FC St. Pauli: Antifascist, Antiracist

Against the Current, No. 194, May/June 2018

Chris Haasen

ST. PAULI is a second-division professional football team from a district in the port city of Hamburg, Germany. The historic district is known as the red-light (prostitution) area, where sailors would find a few moments of sexual passion during their short leave.

The local team, FC St. Pauli, established in 1910, was just a regular football team with the same inclination to follow the national-socialist policy during fascist Germany. Their stadium was named after Wilhelm Koch, one of the club’s presidents, who had been a member of the Nazi party.

It was not until the 1980s that the mix of fans changed, due to the goalie being a squatter in a nearby occupied house. He drew in all his squatter friends as well as supporters from the left. They attended games while smoking pot instead of drinking beer and waving flags with a red or black star instead of team flags.

Soon fans started demanding changes: the name of the stadium was changed from Wilhelm-Koch-Stadium to the historical name Millerntor Stadium. More importantly, FC St. Pauli became the first professional football team in Europe to establish a discipline code for the stadium. It prohibited racist, fascist, sexist or homophobic comments. Those unable to follow the code have been banned from the stadium. This code has now become the blueprint for many other professional football teams in Germany.

There is a serious struggle going on in European stadiums — along the lines of Antonio Gramsci’s discussion of the fight for cultural hegemony — between right-wing hooligans and left-wing ultras (ultra-fanatical fans). While in the past soccer games were a normal place for racist and sexist slurs, monkey-like noises and throwing of bananas at players of African descent, there is growing opposition to this behavior.

Since the arrival of over one million refugees in 2015 — mainly from Syria and Afghanistan — German politics has been dominated by a wave of racist and nationalist groups that have brought the first neo-fascist party since World War II, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD,  Alternative for Germany), into the national parliament, the Bundestag.

Left-wing groups have concentrated their work on two pillars: solidarity with the refugees and confronting right-wing groups wherever they show up. FC St. Pauli has been one of the most prominent organizations supporting refugees in Hamburg.

Within its overall structure the sports club has several branches. One is a refugee team FC Lampedusa (named for the Italian island where thousands of refugees landed).

This club was very active in organizing clothing and other necessities in the first days after refugees arrived. They support groups helping refugees legally, medically and socially, and make the stadium premises available for organizing all these activities.

When the yellow press tried to get all the professional football teams to symbolically wear a yellow ribbon to indicate their “support” for refugees, FC St. Pauli did not join in but on the contrary criticized the yellow press for hypocrisy.

The club also started raising money to finance one of the rescue boats operating in the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea Watch, which joined efforts to rescue refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

The antifascist activity is obviously more difficult to quantify. But wherever there is a demonstration against a right-wing group, different fan groups from FC St. Pauli are usually involved. At almost all home games, the ultras organize a choreography against right-wing or fascist activity.

Marathon Against Fascism

The most well-known yearly activity organized by another branch of the club’s supporters, the marathon branch (whose members actively compete in half and full marathons), is the Run Against the Right (Lauf gegen Rechts), a charity run of 7.4 km around the lake in Hamburg on a Sunday in May.

All contributions go to an alliance of antifascist groups that use the money to organize events, demonstrations and publications. More than 2,000 people come together to contribute to the antifascist movement and show a sign of solidarity against racism and fascism by running around the lake.

Being a member of FC St. Pauli equates with being antiracist, antifascist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic — the Millerntor Stadium is the only stadium of a professional football team in Europe with a rainbow flag waving in the wind above the stadium — as well as also being against the ongoing commercialization of soccer.

There are also numerous activities initiated by the club’s different branches. Initiatives include support to the homeless; one organization funds water wells in African countries (“viva con agua”); the handball branch has a partnership with a handball academy in Rwanda; another fan group supports a school library in a remote village in Ghana.

Since the merchandizing of the FC St. Pauli is stronger than that of most first division football clubs, being a St. Pauli supporter and wearing a T-shirt with the St. Pauli logo (skull and bones) is a political statement similar to wearing a T-shirt with a Che silhouette.

In social media, St. Pauli has taken the lead such as in Facebook pages “St. Pauli fans against the right-wing” (St. Pauli Fans gegen Rechts), which is the strongest of its kind compared to similar pages by all other professional football clubs. The cultural hegemony in football stadiums has tilted to the left, much of that due to the efforts at FC St. Pauli. Refugees welcome — fight fascism!

May-June 2018, ATC 194