Champions of 80 minutes
Ah nothing like the first signs of spring to put a skip in your step! The match moved to a Sunday night, meant a full weekend of parties and afternoons in cafes for me, but the odd bit of sleep too, so rare on a weekend meant by the time that the bus pulled up I was feeling pretty fresh. Isn’t there some kind of Sim City 2000 style disaster going on in Japan? Evidently Id been listening to the Japanese Government reports, as 10,000 people are missing and I’m still unaffected and calm. I find that slightly disturbing. Its quite odd how despite such a major disaster, life in other countries (including my own) just carries on.
Anyway into the bus I climbed and the journey passed with little incident. Coffee, sparkling wine (we are so sophisticated!), a few sandwiches and pleasant conversation, interspersed with warm sunshine at every cigarette break. Low-risk-category football matches, wonderful!
Having arrived in Hamburg, we had an impromptu kick about in the car park. The bus driver had produced a ball from nowhere. Amusingly, the first thing everyone said was, “My sports teacher at school would’ve killed me for using this ball, it’s a volleyball and not for kicking!”. Its rather comforting that such nitpicking by sports teachers is the same the world over.
I then headed up to the AFM container, seeing various old friends along the way, as well as a “Course You Can Malcolm” sticker – who put that there! Once up at the container, I met up with PS, another fan from England who now lives in Hamburg. His own season ticket is for the Nordkurve, but disappointingly he didn’t have a Kutte jeans jacket on. Over a pint of Astra, we exchanged a few stories about reasons for leaving England, why St Pauli etc. Soon however, it was time for us to head into our separate bits of the ground.
For this particular match day there was an event Aktionstag, with the motto “Why are you at St Pauli?”. The aim of the campaign captures much of what the SozialRomantiker are talking about, but also wider concerns many of us have had over supporter culture at the club. The leaflets distributed, asked everyone to consider why St Pauli is so great and compare that to their own behaviour. Throwing beer beakers at the ref (however bad he might have been), admittedly very rare, racist/sexist/homophobic comments etc were all highlighted as sad instances of things that have happened at the Millerntor and are not wanted. The campaign was being run by the Fanladen but interestingly also the club itself. This last point was of most interest. I’ve heard it claimed that the board at St Pauli may often come from wealthy, business-based backgrounds, but show the sort of altruism and social values often popular amongst Northern European, for example Scandinavian, upper classes. Not the snidey, tax breaks and take away maternity leave rights in smaller businesses, attitude of the wealthy Tories in the UK government, but something successful but social democratic. I would take the support of this recent campaign at St Pauli as a positive sign that this is indeed the case. More please! The general message was then expressed by the various fan groups, with wallpaper banners being held up all around the ground to show why each fan group is at St Pauli. You can see more images over on the excellent MagischerFC blog, by following the link here (including one shot of joker Denis Naki pretending to wash his hair in the sprinklers)…
Shortly before the match, the topic of Japan returned. A minutes silence was held for those missing or dead. It was my first minutes silence at a football match in Germany, and its rarity had a far greater impact than what I’m used to.
Japan was again noted with the number of anti-nuclear power banners on show. What’s happening in Japan has reawakened the antinuclear sentiment that is strong in Germany. Seemingly the money “invested” by the pro-nuclear lobbyists in nice media reports and politicians, in order to extend the lifetime of Germans nuclear power programme, has been reversed by the tragedy in an instant. At half time a large yellow banner appeared on the Sudkurve having a go, I think, at the energy company Vattenfall. In the Gegengerade you could also see the old 70s “Atomkraft – Nein Danke” flags dotted across the terrace, although to be fair my eyesight couldn’t tell if they weren’t the recently altered version saying “Kommerzkacke – Nein Danke” (Commercial crap – no thanks).
With regards to the match, I don’t want to spend a great deal of time reflecting on it, such was the level of disappointment. Once again, St Pauli were not found wanting when it came to effort, but whilst they have adapted to the Bundesliga in one sense, with the second half of the season’s flowing, quick passing, they are still far too naive. Whilst at times a very enjoyable game to watch, the whole experience reminded me of watching Manchester United and their first few attempts in the Champions League. With United it was wild, gung-ho football. Purists stuff and a joy to watch, but it would always come unstuck against canny sides experienced in soaking up pressure or knowing when to stick with a 1-0 lead (Dortmund, Juventus…). St Pauli were the same, there were signs of the tremendous counterattacking and tight passing, witnessed at the Cologne and BMG games, but such effort meant by the 75th minute there was no energy left. Stuttgart in the meantime spent large amounts of time soaking up pressure and when that pressure got too much, they’d find a reason to go to ground. Similar to a boxer’s clinch, it would repeatedly bring them enough time to catch their breath and regroup. The euphoria of our goal was cancelled out almost immediately by the sort of strike that showed why Stuttgart used to play in Europe. Then, like in so many games before, just when we though we might get a draw in the dying minutes , an equally clinical long distance strike, having outrun an exhausted St Pauli defence, meant 3 points for Stuttgart and a very high chance of relegation for us. Devode.
The Stuttgart fans produced a nice banner at halftime. One side said “Sonntag 13.01.11 – St Pauli v VFB, 17:30hrs – 1338KM”, the other “Fussball live erleben? Danke DFL, nur mit Urlaub möglich” (Football live? Thanks to the German Football League Company, only possible with holiday). The banners nicely summed up the ridiculous situation, that football fans are expected to travel the equivalent of something just shy of Lands End to John O’Groats on a Sunday night, just so people can watch it, along with several other matches, over the course of a weekend on the tele. Another reason to pack up the Sky contract…