Sometimes football is more than what 22 men do on the pitch for 90 minutes.
The run-up to Hamburg’s first city derby in eight years on Sunday has highlighted the vast gulf in both resources and philosophy between the Hamburger Sport-Verein and FC St Pauli.
“You can’t compare the two clubs, this is a neighbourhood club and always will be,” St Pauli manager Holger Stanislawski recently told The Local.
The fans are also traditionally viewed in Hamburg as a distinct reflection of their respective clubs. Whereas HSV followers are generally more affluent with a more conservative bent, the St Pauli set is determinedly working class and at times militantly leftist.
“It’s not everything to win for FC St Pauli fans, they want to have fun and insist on being extraordinary. They love to be underdogs,” said Rolf-Peter ‘Buttje’ Rosenfeld, 53, who played for St Pauli as a defensive midfielder in the 1970s. “Fans of HSV have a different history. They want titles.”
Hamburger Sport-Verein is the city’s premier club, playing out of a 57,000-seat arena and boasting a roll call of honours to rival any football team in Europe: six-time German champions, twice German Cup winners, European Cup winners, European Cup Winners’ Cup winners, two-time UEFA Intertoto Cup winners. They are only founding member of the Bundesliga never to have been relegated from the first division.
FC St Pauli, their diminutive neighbour and one of German footballs “cult” clubs play out of the 23,000-capacity Millerntor Stadium, located near the infamous red-light strip the Reeperbahn. Adored far beyond the confines of Hamburg, they have no real history of sporting glory.
Back in the Bundesliga first division for the first time since the 2001/2001 season, it is now FC St Pauli’s task to avoid relegation while maintaining its identity and values, which are as important to the club as for as its performance on the pitch.
“It’s always a balancing act. Of course it’s important for us to play successfully and to stay strong in the competition. But we must not ever lose sight of the culture of the neighbourhood and the club itself,” Stanislawski said.
‘Stani,’ as he is know, is an enormously popular ex-Pauli player loved by the fans for his casual style. Eschewing the customary attire of top-flight manager, he often prowls the touchline in jeans and a jersey.
The club has recently decided to refuse the millions which could be garnered from selling the naming rights to its stadium to retain the beloved Millerntor moniker.
And Rosenfeld calls it a “miracle” that the club was allowed to install its new VIP boxes in the stadium, a move not strictly in keeping with St Pauli’s club-of-the-masses identity.
“It’s very important right now that they can combine tradition and modern times,” he said. “They have become a real professional club but can still retain their underdog tradition.”
Going into Sunday’s match the self-styled ‘Buccaneers of the League’ will certainly have no trouble taking the pitch as underdogs. HSV, under new manager Armin Veh, can boast international-class talent such as in-form Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelroy, Brazilian Ze Roberto and German national team player Piotr Trochowski.
St Pauli feature far less established players, and will be relying on new signings Moritz Volz, the former Fulham fan favourite, and former German international Gerald Asamoah, to bolster a team almost unchanged since promotion.
“They have a team spirit which is unbelievable, there are no superstars. That’s what makes them so strong,” said Buttje Rosenfeld said.
Stanslawski said of the upcoming game: “The boys are motivated, have drive and their eyes on the prize.
“We will try, as always, to put our stamp onto the match. Of course it will be a special one, particularly for the fans.”
This could be true in more ways than one. Enmity between the fans is at an all time high following a violent clash last month when HSV fans set upon a group of Pauli supporters returning from the club’s opening game in Freiburg.
HSV Chairman Bernd Hoffmann apologized and described the attack as “shameful.”
Now Hamburg police are preparing for a “risky match” and a police spokesman described relations between the opposing sets of fans as “strained.”
Police will be ramping up their presence in the St Pauli neighbourhood before the match officers who try to foster relations with the fan factions are already at work to prevent violence.
But with FC St Pauli determined remain in the Bundesliga’s first division after this season, the city’s rival fans could face years of direct confrontation both on and off the pitch.
“It’s bound to get worse,” the police spokesman admitted.