I would fly 800 miles...


I would fly eight hundred miles
And I would fly eight hundred more
Just to be the man who flew a thousand (okay, sixteen hundred) miles
To watch another 0-0 draw…

Massive apologies to The Proclaimers, but I’ve had these lines going round in my head all week.

It’s a bit of luck we don’t go to St. Pauli for the football, eh? This was my second 0-0 on the bounce, the first being the home game against SV Sandhausen in October – both dreadful games. Fortunately, like the Sandhausen trip that ended up being a precursor for the Lampedusa refugee march, the game against Ingolstadt was only one part of a busy weekend.

I was over for the Fanladen launch of Pirates, Punks and Politics and as a result, had a pretty packed schedule. Even before I’d left Heathrow – by the power of a St. Pauli hoodie – I’d got chatting to a Celtic/St. Pauli fan called Scott who was also on his way to the match. In true St. Pauli fashion, on the U-Bahn into town we discovered we were both trying to text the same person (hello, Sönke!) about arrangements for later. After dumping my bag at the Fanladen and a quickly consumed Astra to steady the nerves, I legged it round to the Haupttribüne to meet the guys from St. Pauli FM. I was pretty sure I was at the right entrance, but after a bit of a text message mix-up, I decided I wasn’t and started the search for the mythical northern entrance to the Haupttribüne! This basically involved me doing a lap of the stadium, realizing pretty quickly that the entrance in the north-east corner of the ground was for away fans, sprinting round past the bunker, through the Dom, squeezing through the crowds trying to get into the Südkurve back to where I’d started. Eventually, I got in and found myself sitting high up in the press box with a cracking view of the Gegengerade as it began filling up with people. It’s a pretty inspiring sight, I’ve only ever really seen the Gegengerade on matchdays from the Südkurve, where it looks pretty impressive, but from directly opposite it looked incredible. Anyhow, despite being nervous and slightly sweaty from my warm-up lap of the Millerntor, I bumbled my way through my radio interview, which included a comedy reading-out of the St. Pauli team, where I realized two things. First, I can’t pronounce ANYTHING properly in German (which ironically also means I could do a decent job commentating on FCSP for BTSport) and, second, that there’s still a fair few of this new(ish) squad that I don’t really know. Oh, for the days of Tayki, Naki, Sako & Co. I then got nabbed for an interview with St.Pauli TV, which was even more nerve-racking as, unlike radio, TV highlights my slightly manic (and born of nerves) ‘arm waving whilst being interviewed’ technique. Still, at least, in the space of 45 minutes I’d ruled out future careers in both radio and television. Finally, then, I was free of media duties – please don’t think I’m sounding ungrateful, I’m not at all, it made for a really different pre-match experience, it was just all slightly surreal. 

As a result of getting onto the Südkurve late, I found myself tucked down in the corner by the Gegengerade. I’d wanted to try and find the guys from Catalunya who were over watching, but it wasn’t to be. Then, after some great flag-based choreo from the USP, the game was underway. To say I can’t remember a single incident of note from the match itself isn’t an exaggeration. Literally nothing exciting happened. Indeed, the highlight of the second-half was watching Ralph Gunesch warming-up in front of us for Ingolstadt – further confirmation that I am rooted in the past, or that I’ve just not bonded with the new St. Pauli team yet. Is it just me, or do the current team seem a bit devoid of characters? 

However, there were two curios that came about as a result of the game, both not your typical St. Pauli. First was the appearance of a large Union Jack flag in the middle of the Gegengerade. It didn’t look like something brought along by chance, as I think it had ‘FCSP’ stenciled in the middle. Seemed like a strange choice: maybe ironic, maybe genuine? I’ve not had a chance to check various internet forums for more information. It just seemed odd. I know the USP, quite rightly disapprove of national flags on the Südkurve (which fits in nicely with my own feelings about ‘no nations, no borders’) but it is not unusual to see various national flags cropping up elsewhere: the Cuban flag, the Irish tricolor or flags representing the Basque region, or indeed Catalunya, it’s just that I’d never thought I’d see a Union Jack at the Millerntor. Again, maybe I’m rooted in the past and a certain historical/political mindset. As the Union Jack reminds me of growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s England with all its links to the far-right. Then there’s the flag as the uncomfortable visualization of patriotism, ‘Great’ Britain, ‘Empire’ and everything that conjures up. And of course, Morrissey at Finsbury Park… ;) You get the picture: I’m no fan of the Union Jack – take it down, it clashes with the sunset as Billy Bragg would say.

