Image Credit: VEO15
Picture the scene, I was on A Beautiful Game (3pm-6pm, URY) on Saturday and said that my favourite German football club is FC St. Pauli. What I didn’t realise is that that might have been a terrible mistake. Earlier on in the day The Guardian published a document from the UK Counter-Terrorism Police which listed FC St. Pauli’s famous skull and crossbones image as one to be looked out for by people in schools, hospitals and other public sector workers as potential signs of an extremist. The sign is seemingly deemed such a threat that public sector workers needed to be informed to look out for it just in case there’s trouble. It appears alongside the swastika, jihadi groups and Anonymous, unlike the first two, under “Left-Wing Symbols”. Since the UK Counter-Terrorism Police want public sector workers to be aware of them, let me introduce you to FC St. Pauli, my favourite German football club.
St. Pauli play in the second tier in Germany (2. Bundesliga) and are from Hamburg. Since the 1980s they have become famous and gained a worldwide following for their loudly stated liberal views. At the time, fans of local rivals Hamburger SV were starting to get a bad reputation for racist chanting, Nazism and hooliganism. Those who were fed up decided to start supporting and new club and picked St. Pauli, a side who before then were as forgettable as they come. As the side got more fans and started to grow, the politics of the club started to rise. Fans of the club engage heavily with the local community and support liberal political causes such as supporting gay rights, low income housing in the St. Pauli area as well as lowering ticket prices for the unemployed and homeless, among other causes. They also became the first team in Germany to officially ban nationalist activities from the ground at a time where, as mentioned, Nazism and racist chanting were on the rise in German football. Inside the stadium, the focus is on the football on display, a ninety-minute celebration of the beautiful game. Like at many grounds in Germany, the fans stand and chant for the whole game which, as a Leeds fan, brings a lot of appeal. All over the world football stadiums are becoming more like libraries, I especially remember going to an Arsenal game eight years ago and not being able to hear anything coming out of the home end (until Thierry Henry came on but that’s not the point). Whilst this is not unique to St. Pauli, it adds onto a club that seem to be doing all the right things both inside and outside of the stadium. Fans also fight for the club that they want. As mentioned, fans were able to push the club into having a more political focus, but whenever the club push forward an idea that is disliked by the fans, they can show discontent by holding cards in the stands that display the famous skull and crossbones again. The club tend to admit their mistake and move on afterwards.
The team’s political stance and atmosphere have gained them a worldwide following. According to some estimates, they have 11 million fans in Germany, some people within the club boast about being at least "everyone’s second favourite team". According to the club website, the team currently have 562 fan clubs around the world, including one here, Yorkshire St. Pauli. Based in Leeds, the club gets
together to watch games live, have a close bond with a local charity that helps refugees and asylum seekers (PAFRAS) and have their own constitution that mirrors that of the Hamburg side. Other supporters’ clubs can be seen in Liverpool, Brighton, Glasgow, Athens, Catalunya, New York and Toronto (as well as many more).
Being political is one thing, the UK Counter-Terrorism Agency clearly think there is something worse than merely being liberal in political views. However, even if this was true for a club like St. Pauli (spoiler: it isn’t, they’re a football club with nice political views, not a militia with guns), the idea that they would be the only football club on the list borders on actual insanity. There are much worse clubs that could easily be feasibly included on the list that don’t just sell shampoo that promotes the rights for homosexuals to marry. Clubs who support of could genuinely point to political extremism. They could have put in Zenit St. Petersburg, a team with a fanbase that has attacked the club for signing black and homosexual players, that have thrown bananas at black players and have worn KKK hoods. Lazio’s fans have strong support for Mussolini (who supported them), displayed Anti-Semitic messages that I would feel more than uncomfortable quoting, Nazi salutes and monkey chants. Beitar Jerusalem boast and claim that they are the most racist club in the world, they literally have ties to militias to this day and have never signed an Arab Muslim player and regularly chant “death to Arabs”. When the club signed two Muslim players from the Czech Republic, fans burned down the team’s administrative offices. After the signing of Niger international Ali Muhammed, they demanded that the Christian change his name because it sounded “too Muslim”. All these clubs threaten violence and have committed acts of violence and support movements that are listed on the document. Meanwhile, St Pauli have a kit that depicts the rainbow flag, not exactly the sign of a terrorist.
Now all of this doesn’t mean that I am fully homogenous with all St Pauli fans, or that all fans are the exactly the same with the same way of approaching problems, political or with the club in general (one example is that some fans loathe the commercial side of the club, something I think is brilliant). However, the idea that St Pauli are the one club that are on a terrorist watch list (and that they are even on the list at all) is beyond ludicrous. They don’t commit acts of violence; they don’t suggest violent means to ensure equality or progressive social programmes, they are merely a liberal minded football club.
St. Pauli’s Welsh defender James Lawrence put it best, “I’m proud of my team, proud of what they stand for! Proud of the values we have. Proud to play for @fcstpauli Anti-Fascist, Anti-Racist, Anti-Sexist and Anti-Homophobic. What’s not to like!”. St. Pauli have fans that have pushed for the type of club they want, that don’t leave their brain at the turnstile, they chant and sing for the whole game and they contribute to their local communities in good ways. They are not terrorists, they’re exactly what football should be.