F.C. St. Pauli is “the world’s most left-wing football club.”
It’s also the club that seems most to be in the news these days. In addition to the piece on Shortlist.com, there’s an article from this past weekend article on the Guardian web site.
And then there’s today’s report, in the New York Times:
Ibrahim Ismail had decided to make a placard for each of his five Syrian and Iraqi friends the moment he heard they would receive a free ticket for Tuesday’s soccer match.
“They say, ‘Thank You, Hamburg’, ‘Thank You, St. Pauli’ and “Many Thanks, Germany,’ ” Ismail said, showing off messages he had carefully printed, in German and Arabic, on scraps of cardboard with a black marker.
The six men proudly displayed their homemade signs to thousands of German supporters as they streamed into Hamburg’s Millerntor-Stadion. Almost all of the fans who passed them were wearing black T-shirts with the image of a skull and crossbones on the front, the emblem that is the calling card of F.C. St. Pauli.
A few days earlier, St. Pauli, a team in the second tier of German soccer that has become famous for its punk rock ethos and social conscience, offered 1,000 free tickets for this week’s exhibition against Borussia Dortmund to recently arrived refugees, including Ismail and his friends. The effort was a part of a larger response, sparked by organic gestures by fan groups, that has brought discussion of Europe’s migrant crisis into stadiums across Europe.
Football (or, if you prefer, soccer) fans and clubs across Europe, particularly in Germany and especially F.C. St. Pauli, are extending a warm welcome and a helping hand to the thousands of refugees currently streaming into Europe.
Many of the refugees invited to St. Pauli’s match with Borussia Dortmund live in camps around the port city, including one that is a few minutes’ walk from the district that gives F.C. St. Pauli its name.
“A chance to meet the neighbors!” joked Christian Prüss, who works for St. Pauli and has been in charge of the club’s response to the refugee crisis.
A few hours before kickoff Tuesday, Prüss was nervously smoking a cigarette inside St. Pauli’s empty stadium as his phone rang constantly. Like others and the club, he views the humanitarian effort as more of a responsibility than an act of charity.
Besides donating the 1,000 tickets, St. Pauli raised 45,000 euros, over $50,000, in 24 hours — enough to help finance a search-and-rescue boat stationed in the Mediterranean.
“Always the club is without money, we are famous for it,” Prüss said of St. Pauli. “But we have credibility.”
The club’s roots are in the working class St. Pauli neighborhood, famed for the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s red-light district. It was here that the Beatles honed their trade from 1960 and 1962, and where the neighborhood’s social activism and radical politics often bleed into the stands of the Millerntor.
“We think we can provide more than just football,” Prüss said. “Not just about 90 minutes. We have a responsibility for the people around the club.”
Few take that responsibility more seriously than the St. Pauli fans. Since 2004, the Ultras St. Pauli group has been visiting refugee camps around Hamburg, bringing clothes, food and lawyers to help the migrants navigate Germany’s complex asylum applications.
“It is a kind of radical way to support a football club; we are not just supporting a football club but politically, too,” said Lucas, one of the youngest members of the group, which unlike other right-leaning and sometimes violent ultra organizations, campaigns on everything from ending racism to supporting gay rights. As is common with hard-core European supporters groups, Lucas declined to give his full name.
“It’s why I love this club,” Lucas added. “But German society is divided into two parts. One part supports the refugee struggle and wants to help.” The other, he said, believes the opposite. “They think: ‘We don’t need them’, ‘It’s too much’, ‘Go back home,’ ’’ he said. “I can’t imagine how these people think.”
This is an example others—from last year’s St. Louis Cardinals fans to the current politicians in Europe—might want to emulate.