes and allowed one box owner to implant a dancing pole and mirrors to his suite. I doubt he'd pass the Premier League's 'fit and proper persons test'

As well as their fantastically weird fans and charmingly odd chairman, St. Pauli also invest heavily in local and international charities. Donating millions of pounds towards numerous homeless charities in Hamburg and helping build water tanks in Peru.

This season saw The Pirates return to the Bundesliga with much fanfare. A poor first half of the season was lifted brightly with a 2-1 home win over fierce rivals Hamburg, and after 19 games, St. Pauli lie within the relegation zone in 16th place.

The antithesis of everything that football has to offer in Britain, FC St. Pauli are not just a football team, but a statement of your beliefs. A lifestyle. A 'Kult'. In short: your next favourite team.


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