Football fan paradise Germany. And to be fair, a lot of the time it is. But not everything seems to be working fine. In division 2, we now see the continuing march to the top by RB Leipzig, a club with a corporate logo as a club badge (not the first), very little fan influence, created by a company and with significant funds at its disposal. During the summer, HSV fans voted to essentially sell their voting rights over the football department at their club. In Hannover, many ultra and fan groups, fed up with the way the club president has treated them (enforced, and legally dubious, bubble matches being the tip of the iceberg), have announced that they will not be supporting the first team but instead will follow the reserves (at least one Hamburg SV ultra group has also announced they will not support the new HSV Plus team that HSV members voted for). In the lower leagues, fans in the organisation “Glotze Aus, Stadion An” are making a well-founded call for others to stop just watching the big sides on tele and go and watch the amateur sides. If people don’t go, these clubs, full of charm, run by passionate supporters, will simply cease to exist.
Meanwhile at FC Sankt Pauli, we still have our democratic basis, the relationship with those in charge of running the club is still fairly acceptable, and yet however strong the influence over our own club might be, we still find ourselves suffering due to problems outside of our control.
One of these problems is the case of TV scheduling. As the fixtures were announced (or rather finally planned – in Germany you know in which order the games will take place, but TV/the police/the man takes its time after that, and only decides which actual day the match will be on mere weeks in advance of kick off), we groaned as once more, we found ourselves playing teams in the south of Germany on weeknights. Sankt Pauli has, what the Germans would call, a “luxusproblem”. For a middling second division side, we are famous. That’s a generally fortuitous position to be in. We are loved by many, we are liked by even more (there are no end of Germans who would list us as their second favourite team) and we are hated by the rest. That means we also make for interesting tv viewing. The TV companies need to fill their slots, and if you want people to tune in on a Monday night, it’s an easy choice over which game you will use. Sandhausen, with respect, doesn’t hold the same pull as Sankt Pauli. And with that, we find ourselves attending another string of matches, fucking miles away, on a Monday night (logistically meaning AT LEAST 1.5 days off work), or at 6pm (so barely after the normal time you’d finish work) on a Friday. It goes without saying, that this can also include home matches, which are fine for us, but can often mean the same type of journey and time off work for the away side.
The fan organisation Pro Fans recently announced that they would like to change this. They suggested, that games on a week night should be organised so that the away side’s fans have to travel an absolute maximum of 300km to reach the match. As this compromise is not currently adhered to, they have also organised a negative monthly prize for the club that has to travel the furthest for matches during the week – the “Spieltagsansetzungsmoster” or SAM. Unsurprisingly we have won it this month, with away trips on a Friday night to Aalen (631km one way) and Fürth (600km one way).
What can you do with regards to these negative developments? One option is just to carry on. It’s still football, you can take holiday etc. The other is to try and do something about it. Of course doing something about it won’t necessarily make a change, and will often invite criticism. The first criticism is generally, you are a supporter of club X and so as such should stand by them and support them come what may. As a FCUM fan, I’ve heard this one before, and quite frankly I don’t buy it. Obviously being a fan means sticking by your club through thick and thin, but if the club has been so transformed from what you fell in love with and you are constantly taken the piss out of, at some point you have to take a stand. The second criticism tends to be in the logic or integrity behind the action. I have a strong dislike of HSV and so can hardly be seen as a neutral, but I have a certain amount of respect for the decision from many fans to boycott the team, and even set up an alternative in the form of HFC Falke. Yet still I see holes in the whole thing. Whilst a boycott of support is in place, there is no confirmation of whether this continue to be seen through. If after a few months, everyone is back on the terrace, the whole thing will prove to be a bit of a charade. Likewise, if members of the group retain their season tickets, then it means a few less flags, and a little less atmosphere, but funds still go to the club.
