It’s 9:15am on Saturday morning and I’m walking round the corner between the Südkurve and Gegengerade, through the area usually reserved on matchday for the team bus and under the sign that declares ‘Football has no gender’, and into the stadium where there’s some familiar dance music from Sonderug past playing through the loud speakers that have been set-up on the Südkurve.
It’s the day of the annual St. Pauli summer fanclub tournament, something which we’ve looked on with envy at for years and said “we’ll do that next year”. Some teams are already ready to go and warming up, some more vigorously than others, others like us, are sat on the terrace and waiting for their team to arrive and for the formalities to begin. The rest of our squad arrive in good time, and soon the Südkurve is filling up with teams awaiting the start. Before long there’s some announcements over the speakers, but they’re all in German and our very limited translation skills are limiting us. Not to worry, thankfully our mates from FC Lampedusa St. Pauli (FCLSP) are around to tell us any important information.
Our plans to enter the tournament had started back in December, with an email to the Fanladen asking if it was possible to be involved. Sven replied telling me the date was set for May 19th, but it would be cancelled if the team finished either 3rd of 16th. Somewhat optimistically we set about planning, having faith in the team to avoid 16th place, whilst knowing there was little chance of 3rd! Flights and hotels were booked, a team was assembled and we all watched anxiously as St. Pauli flirted heavily with the idea of relegation. It almost seemed inevitable that they’d finish 16th and scupper our plans. Thankfully, for more important reasons than our selfish hope of playing at the Millerntor, the team steered away from the drop.
Nick had been appointed as our fixture co-ordinator, and he didn’t disappoint. A folder of fixture print-outs, one for each player in our squad, plus a master copy with our fixtures highlighted. If we were going to win one thing today, it was the most organised. For those unfamiliar of the set-up, 40 teams participate, 6-a-side games with three pitches organised across the Millerntor pitch. There’s two competitions, the more relaxed and fun competition, with the main draw being slightly more serious and competitive. After the announcements finish its almost 10am and the first games are underway. Our first game isn’t for another 45 minutes, so we watch on from the Südkurve where cheers go up as the first goal goes in. We watch Lampedusa St. Pauli play their first game, then we warm up on the side of the pitch. The games end with a loud ‘und…schluss’ over the speakers and we walk onto the pitch for our first game. It’s surreal, and i’m not sure it has sunk in yet – Yorkshire St. Pauli are about to play football on the Millerntor pitch.
The first game is on Pitch 1, running the length of the Südkurve where the crowd has gathered, and its against the familiar faces of the u18 Ragazzi, who we had met in Manchester last year. A couple of their players had also played for us in our friendly against FCLSP last year too, and if it wasn’t for them the result would have been a lot worse than the 3-0 footballing lesson we were subjected to. YSP FC win 1-0, with the Ragazzi unlucky not to find an equaliser in the last minute. Everyone shakes hands at the final whistle and we present the Ragazzi with a little gift from Yorkshire.
We’ve brought said gift for each team in our group, plus an extra for our mates FCLSP, already accepting we won’t be required to compete in any finals at the end of the tournament. It’s the first of 7 very amusing conversations in Steve McLaren English as we present each team with a box of Yorkshire Tea.
There’s just under an hour before the next game, but it goes quick enough soaking up the atmosphere on the terracing. Now here we must praise the wonderful organisation of the tournament from the Fanladen and all involved. Every game runs on time even though it’s all very relaxed and there’s no strict organisation, just everyone following the schedule and the announcements over the speakers. We’ve played in and hosted many tournaments and learnt that they never run on time, yet this was miraculously doing so. Games are being played in the right spirit, there’s a good number of women playing – which shouldn’t really need to be a point anymore, it should be the norm in all tournaments we play in everywhere. There’s even a couple of dogs enjoying the sun on the Südkurve, which is class.
The next game is over on Pitch 3 infront of the Nordkurve, which would be a curse on YSP FC all day. Pfälzer Unabhängige Fußball Fans are our brilliant opponents, and a 0-0 draw follows. Two clean sheets, we are on a roll.
We’re back on Pitch 3 again for our game against G.C.S.P. The record books will need to be consulted because we can’t be sure on the score, but we reckon we lost by the odd goal. We definitely didn’t win, because we were on Pitch 3. Back on Pitch 3 a little while later, we met the football gods of Viva con Astra. We miss a great chance to take the lead, and then end up losing 3-0. Doesn’t sound too bad until you consider we conceded three goals in an 8 minute match. By now we’re all enjoying the tournament far too much to care about goals, anyway.
