ACABAB, reads one of the regular banners in St Pauli’s famous Hafenstrasse block. It’s not a typo, but an adaptation: All Cops Are Bastards, Apart from Boll. The banner sums up the ethos of the Hamburg club: firmly anti-authoritarian, but always making room for their own. Fabien Boll, a former St Pauli star, doubled as a police inspector.
St Pauli have never been the greatest football team. While their history is spattered with short-term appearances in the Bundesliga, the German top tier, and impassioned wins against fierce local rivals HSV, it’s what goes on off the pitch that truly makes the ‘braun-weiss’ an interesting phenomenon, one that’s right at the very heart of the ‘Against Modern Football’ movement.
In ‘St Pauli: Another Football Is Possible’, Naxto Parra and Carles Vinas explore the journey that’s brought the Pirates of the Elbe to the point where victory on the pitch is simply not a core priority.
That sense of simply being and representing rather than chasing victory seems to stand out at every game. I visited the club five years ago, and saw them play Union Berlin, their stands draped in slogans slamming Sky Sports for moving the game to a Monday night. The space outside the stadium was crammed with ghetto blasters and punk tunes and fans supping beer, and once you got inside, the fans joined in, at times, with similarly left-leaning Union fans to chant together. The ample standing terraces had a distinct smell of cannabis, and afterwards, there was a rave under one of the stands.
It hasn’t always been this way, of course, and much of this book documents how St Pauli became a bastion of anti-corporate rebellion. The club were initially a fairly conventional side, albeit based on the fringes of Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn, a party-hub meets red light district of some repute. Along the way, we learn that the club even had some light, though disputed, links to Nazi party members in the 30s and 40s.