The Stadtderby

The Hamburger Stadtderby last season was everything it shouldn’t have been, and left me convinced that I would be be grateful for HSV getting promoted and not having to deal with the same fixture next season. The macho posturing that had taken place, the complete overkill by police and the whimpering performance on the pitch which was encapsulated in Lasogga scoring and, if my nightmares remind me correctly remind me, ended running the length of the pitch to celebrate was hard to stomach. Somehow the HSV juggernaut had failed to gain promotion, but I was still convinced I wouldn’t attend the fixture this season for all of the factors that had spoilt it last time. Then the fixtures are released, and your heart rules your head and you’ve booked the flights, expecting the worst. Could it have been any worse than the last one? I’m not sure, but at least Lasogga wouldn’t be around.

But how do you begin to talk about last night? It was everything that the last stadtderby wasn’t. It was everything that St. Pauli fans couldn’t have even imagined in their wildest dreams.

Let’s start with the team. In contrast to last season, when the team had somehow found itself in a lofty league position and there was some expectation that the team were capable of handling an indifferent HSV side, as they had done in the 0-0 draw across the city. This season, the team have struggled to find any sense of form, hampered by injuries, a changing team and a lot of new faces. The lineup last night was one of unfamiliarity, Buballa the only face in the defence from last season, and the youthful inexperience of Becker and Conteh in midfield. But whilst the squad may have lacked previous experiences of the Derby, or even the Millerntor, it didn’t lack in passion, determination and a willingness to give everything for the team. From the 1st minute, HSV were rocked. Unable to cope with the pressure of the St. Pauli team who hounded them and forced them into mistakes, and when on the ball showed an idea of how to cause problems, even if at first it didn’t quite come together. For all the early effort, it hadn’t really resulted in any chances of note. But then from nowhere, the Dino was shocked by a Knoll thunderbolt from all of 30 yards, a shot hit so hard and so well that you almost expected hit to break the net if it reached it. The keeper managed to react and save well, but St. Pauli had dealt the first powerful punch of a fight, and didn’t look back. HSV were nervy under the pressure, and St. Pauli were soon threatening once again, seemingly aware of how they needed to capitalise on their early dominance whilst the Dino were struggling to find their feet. Suddenly, a cross finds Knoll free inside the box whose header somehow doesn’t go in, but Diamantakos dives in ahead of the outstretched defenders and the ball is in, and the stadium erupts like I’ve never heard before. I remember the description of Boll’s goal against the same opponents in 2011, and how it shuck the neighbourhood. Diamantakos had lifted the roof off the Millerntor and the whole district. Amongst the celebrations, my glasses had been knocked off my head and were now somewhere amongst the mass of people jumping, hugging and presenting everyone in reach with strong high-fives.

As everyone bounces around, I try to find my glasses, which is always an issue when you rely on them for your sight in the first place. Somehow I spot them, rows infront and unharmed. The goal would have been worth the glasses, but somehow the glasses remained unharmed. The same could be said for St. Pauli’s defence. After the goal the team lost their attacking vigour and the Dino seemed to control the game more. It felt like the game was being played in slow motion, fans watching in a mixture of disbelief at the scoreline and a sense of expectation that HSV would inevitably score. Jatta was the main danger, his pace constantly getting him behind the defence and able to cross the ball from dangerous positions. The goal inevitably came just before half time, when Jatta again used his pace and cut the ball back and it was flicked home at the near post. Thankfully, Jatta hadn’t been quick enough and the ball had seemingly gone out of play before the cross. It seemed inevitable that VAR would intervene and allow the goal, but instead St. Pauli made it to half time. 1-0.

Onto half time and the second point of note, whereas the last game had been dominated by a constant stream of pyro, it had so far been notable by its absence. As the players emerged for the second half, fans of both sides started a seemingly coordinated display of flares and fireworks. It seemed that an agreement had been made by all parties to allow pyro at this juncture, to avoid a repeat of the previous game. It worked, albeit with a slightly delayed kick off as the smoke cleared.

The second half started much the same as the first had ended, although Jatta seemed to be less effective in the opening minutes and St. Pauli tried to sit deeper inside their own half. I can’t explain the atmosphere on the terrace, a strong mix of fans wishing their team on with everything they had whilst also displaying a collective bag of nerves that I had never really felt on the Millerntor before. Usually, the result is secondary to the support, but the sense of importance around the result was apparent last night. St. Pauli had thrown away a 3-0 lead in Dresden recently, and it seemed inconceivable that they could hold out just by sitting behind the ball.

But HSV seemed to lose momentum and strength, and on the hour mark St. Pauli start to show belief that they could not only hold on, but go and score again. Whilst HSV grew tired and frustrated, St. Pauli players were giving everything, winning their personal battles and fighting in a way the district perhaps hasn’t seen consistently since that team of 2011, and the likes of Boll, Bruns and Ebbers. MMD epitomised this. He was everywhere, harassing the opposition defensively but also showing his brilliance on the ball which is much more effective when he is played in a more advanced role. St. Pauli started to control the ball more, happy to keep possession defensively and force HSV to press, but comfortable with their ability to cause problems again. Diamantakos was a nuisance, but not only showing willingness to chase every lost cause and fight for every ball, but by his quality with the ball as well. He won headers, kept possession, and brought others into attack. The opposition were still dangerous, as was the scoreline. But then there’s a free kick, a weak flick towards goal from Knoll, and a white shirt sliding in to clear, but somehow the ball is in the net again. The Millerntor roars again and breathes a sigh of relief. This time I hold my glasses as it hits the net, I’m hugged by a stranger behind me. Others are stood in sheer disbelief, frozen by the events unfolding. This wasn’t meant to happen.

The lead might have doubled, but the expectation around the stadium that HSV would still find a way was prevalent. HSV knocked on the door, finding space to run through the midfield at times, or finding the striker with balls over the top of the defence, but the defence was resolute and Himmelmann was fautless when called upon. As the clock ticked slowly down, St. Pauli were still full of energy, and the noise inside the stadium found another level as the boys in brown looked for the knockout punch, a third goal would settle any lasting nerves, surely? St. Pauli were running through the HSV defence and hunting the third goal, but their legs couldn’t carry them to score the third. Mats, Buballa, Penney all had chances to extend the lead. Mats even got fed up and smashed a strike against the left post. The nerves were still there, but only just.

Realisation started to set in, and as the nerves faded, so did the hope of the HSV fans. They lit pyro in frustration, even firing some towards the St. Pauli section in the North Stand. The referee temporarily paused the game in added time, and then just like at the Volkspark, the clock was stopped. St. Pauli had won their first stadtderby at home since 1960.

The players celebrated with the fans, borrowing the ‘Hamburg Ist Braun Weiss’ banner and displaying it for all to see, including those still lingering in the Guest block. The players slowly made their off the pitch, and the fans took stock of what they had just witnessed, hugging and high-fiving again to all those they’d shared the moment with. It was everything it should have been.