Time for some lunch. There’s an amazing BBQ and a bar being run by volunteers, huge thank you to all involved – it was wonderful. There’s also time for us to wander around the Gegengerade and get a quick tour of the Levi’s Music School. It’s all slightly surreal, it feels less of a football ground and more of a communal space- there’s kids playing doing keepie-uppies on the concourse, and people are generally just wandering around enjoying the stadium as if it’s home rather than a football stadium. In England this sort of access to your club stadium primarily wouldn’t happen, and if it did, it would come with all sorts of restrictions over where you can go, what you can do, security guards on every corner watching you don’t step out of line. This was the complete opposite, a real community feel.
Good news is we are back on home turf next, Pitch 1. ‘Club der toten Gegengerade’ are our next wonderful opponents and let us pick up the points with a score that might have been 2-0 (who knows, or cares) and we are now confident we can win this whole tournament as long as we can convince the organisers to change our schedule and allow us to play exclusively on Pitch 1.
Next up is the beautiful Sankt Pauli Unicorns, as we welcome them into the hell of Pitch 1. By now we are super confident, nothing can stop us on this pitch in front of our Südkurve. Nothing, except a goalkeeper who has a foot like a traction engine that is. (A phrase that will not translate well in German). We are winning 1-0 with the clock ticking away when the Unicorns goalkeeper passes the imaginary half way line and unleashes a shot of sheer fury that flies into the top corner giving David in goal no chance. It didn’t help David that we’d forgotten to bring any goalkeeper gloves, but he might have struggled to save it with a massive foam hand on each hand. Note – the same keeper also scored a worldie in the next game!
6 games in, we’ve won 2, drawn 2 and lost 2. We’ve a little break before the final game, so it’s time to hit the bar. This is brought on by two factors – our final game is on the dreaded pitch 3, and it’s against FC Halli Galli who have been sat behind us on the terrace all afternoon ensuring they support the profits of the bar. A couple of Astra’s later, and we are ready for the final game of the tournament. FC Halli Galli are all smiles and warm welcomes, in hindsight no wonder given they’ve got a secret plan of attack. Their star strike is a diminutive kid about 12 years old, who has mastered the offside trap (not playing one) and is causing all sorts of hell for our defence. He scores. And then he scores again. We’re 3-0 down and manage to pull back a scrappy consolation goal but the youngster isn’t having any of it. He beats the defence, sends the keeper the wrong way and fires it into the bottom corner. A hat-trick on the Millerntor pitch (3). YSP FC, cheered on by the YSP Ultras who have made the trip from Berlin to support, are despondent. Taught a true footballing lesson in a 4-1 defeat. Time for the bar.
We’d hoped we’d get an opportunity at some point to play F.C. Lampedusa, who were competing in the main draw. As the final tournament games got underway, we made use of Pitch 3 that had been left spare to play a little friendly match. It was about 10-a-side, but no-one was really counting players, or goals. It was a great way to end a magical day. Not because of the Millerntor pitch, the goals scored or even the dogs on the Südkurve, but because of the amazing community spirit of St. Pauli and the fact that such an event could take place in the first place, let alone be so magical and full of wonderful people who could enjoy playing football in the right spirit.
The tournament drew to a close, teams gathered around the speakers in front of the Südkurve and each team seemingly got a jigsaw for taking part. A combination of our lack of German speaking players and the cheers from the crowd meant the next few minutes were surreal. ‘Yorkshire St. Pauli’ is mentioned through the speaker, and we’re confused as we’ve already been presented our jigsaw. There’s a round of applause, and a few people are trying to explain to us that we need to go back up. Finally the Fanladen have managed to mess up the organisation, obviously. We wander back up rather confused, and are greeted with a massive trophy – the Schädel-Pils Cup – which David lifts aloft to more cheers from the crowd. Sven from the Fanladen seems sure it is ours, so we best go along with it. Two wins from seven games, including some heavy defeats, what are you doing Fanladen? The nature of the trophy gets a little lost in translation as people try to explain what we’ve done, but it’s for best performance or appearance, it seems. Fanladen must have only exclusively watched our games on Pitch 1, or been impressed by our gorgeous Hummel kits. You’ll do for us.
Another round of beers are in as the speeches come to and end and the teams begin to disperse, some staying around to clean the Südkurve. We get some team photos on the pitch with the trophy and we are contemplating disbanding YSP FC – nothing can top this. Most of the team head off to the hotel to get showered and changed and a couple of us are left to finish our beers.
SMASH. The trophy which had been stood up on the brickwork in front of the Südkurve has fallen. We’ve only gone and smashed the bloody trophy. They’ll never invite us back again.
We can’t thank Sven and the rest of the Fanladen crew, all the teams and players, the volunteers and all the spectators enough. This was the most special day that we will never forget. The people of Sankt Pauli are what makes it so incredibly special. In Hamburg, da bin ich zuhaus.