I remember the exact moment I definitively (or so I thought) fell out of love with football. It was a small article in the newspaper. A Dutch club called Excelsior had organized an auction to support a local charity. They asked all the other Dutch clubs to donate jerseys, which they did. There was only one club that send a bill afterwards for the jersey: the richest club and the one I happened to support, AFC Ajax.
The past few months had been hard as an Ajax fan, with all the board room arguments and childishness following the infamous revolt started by Johan Cruyff over control of the club. I had been visiting Ajax matches regularly since 2005, accompanying a group of fellow fans by train. We had a lot of fun, although the then called Amsterdam Arena was about as atmospheric as a McDonald’s restaurant. When Ajax became champions for the first time in seven years, we caught the train to Amsterdam and partied until the following morning. But when the late Cruyff started his little revolution, my blinkers fell off. Ajax was no longer in the news because of beautiful goals or legendary wins, but it was all about shareholders’ meetings, board room backstabbing and political struggles not unlike House of Cards, only without the entertainment value. Instead of a football club, Ajax became a large company with all the intrigue this brings. In this period I started to go less frequently to Amsterdam. I followed them on TV, although I felt less and less emotionally attached to the result. In short, I couldn’t care less. But I still considered myself an Ajax fan, because one can change their politics, religion, or wife but never ones football team.
But then I read that small article and it all clicked into place. Cantona quotes be damned, I quit football altogether in the summer of 2011. I was sick of the commercialisation, outrageous wages, and the racist fans. But after investing so much time in a sport or hobby, it leaves a void when you quit it. The same happened when I quit football. I found myself being bored on Sunday afternoons, less able to relate to friends who were still very much into football and I felt increasingly isolated. So, being the sensible young man that I am, I started to fill the void with alcohol. My weekends were filled with playing GTA and drinking. For someone who doesn’t enjoy football, this might sound all a bit melodramatic. Why go off the rails just because you fell out of love with a sport? But to say that is to underestimate the role football had played in my life up until that moment. It was all I lived for during the week. Tuesdays and Wednesdays Champions League, Thursdays Europa League and Friday-Saturday-Sunday regular league football. That I chose to give this all up shows perhaps the magnitude of my disillusion with the sport.
I think it was hard on my girlfriend to see me this way and that’s why she turned to her brother-in-law, Dennis. He recently fell in love with a little known German club and invited me along. They played a pre-season friendly in nearby Nordhorn and it would be a fun trip. After some persuasion, I agreed to go. Dennis told me the club was called FC St. Pauli. All I knew about them is that they wore brown jerseys, which is quite unusual for a football club. To be totally honest, I was quite sceptical. If the magical tiki-taka play of FC Barcelona couldn’t bring my football love back to life, how could a 2nd Bundesliga club do what Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta could not?
The ‘stadium’ of Eintracht Nordhorn, Eintracht-Stadion am Heideweg, is not particularly impressive. It has one stand and a charming little club house. To take a piss, you have to leave the stand, walk past three quarters of the pitch to a small brick outhouse. We arrived at the same time as the FC St. Pauli bus. The players and staff exited the bus, and walked to the dressing rooms, taking the time to have a picture with everyone who wanted. I got my picture taken with then manager André Schubert, because why not? During the warming up of the players I took it all in, with a pint of beer in my hand and the smell of grass in my nose. The type of football FC St. Pauli stands for seemed to exist on a totally different planet, a planet where young kids and the elderly walk around in skull and crossbones shirts like it is something quite normal. I got to talking with a few FC St. Pauli fans and with every word that came out of their mouths, I fell more and more in love with the club.
I discovered I was wrong about saying goodbye to football in general. I discovered it was one particular side of the sport I had fell out of love with. The side with all the money, selfie stick using football fans, and commercial interests. There existed some kind of ‘pure’ football where all these things did not exist and it was just about having fun with friends, without having to pay upwards of 30 euros to just be in the stadium. Discovering that the values of the club corresponded with my own, was also a big plus. On the way home I made a decision. I allowed football back in my life, but only the good side. I was not going to binge watch the increasingly predictable Champions League. I was not going to support football clubs whose interests were divided equally between commercialism and the sport. I was going back to the roots, to how the game was meant to be. It was one of the best decisions of my life (just in case my wife reads this, I refrained from saying it was the best decision of my life but all you fellow FCSP fans know what I want to say here).
Becoming a FC St. Pauli fan has opened up my world to countless fans from all over the world. After discovering Twitter as a medium to connect with these fans, my horizon has definitely been enlarged. Earlier this year, I got a message from a guy called Ernst who was in the process of setting up a genuine FC St. Pauli Holland fan club. I immediately jumped on the bandwagon and am know in contact with a bunch of FCSP crazy Dutch fans, who are not afraid of a challenge issued by the Danish and are prepared to travel many miles to support their favourite club.
My life is no longer about football. The telly stays silent most of the weekdays. I probably watched a maximum of five Champions League games since that fateful day in the Summer of 2012 in Nordhorn. But in the weekend I try and catch the FCSP game via an internet stream or, better yet, in real life. I visited the Millerntor for the first time not long after the Nordhorn game and I don’t think there is a place in this world where I feel more at home outside of my own home. I can honestly say my life has become better since I became a FCSP fan, something I could never had imagined when dragged to Nordhorn by my brother in law.
If you want to connect with me through Twitter, just look for @LeonTrotsema. I’m always open to meet new people