2.Bundesliga presents the first Hamburg derby in seven years
Hamburg remains at Germany's northern point while the city’s football scene has gone south. Both teams play in the second division. Hamburger SV's relegation last year set up the first derby with St Pauli in the best part of a decade.
German football is often touted as an ominous power commensurate with the country's engineering and financial prowess. The nation's second largest city, Hamburg has issues with both the football and economy. There are haves and have-nots. SV ranked among the haves for the Bundesliga's entire existence until this campaign, even though their most recent title was in the last millennium. St Pauli have always been have-nots. They won silverware more recently, in 2007, but it was a third-division crown.
For the first time in seven years, since St Pauli was last in the top-flight, the two clubs will play a competitive game. It's always a rare occurrence because St Pauli seldom tarry in the Bundesliga whereas Hamburg had never before left it.
SV's Volksparkstadion is accustomed to hosting more lavish affairs. Several World Cup and European championship games have been contested there, including the 2010 Europa League final. The 57,000 capacity calls for more than second-rate football. That said, the club has finished 14th or lower in four of the last five seasons. Poor signings, insecure management, relegation was inevitable.
After a mid-week game with Greuter Furth finished 0-0, HSV settled in third place. Former Leeds United loanee, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, is back the club, scoring for the team. Third won't do, though. Fans anticipate an instant return to the Bundesliga. There’s no time to waste outside the automatic places; Hamburg must win this league and go up. Their vast stadium won’t be maintainable in the lower leagues even if 40,000+ are still turning up to these games.
Kiezkicker supporters are different though. Very different. They combine their joy for the game with left-wing political beliefs, rocker fashion and heavy metal music. This is far from the corporate dreams of oil-rich football clubs. It's Millwall with an edge.
The Milentor faithful are football fans at their core. They want to see the team succeed but expressing their way of life is also a joy. I spoke to St. Pauli fans in a club-owned bar when I went to Hamburg a few years ago. They subscribe to club philosophy more than results. Losing away from home hurts, but at least they showed another part of the country their way. Getting relegated sucks, but that’s a whole new set of grounds, clubs and fans to whom they can spread the gospel.
Is it necessary? We all hold political opinions but the rules governing the game are the closest thing to policy discussions to be had on matchday. The rest belongs outside the ground. Football brings us together for two hours. Implementing divisive mantras defeats the purpose. The game is beautiful on its own. The rest of the world can wait till the referee blows full time.
That’s just my opinion. I don’t like politically charged entertainment. You wouldn’t want Dua Lipa to stop mid-set and talk about her love for her chosen political party, so why is it okay for St. Pauli? In my eyes, it isn’t. I love the idea, but I don’t want it in football. Much like I don’t want gravy on my ice cream. Separately, great. Together, no thank you.
Many people do like the notion, however. St Pauli are one of the most popular clubs in Europe and sell more season ticket than most Bundesliga clubs.
On the pitch, the club is doing relatively well. They head into the game with 12 points accumulated from their four wins and three losses. Last time out they secured a last minute win in stoppage time. Richard Neudecker tapped in his effort from close range. The side moved into a six-team logjam one point behind Hamburg. Tension. Anticipation.
While the city might not agree on which team, there's no argument a top-flight side is wanted. Civic pride is on the line. The doldrums of 2.Bundesliga are not befitting a city whose populace is only outnumbered by Berliners.
Due to the derby's sporadic nature of the derby, 1991/92, 1995/96, 1999/00, 2002/03, 2010/11, 2018/19, it’s fair to say it could have gone off the boil. When I spoke to St. Pauli fans, they didn’t seem to care about HSV. They wanted me to stop talking to them so they could listen to Green Day instead.
Given their views, there shouldn’t be much hatred between the two. St. Pauli are left-leaning and HSV are just another corporate club that happens to be in the same city. HSV don’t care that much either, they’ve happily moved on to disliking Werder Bremen instead.
On the day, of course, that will change. Bragging rights to the city are on the line. It might not be a colossal match of ‘anti-establishment vs. the norm’, but the match’s rarity will bring onlookers from far and wide. And there will be a few on either side who feel the need to let it all out.
The last Hamburg derby produced a rare St. Pauli win at the Volksparkstadion. They were still relegated. The earlier fixture played out 1-1 at the Millentor. Historically, Hamburg SV enjoys the better fortune, winning 59 games to St. Pauli’s 19.
The spoils of war? A win in this one isn't a punched ticket to the Bundesliga. It goes a long way towards cancelling the loser's, however.