Likewise with breakaway club HFC Falke there are contradictions. The club, which aims to play football in the 2015/16 season, was a reaction to the undemocratic state HSV now finds itself in, now that the members allowed financial investors to, at the very least, strongly increase their influence. One of the first decisions of the new club, was to create a club crest (an important decision in my eyes). Yet the decision over the design was apparently made by an “inner core” of fans involved in the club, and was not put to vote by the wider membership. Again integrity is called into question. Similar questions over how long the Hannover fans will remain away from first team matches (however impressive the showing at their first reserve match was), will stay open. If they keep it up, will the president at the club keep his nose out, or start meddling there as he continues his spat and power struggle. Are the reserve matches in the Regional League not also under the influence of TV and “commerce” (St Pauli Reserves away at Meppen was moved to a week night just for tv last season)?
And then we come to our own reaction to our own problem at Sankt Pauli. And by “our problem”, I mean a problem faced by all fans at Sankt Pauli (and often beyond), and by “our own reaction”, I mean a handful of fans mostly belonging to the Ultra group Sankt Pauli Mafia. Is our reaction watertight? Logical? Well instead of taking two days off and travelling down to Fürth to watch the first team play on a Monday night, in an important and exciting match, we plan to go and watch FCSP reserves against the second side from Eintracht Braunschweig.
The financial effect of the boycott:
Will it affect the club financially? No, many of us already had a ticket and won’t seek a refund. Then again, whilst the club conforms to the rule that TV decides the fixtures and kick-off times, we don’t seek to punish the club for this issue. In fact the entrance fee to the reserve side will be of benefit to them.
The visual effect of the boycott:
Sankt Pauli Mafia, even in full numbers, and with a few friends tagging along is not Fossa dei Leoni. We are present at every match, sing, clap, stand together and wave flags. Yet it is unlikely that anyone will miss us particularly at the Fürth game. The terrace will be full, other flags will be waved, it will be loud enough. The only noticeable effect will be that a small group of fans will be present at the reserve game where they otherwise seldom appear.
Will further matches be boycotted?
No. Well unless you count the fact that most of us can’t make the Aalen match. By 1860 at home we will all be back watching the first side.
So why on earth are we bothering?
For several reasons. The first is that many other forms of protest have been tried and generally haven’t worked. At the back end of the last decade, the idea was to simply not sing for the first 10 minutes of the match. A few years later it was the idea of holding up banners so offensive to the TV companies, that they could no longer use the crowd scenes in their programme. Both ideas may have caused annoyance, but quite simply, the matches carried on being put on a week night far too often. Even Pro Fans compromise around the 300km limit has, so far, fallen on deaf ears.
I don’t believe our boycott and attendance of a reserve match will make a change to TV’s influence over football, however, whilst TV’s influence is the problem, I don’t think it is what is actually at stake. Football for me, is something I enjoy. Enjoyment can mean a long journey in the train, but a long train journey on a Monday night/Tuesday morning, doesn’t necessarily mean enjoyment, in fact I would go so far as to say that sometimes these matches are a genuine chore. Football for me, is something that I enjoy going to watch on the two days of a week I get free. Football for me, is something that I enjoy in my freetime, without stress, ideally with my friends. Missing a top match like that versus Furth is a shame, but it will save me at least 2 days holiday, from the 4 or so the football league expects me take in the next two months just to watch my side. And watching the reserves on a Saturday will mean a trip out with my friends, the very reason I go to football. A recipe for enjoyment.
In other words, though it won’t change football as a whole, in the meantime it will at least mean I try to prevent football changing for me. Watertight integrity, once again, it isn’t. But most of you will be able to relate to the motivation. Who knows, maybe the idea will take off in the future…
If you want to join us, or you attend the Sankt Pauli reserves on a regular basis, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org
SAM Image taken from http://www.profans.de
GaSa Logo taken from http://gasa.blogsport.de
Image of the Edmund Plambeck Stadium, where St Pauli reserves play, taken from http://www.europlan-online.de