As a St. Pauli player, Florian Lechner experienced the highs and lows of the club over the past decade, from the financial problems in the Regionalliga Nord to the joy of promotion in the Bundesliga, as well as the famous run in the DFB Pokal during the 2005/06 campaign. We had the pleasure of catching up with Flo to discuss those memories, as well as his new adventure in the MLS.
Flo, you came through the youth system at Stuttgart before joining St. Pauli. How did your move to Hamburg come about, and what were your first impressions of the club?
I played for 10 years with Fabio Morena in Stuttgart and I can remember the day he called and asked me where I wanted to play next season. He had already played one year in St.Pauli. I was very close to a transfer to Fortuna Düsseldorf, but after his call I decided to fly to Hamburg the next day where I met Stani and signed the contract. :-)) My first impressions were amazing. We went to the old locker rooms and Bubu was there. He was very friendly hahahahaha…….. He’s probably one of the most honest guys with the biggest heart I have ever met in my life.
You joined St. Pauli whilst they were struggling in the Regionalliga Nord, what were those first couple of seasons like?
It was a great experience and a struggle for survival. At that time the club had huge liabilities. I came from a big club in VfB Stuttgart. Everything was organised and structured and in St. Pauli some days were very chaotic. But I liked it a lot. It was real and authentic. I remember one night at a home game the floodlights didn’t work because the club didn’t pay the electricity. Thirty minutes before the game started, the floodlights turned on because the club paid cash with daily earnings from the fans. But after the great victories in the German Cup, we rehabilitated the club and each player who played there should be very proud of the team who played there.
What is it like for a player, playing for St. Pauli?
It’s very tough to explain it, and I can only speak for myself. I’m very proud to have worn the jersey of FC St. Pauli for 7 years. I’m happy to be a part of the history of this amazing club, to be a small piece of the whole big family. The fans are the best in the world. They treat you as a normal person and not just as a stupid soccer player. Everybody is equally important. It doesn’t matter if you are fighting 90-120 minutes on the field, sitting on the bench supporting your teammates, or being a supporter screaming and cheering the team on for the whole game. It was the best time in my soccer career. However, I learned a lot more outside the field. I lived in the district of St.Pauli and learned about the social interests from the club and how important the club is for the people who live in St.Pauli. St. Pauli is a lifestyle.
You not only played a part in the famous DFB Pokal run at a time when the club was struggling financially, but you also scored two important goals on the way to the semi-final. What are your memories of that cup run, and those rare goals?
Hmmm….. I could write for more than 2 hours about this question. When we played against the big clubs, Bochum, Hertha BSC, Werder Bremen or Bayern München, everybody on our team had the feeling that nobody could beat us in our castle at home. It was an unbelievable time. We smashed Bochum 4:0. They hadn’t lost one game in the 2nd Bundesliga and were almost 500 minutes without a goal against them. We were 2:0 down in the first half against Hertha and had a furious comeback and won 4:3 in extra time. This game is one of my favourite games I have ever played. I scored one of my rare career goals in extra time with a lot of cramp in my feet. The game against Bremen was a snow fight. The one thing I would say about this game is that we deserved it– because none of us cared if we were going to get hurt, but the players from Bremen didn’t wanna hurt themselves. Finally the game against Bayern…We had a great fight and were very close to the sensation, but the lucky Bayern won 😦 otherwise we would have gone to the final and would have won the cup. :-)))
You also saw the club rise from the Regionalliga Nord to the Bundesliga, what was it like to finally see the club in the Bundesliga?
It was crazy to see the club go from a financially struggling club to a totally secure 1st Bundesliga club, and I was a part of it. The stadium has now been restored and only one side is left from the old stadium, which I loved and where we won a couple of great fights.
Other than the DFB Pokal we mentioned above, what were your highlights playing for St. Pauli?
One game was an away game in Bremen against their Amateur team. We won 2:0 and after this game we were number one in the 3rd division. After this victory we didn’t give up the first place for the rest of the season. I will never forget that Wednesday night when 9,000 crazy St.Pauli fans after the victory sang “you’ll never walk alone.” I get goose bumps every time I remember that night.
When you left you also had a ‘leaving party’ with a match between ‘Team Lechner’ and ‘Team Eger’, with the club honouring two long serving players. What was that last match like?
We organised it by ourselves and had a great event. It was a little bit difficult to say goodbye to our fans. 6,000 fans came to that game and donated €25,000 to 2 non-profit organizations, Viva con Agua and Meio campo. We had a great party after the game until 6 in the morning where Fettes Brot were our DJ’s.
Was it difficult to leave St. Pauli and join Karlsruhe?
Totally…. I didn’t want to. After St.Pauli I believed I would never play in Germany anymore. Once you’ve been a part of the St. Pauli family, you would understand. I wanted to see different countries and cultures with soccer combined.
After a few months at Karlsruhe you joined MLS side New England Revolution. Did the move to the MLS come as a surprise?
No. It was always a dream from me to play in a other country. I was happy to leave Karlsruhe.
How has the move to Massachusetts treated you?
Really good. I like Boston and the east coast. The New England style is very nice.
Is the football style in the MLS different to that in the Bundesliga?
Yes. MLS is more physical and less tactical. You could compare MLS to the 2nd Bundesliga with a couple of world class players.
Do you still manage to follow St. Pauli’s game from America?
Hahahaha…. Of course. It is my club. Whenever I can watch games online I’ll do it.
Do you still keep in touch with the players you played with at St.Pauli?
Yes. I played with a lot of guys for 7 years together and we’re not only team-mates…We are really good friends.
Have you had the opportunity to go back to the Millerntor since you moved to America?
Not yet. But the offseason starts in 3 weeks and I think I’ll watch one of the last games of the first half of the season.
Finally, after a relatively slow start to the season, where do you think St. Pauli will finish in the league?
It is difficult to say because the start was really bad, but I know the guys and they’ll never give up before the last game is played. I hope they can finish under the first 3.
We’d like to thank Flo for taking time to answer our questions from Yorkshire. Flo is currently recovering from an injury and we’d like to wish him a speedy recovery and the best of luck for
next season! All the best from Yorkshire!