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By ESPN Staff

Santa Pauli's coming to town

Let's salute the festive season with a few choice words about the professional club that is being run by a gay Motörhead fan called Corny and where the tannoy blasts AC/DC's 'Hell's Bells' when the players take to the field.

Courtesy FC St Pauli
Merry Xmas from St Pauli!

You see, one of the aims of this column is to deepen your understanding of the German game and maybe even plant a bit of sympathy into the hearts of those who have been told our football is all about dull discipline and grim efficiency and boring technocracy.

What better way to achieve that than to look back upon the year not in terms of glorious successes but of bitter travails? To be precise: the travails of the club whose merchandise shop looks like an independent record store (complete with pale, pierced teenagers in hooded sweaters behind the counter) and whose official magazine covers art, politics and literature - but no football.

Initially, my plan was to use Ronaldo pipping Oliver Kahn for the World Footballer of the Year award as an opportunity to lament that this outcome was inevitable, considering the kind of year Germany has had.

I don't mean just football here. 2002 has seen so many Germans on the losing end (every day, 120 German companies were going bust) that it was only fitting that our teams should reach the finals of the UEFA Cup, the Champions League and the World Cup, only to lose all of them under rather unfortunate circumstances.

Reminding people of how unlucky we have been, I thought, would certainly raise tender feelings even in those for whom sneering is a reflex action when talk turns to Germany.

Then it hit me that this would probably not really do the trick. Yeah, maybe they were hard done by in those finals, you'd say, but look how they got there in the first place! Dull discipline, grim efficiency and boring technocracy. Of course that would be grossly unfair. But, er, not completely untrue.

And so my heart-warming hard-luck parable for Christmas and the New Year instead concerns the club that bought an expensive new coach and then put it into the stained hands of an airbrush specialist whose job was to make it look old and battered.

When I saw it on a motorway one day, I actually thought it was held together by wooden planks until I got close enough to realise they were just painted on. Then I also saw the skull-and-crossbones logo and realised who was sitting inside.

On February 6th, this club beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the First Bundesliga and immediately had t-shirts printed that said 'World Club Championship Winners Beaters'. Less than seven months later, they lost 6-0 against, well, VfB Lübeck in the Second Bundesliga and had to seriously consider the possibility they'd be relegated to the same league their reserve team was set to get promoted to.

FC St Pauli
FC St Pauli: Yes, those players are handcuffed
(Photo by Thorsten Baering/FC St.Pauli)

Yes, there's always lots of things going on at FC St. Pauli. They may not always be pretty, but at least they're never dull, grim or boring. And discipline, efficiency or technocracy are terms that won't cross your mind when you're queueing for tickets next to a tattoed Harley Davidson maniac or waiting for your turn at the spartan vistiors' loo which is a donation from a German punk band.

You will have realised by now that St. Pauli are different. What you may fail to fully grasp is that they are very, very different. Not for nothing did they take up the habit of adorning their club badge with the line 'Not Established Since 1910'. It's meant to say: we were founded in 1910, but we're still not part of the establishment.

These aren't hollow words, not from a club which proudly identifies itself with its home, Hamburg's sleazy red-light district; which once had a Bundesliga goalkeeper who lived in squatters' houses and spent six months doing social work in Nicaragua - and which handcuffed the players for this season's squad photo, taken in a prison yard.

'Handcuffed' is not a metaphor here. The players really have their hands tied behind their backs on this offcial photo, which is maybe why 'kicker' magazine didn't use it. However, it proved prophetic.

When St. Pauli were relegated from the Bundesliga this summer, despite beating Bayern, they lost their four best players - Jochen Kientz (to Rostock), Zlatan Bajramovic (Freiburg), Christian Rahn (rivals Hamburg) and playmaker Thomas Meggle (Rostock). More than the cash-stripped club could offset.

The new season began disastrously, as the 6-0 mauling at the hands of newly promoted Lübeck came on the heels of a 4-0 defeat away to Frankfurt and a 4-1 loss at home against Ahlen. Coach Dietmar Demuth didn't last into September, his successor was fired two weeks ago.

Then there were also upheavals in the boardroom, which led to the installation of the colourful Cornelius Littmann as caretaker president. Littmann was once part of a gay cabaret show and wrote a few songs for the former singer of an anarchistic rock 'n' roll band, one of which was called 'Lunatic Asylum'.

Dietmar Demuth
That sinking feeling: Dietmar Demuth suffers relegation
(StuartFranklin/GettyImages)

He also made headlines years ago when he claimed to have had an affair with a Bundesliga pro. These days, he's a successful business man who owns theatres. This being St. Pauli, famous drag queens perform in one of them.

Few doubt that the enthusiastic, likeable man they all call 'Corny' is the club's last hope to turn things around. 'I'm a St. Pauli fan through and through,' he says, 'and that's why I primarily want to be the fans' president. Without a doubt, they are our most important asset.'

Indeed, 18,000 brave souls still flock to the small Millerntor ground (capacity: 20,600) every other week. But they can't seem to help a team that is already eight points behind a non-relegation spot. If this gap isn't closed, German football will have lost a lot more in 2002 than just three silly finals.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.


  • Uli's history of German football, Tor!, published by WSC Books, is available through Sportsbooksdirect.

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