'Crazy' St. Pauli Is a Welcoming Host

Numbers are changed by hand on the scoreboard at the stadium where St. Pauli, a poor third-division German club, plays to sellouts.
Numbers are changed by hand on the scoreboard at the stadium where St. Pauli, a poor third-division German club, plays to sellouts. (By Kai-uwe Knoth -- Associated Press)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2006

HAMBURG -- In a ratty stadium a few hundreds yards from the Reeperbahn, this port city's wild and weird boulevard, German soccer's renegades welcomed international soccer's outsiders -- a perfect pairing between teams with absolutely nothing in common except their cultures of expression.

The host was St. Pauli, a poor third-division club that has attracted a fanatical following all around this soccer-mad country by opening its tattooed arms to free spirits, left-wingers, outcasts, punks, dockworkers, the homeless and transvestites.

The opponent on this cool Monday evening was Trinidad and Tobago's national team, which is in the final stage of preparation for its first World Cup -- an event that has given the festive Caribbean nation of just 1.3 million yet another reason to have fun.

St. Pauli's grim unofficial logo is the skull and crossbones, its anthem the jarring AC/DC song "Hell's Bells." But don't get the idea that those are elements of intimidation -- no, far from it. It's an inviting group, one that preaches against violence and racism in a sport marred by such scourges around Europe.

The club's president is openly gay and operates theaters and bars on the notorious Reeperbahn. The players wear hideous brown camouflage uniforms and the scoreboard operator hangs a new number by hand after each goal. Behind the north goal looms an enormous concrete World War II bunker, now an arts and media center.

Looking for a luxury box and fancy meal? Head north a few kilometers to the chic AOL Arena, home of Hamburger SV from the glamorous Bundesliga and site of five World Cup matches. You won't find any at Millerntor Stadium.

Despite its lowly status in German soccer, St. Pauli is sold out with about 20,000 supporters every match -- an unusual feat for a third-division club -- and sells the fifth-most merchandise among clubs on all levels.

Asked to describe the club, St. Pauli's American-born defender Ian Joy said: "One word: crazy. We have so many fantastic traditions. You look around and see all the characters at these matches. They wear great clothes, they have so much fun. There's some old man who sits on a fence [near the field] at every game. I just love playing in front of these guys."

The friendly match was organized because Trinidad and Tobago had set up training camp in nearby Rotenburg and was looking for one last tuneup before its opener Saturday against Sweden.

Not to miss out on St. Pauli's merry scene, the visitors brought drummers and colorfully dressed dancers who paraded around the stadium as if they were at Carnival back in Port of Spain.

St. Pauli's fans, usually adorned in black and white, were handed bright red T&T T-shirts that read, "Small Country, Big Dream!" It's in their nature to support the little guy, so the spectators cheered Trinidad and Tobago's goals during its 2-1 victory and didn't express any animosity until a second-half scuffle resulted in an ejection for both teams.

While St. Pauli's players are now out of season, T&T's have big things ahead this summer. After playing Sweden in Dortmund, the Soca Warriors will face Group B favorite England on June 15 in Nuremberg and Paraguay five days later in Kaiserslautern.

"As a country, we've been looking forward to this for a very long time," said goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, 37, who has played in England since starring at Howard University from 1988 to 1991. Teammate Avery John, a defender for Major League Soccer's New England Revolution, is from American University.

"We feel as though we have a surprise or two up our sleeves," Hislop said. "Where exactly that surprise takes us, we'll see."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company