Second was the treatment of the referee, Bibiana Steinhaus. I’d seen her ref a couple of games prior to this one and she’d done a good job. Today, however, she had an average game (in my opinion, and I’m no referee!) I don’t think her case was helped by the bity nature of the game and the creeping frustration of the home crowd, who (despite our shaky home form) expected a win. As the game wore on, it seemed to become more disrupted by the referee’s whistle and more often than not those breaks in play were given as free-kicks to Ingolstadt. Like I said, frustration played a big part in this, both from the St. Pauli players on the pitch making rash challenges in an increasingly desperate attempt to break the deadlock and from the fans equally desperate for three points. At the time, I wondered what sort of criticism Steinhaus was getting from the stands (again, a lack of German failed to help here.) At full-time, as Steinhaus and her team made their way to the tunnel there was a crescendo of boos and whistles. I didn’t think too much more of it, until I got a text from someone watching back in the UK asking if the team got booed off. Perhaps some of the jeers were directed at the team, but to me it felt like the loudest criticism was saved for the officials. Much later that night, in the Jolly Roger, I raised the treatment of the referee in a discussion, and it seemed my initial suspicions were confirmed. She, apparently, got a bit of sexist abuse from fans standing on the Gegengerade. This very un-St. Pauli treatment of the referee was a real shame and a reality check on how far football (even at St. Pauli) still has to go to rid the game of sexism. It was disappointing, although as ever with FCSP fans, it is good to see that so many people were angry and outraged by the sexist abuse that was directed at Steinhaus.  

All that aside, it was a dull game. I decided that prior to meeting up with everyone at the Fanladen for the book launch, I’d check into my hotel and have a bit of a nap. 

An hour or so later, I was refreshed by sleep and chocolate and headed down to the Fanladen to meet up with the guys from Der Übersteiger’s ‘Millernton’ podcast to record a short interview.

Again, it’s these moments long after the final whistle that make the trip. After exchanging about a million emails during the editing process for the book, I finally got to meet Christoph Nagel. It was great to be able to thank him for all his hard work. Sönke’s help with the editing was also invaluable although he had taken it on himself to celebrate with a beer or two, which manifested itself in an uncanny ability to repeatedly knock bits of artwork of the wall of the Fanladen throughout the book Q&A session! 

The book Q&A, like the ones before it in Leeds and London, turned out to be an immensely enjoyable affair. Massive thanks to everyone at the Fanladen for helping it happen, especially Stefan (on bar duty) and Kolja (selling books!) The evening kicked-off with Sönke reading from the FourFourTwo article from 2005 (not 2006 as I’d misremembered) that got me into St. Pauli in the first place. Sönke had picked up a copy on a trip to Glasgow, lent it to a friend years ago, but magically managed to get it back earlier in the day. I then did a short intro about how the book came about, then it was on to my favourite bit: the discussion. I wouldn’t really call it a Q&A, as I don’t really have any actual answers, but it was a brilliant opportunity to share thoughts and ideas on FC St. Pauli; fan culture; differences between German football and the rest of Europe; and hopes and fears for the future. The discussion was so intense that we had to stop for a ‘half-time’ break so people could go to the bar and/or the toilet! It was a real international gathering with contributions from fans from as far afield as Catalunya, Netherlands, France, Scotland and the Canada.

To be honest, after the Q&A, I was expecting to head back to the hotel, write a piece for Der Übersteiger and then get an early night but, of course, in true St. Pauli style, there was no chance of that. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the wonderful Backbord now located on Clemens-Schultz-Straße, drinking beer and talking football, politics, hedgehogs and eagles (now there’s a book title if ever I heard one!) The conversation was fun and informed. I found myself sitting round a table with the guys from the FC St. Pauli Catalunya Supporters Club, a university lecturer from Brighton, members of Republica Internationale (a Leeds based socialist football club), Dani Wurbs the CEO of Football Supporters Europe and a couple of people who had lived the infamous Hafenstraße squats in the late 1980s. We were later joined by Sönke and Christoph from the 1910 e.V. Museum project. We sat chatting until about 1.30am, then moved on for a night-cap of Mexicanas and further discussion at the Jolly Roger.

I got back to my hotel just before 3.00am. So much for the early night. Yet again, the football itself was a distant memory. The team, the club, the stadium might be the hook that brings us all together, but St. Pauli is all about people and I’m more than happy to travel 800-miles for that.

At the airport, the following morning, I bumped into Mark from the University of Brighton and spent an enjoyable hour finding out a bit more about his work on A.S. Livorno. It had been his first experience of the Millerntor. I think he’ll return.
I’m back in May for the Sonderzug to Köln. No radio or TV interview and 24-hours without sleep, I can’t wait.