‘Do you want anything from the bakery? A pastry or croissant perhaps’. Not the words I’d expected to be greeted with at Bahnrenfeld, the arrival destination for Sankt Pauli fans making their to the Volksstadion. The fan march had already departed prior to my arrival straight from the airport, and the remaining St. Pauli fans were passing the time before the shuttle buses arrived by having some breakfast and a beer. Police were around, but everything was relaxed and pleasant.
A few hours earlier I was boarding the 07:30 flight from Manchester, and the guys stood behind me were talking about this intense rivalry, a hatred, between HSV and FCSP. They said it was more than football rivalry, that it was also about politics – the left against the right, as if suddenly the political views of 60,000 people had been divided by the rivalry. This hyperbole of macho gesturing had been built up by the media and talk on the internet for weeks. There’s a few HSV fans on my flight, actually the first time I’ve seen any flying over for a game in the last 9 years. Perhaps our paths just never cross? The media hype is not all without substance, I’m sure. I’m not suitable as an ‘outsider’ to comment on the real nature of the rivalry, I don’t live in the district and don’t live the rivalry daily, but my experiences of the relationship between the majority of fans has been of friendly rivalry which focuses on the bragging rights, just like most local matches.
I’ve heard of various attack’s over recent years by fan groups on both sides, which have already been documented by people more knowledgeable than me. In the week building up to the game, the police had outlined plans for a military style operation, including a media portal for photos to be uploaded – as was used at G20. If you see a lack of photos of fans from the game, this is for good reason.
The hype surrounding the game was enough to ensure I dressed appropriately. No brown shirts (50% of the wardrobe) and no badges and brown and white trainers – just incase. At Bahnrenfeld though, fans were relaxed, wearing colours and enjoying the pre-game atmosphere – almost as if they were a few miles away in the St. Pauli district. I passed on the pastry offer, but had a beer before we departed on the shuttle bus to the stadium.
As with quite a few German grounds, the mighty HSV arena is situated in a forest, with parks running through it – and so the journey takes you down tree-lined streets that are straight out of YouTube videos of hooligan brawls. But it was all quiet.
The buses stopped with the stadium in view, but no clear direction of which way to get to the stadium – surrounded by training pitches and a fence. At a game of this nature in England, fans would be surrounded by police and escorted directly to the guest section. Here, despite the media portrayal of how the day would unfold, fans were drinking beers outside and mixing together with little police presence. We eventually found the right path to the guest block, and joined the massive queue of fans that were congregating to get in. The setup is a shambles, and takes forever. There’s a massive police presence just watching the proceedings, as fans slowly trickle into the stadium. It took a good 45 minutes to get into the ground, not so good for a big stadium which should have the best facilities…
After the usual intimidate searches at the entrance, I make my way up the steps to the entrance and whack – I’m hit square in the face from nowhere – by a T-shirt. They’re being given out to all fans walking into the stadium – I’m sure whoever threw it was expecting me to be looking where I was going and to catch it, I’ll blame the lack of awareness on the early morning flight. It acted as a good wake up call. 30 minutes until kick off.
Now to find our seats. In such a luxury stadium this shouldn’t be a problem. But the signs make no sense, arrows point to non-existent areas and the numbers on the ticket do not relate to the blocks on the signs. It takes a good 10 minutes of wandering aimlessly to eventually find the right section – only to discover USP have taken over the block (no problem here, play on..) and so the rows and aisles are completely full. I end up stood on a seat on the back row, actually quite comfortable and a good vantage point of the game, but not exactly worth the €49 ticket.
The atmosphere is good, but perhaps none more so than other St. Pauli away games. The singing is constant, everyone is wearing their white tshirts and in good voice as the choreo starts. I spent most of the first half having the view blocked by the biggest flag in the section, but it looks incredible and the focus is more on the vocal support than watching the game anyway. I’m no good at watching games at the best of times, so my ideas of how the game planned out are hazy. HSV seemed to control possession but quite happy to pass it around the defence, without any real intent of what to do next. St. Pauli seemed happy to play on the break, but struggled in the final third with the right passes. The second half was much the same, with both teams getting into good areas but without really troubling the ‘keeper. As time went on the game opened up, and St. Pauli started to create a few more chances. A Buchtmann shot over, a Diamantakos header straight at the keeper, glimpses that the game was there to be won.
Then on came a familiar face, Super Lasogga. As a Leeds fan, I’d watched him score goals from nothing last year. But id also watched him wander around the pitch aimlessly barely touching the hall. I was convinced he’d score to win the game, but thankfully his performance was more of the latter.
The game seemed to be drifting out for a 0-0, until the final minute when Şahin chased a long ball, bustled his way through the defenders on the half way line and miraculous came out with the ball – then with a runner to his left, he ignored them and attempted a chip from just inside the HSV half. It seemed like it was going high and wide, but the keeper was suddenly panicked and rushing back into his goal, fans held their breathe and I quickly wondered how far I was gonna fall if the shot went in, only for the keeper to make a diving save to tip it over the bar. It would have been the derby goal to end all derby goals, but it wasn’t to be. The resulting corner came to nothing and the derby was over.
The bigger club from across the city isn’t big anymore. The big ground isn’t special, and actually feels more outdated and characteristic than the Millerntor. The atmosphere inside reminded me of an English ground, a small number of fans singing with the rest of the stadium politely sat down and clapping. The team itself isn’t great, even by 2.Bundesliga standards. For all the big names, there’s no style to their play and no outstanding qualities. Even the ‘pranks’ played by HSV fans – stink bombs left at Bahnrenfeld to make the journey unpleasant, and horse manure spread near to the guest block to provide another unwelcome smell – weren’t big, or clever.
After the game we joined the fan walk back to Bahnrenfeld, it felt like it took forever. It was pointed out we’d have got home quicker if we’d have played in Hannover, rather than across the road in Mordor. As we finally made it back, we stopped for a coffee and a cake.
The neighbourhood was back to normal and Hamburg was still brown and white, at least until March.