On the face of it, a commercial relationship between 2.Bundesliga’s FC St Pauli of Hamburg and our very own Stoke City is a bizarre one.
How did these two clubs even come into contact with one another, let alone negotiate a partnership that, as the clubs prepared statements state, “will see them liaise in terms of player and coach development, as well as share best practise and business expertise”? With all respects to both clubs, they are from two very separate worlds.
St Pauli is a club renowned around the world for its activities off the pitch, rather than its footballing success. A club shaped in the latter part of the 20th century by left-wing social movements in Hamburg and the fight against the far right in football, it is a club that has found its own niche in the confines of capitalism, whilst rejecting big aspects of commercialisation that have swallowed football elsewhere, drawing massively off the involvement of its fan base.
Its presence extends far beyond the city of Hamburg, drawing in fans from across the globe to every league game, all who have fallen in love with the ideals of FC St Pauli, rather than a particular team or playing style.
St Pauli is the club for the Anarchist and Socialist international. Their ground, the Millerntor, proudly displays banners fighting sexism, racism, fascism and homophobia, and its fans are extremely politically minded; a footballing culture completely alien to most clubs in the UK. Despite this international appeal, St Pauli is still rooted in its local community, something Stoke praised highly in their statement, seeing this as quality shared between the two clubs.
It has worked tirelessly to support causes across its district, with fan decision making leading the way. Arguably, it is this relationship to the grassroots fan that has made them so endearing, and so commercially successful. St Pauli, in terms of merchandise, is the 4th biggest seller from Germany, behind Bayern, Dortmund, and Schalke 04. Fans wear the brown and white of the club with pride, but it is thin tightrope, and the club finds itself in a constant battle against commercial elements.
When you go to the Millerntor, you’ll find no advertisements in the 15 minutes pre-match. This time is saved for the fans to begin the charismatic chanting and bouncing that has enthralled many a fan over the years. The name Millerntor has been fought over, with notions of a stadium sponsor being opposed. Even their kit sponsor, Under Armour, is not seen in a positive light, being a huge supplier of hunting gear back in the states. It is a never ending fight between the ideals that have made the club as world famous as it has, and the day to day running of the club. It’s why perhaps a relationship with Stoke City, (owned by Peter Coates and the Bet365 Empire) is frowned upon, but welcomed with cautious open arms by the St Pauli faithful.
Let’s make no bones about it; politically as well as financially, Stoke and St Pauli are very different. Stoke fans won’t be protesting at the inclusion of Bet365 across the shirt anytime soon, and such overtly political and social messages that have made St Pauli so successful won’t be painted across the Bet365 stadium (mores the pity, perhaps). However, Stoke and St Pauli have more in common than you think, and Stoke are more than happy to look to our German friends for ideas:
“However, St. Pauli have a different approach to the business of football that has earned them a cult following around the world and we’re keen to tap into their knowledge as much as they are keen to tap into ours.” – Stoke City Statement (12/7/17)
What can Stoke possibly gain from such a relationship then, and why would St Pauli want to link up with The Potters?
On the latter, St Pauli, whilst being commercially successful, still lack the funding to succeed in any huge form in footballing terms – not that their fans are particularly fussed about that. Stoke in comparison, boast a global scouting network, and a first class academy facility (whether you feel Stoke use either of these correctly is for another discussion).
A simple swapping of information in this regard, as well as the potential loaning of players would definitely benefit the German side. For Stoke, it’s all about finding its own niche, and how to grow to become the ‘St Pauli” of the Premier League, bolstering fans from around the globe, who, like with St Pauli, buy into the idea of Stoke City becoming their second club alongside their home town favourite.
Will it work? It remains to be seen. It is difficult to see past the political and social reasoning’s to St Pauli’s success, something which no matter what your political leanings, could not simply be transplanted into the current Stoke model, even if some of its ideals of inclusivity should be adopted.
Perhaps it is in the fan engagement and marketing then that Stoke seek advice. How can Stoke City make the match day experience as exciting as that at the Millerntor? How can Stoke City become that cult club that every footballing hipster wants to visit? For this author, it is in finding Stoke City’s own niches and history, and celebrating these, shouting them from the rooftops. It’s also in the marketing that says “this club is to football, what Black Flag were to Punk; edgy, aggressive, and doing things differently and themselves”.
We already have that image of being the unpopular ones in the League. The rough and ready types who want to break you precious footballers. We are the outsiders, still, after all this time. That is a foundation to build on. Yes, the football on the pitch goes a heck of a long way to building support, but it is in the characteristics of “the other” where Stoke can find their success. And if we can get a few banners up against homophobia and racism along the way, then you’ll have the support of this fan all the way to the club shop.
If you want to hear a St. Pauli view on the link, we had the MillenTon Podcast on in Episode 60:
For more on St Pauli, we recommend the fantastic short film by Copa90: