Hamburger Hop: The Long-Awaited Return of the Hamburg Derby.

Hamburger Sport-Verein and FC St Pauli renew their fierce rivalry this weekend in the first Hamburg Derby since 2011. The two sides have only met nineteen times since the Bundesliga was established in 1963, thanks to the difference in both’s long-term fortunes. So long considered the rich, successful and brash older sibling of the city, Hamburger’s historic relegation in May has gone some way to levelling the playing field, and St Pauli will once again be hoping to prove their ability to compete on the pitch as well as retaining their worldwide popularity off it. Here’s how two teams from ‘The Gateway to the World’ became such brutal foes. 

“I remember getting home to England and my dad thought I was half-dead. I looked like a skeleton, I hadn’t noticed the change, I’d been having such a ball!” In the mid-twentieth century, Hamburg was known as Germany’s city of sin. The half-mile stretch of the Reeperbahn was the city’s seedy underbelly, and earned fame as the place The Beatles “grew up”. Paul McCartney’s recollection of his return from the debauched red-light district encapsulates the mood of the area. The fun in Hamburg is to die for.

Though it might be a little more sanitised than it was in the sixties, the atmosphere on the Reeperbahn remains convivial, thanks in no small part to the hordes of  FC St Pauli supporters that line it on matchday. The club’s ultras began to embrace the area in the 1980s, as the Kiezkicker became more than just a football club, taking a stance against the growing nationalistic-hooligan problem emerging across Germany, and promoting tolerance and inclusiveness in the city. Their left-wing stance, anti-capitalist agenda, and heavy metal iconography have seen St Pauli become a worldwide phenomenon, with over four hundred supporters groups being set up from New York to Brazil, and hundreds of thousands of fans across the world. Many see them as the antidote to the ills of modern football, a glimmer of something righteous in a sea of corruption, greed and vulgarity. Others, like sections of the Hamburger SV support, see them as the enemy.

Die Rothosen have always been the dominant team in Hamburg. Before the Second World War, HSV retained a 100% record against their neighbours, and though that ascendance was tested in the post-war era by St Pauli’s championship-winning ‘Wonderelf’, normal service was shortly resumed. Selected as a founding member of the Bundesliga in 1963, HSV’s path diverged with that of St Pauli, and meetings between the two sides became a rare occurrence. In 1973, as HSV began their golden era, their local rivals were scrapping around in the Regionalliga Nord, winning back-to-back league titles, but losing out on promotion to the top tier in the play-off rounds. By the time St Pauli had arrived in the Bundesliga in 1977, Hamburger were quickly becoming one of the most decorated teams in Germany, winning a DFB Pokal trophy and a European Cup Winners Cup in successive years, before signing Kevin Keegan for a world record £500,000. Keegan’s first season was a disappointment for the club, despite the striker dubbed ‘Mighty Mouse’ picking up the Ballon D’or. In the first ever Bundesliga meeting between Hamburger and St Pauli, the newly-promoted side returned with a 2-0 victory. It would be one of only six wins for the boys in brown, as they finished rock bottom and returned to the second tier.

Eleven years later St Pauli would enjoy their longest spell in the top flight, finishing tenth and thirteenth before losing a relegation play-off against Stuttgart Kickers in 1991 to return to the 2.Bundesliga. Those three campaigns saw three draws and three defeats against HSV, with the 5-0 loss at the Volksparkstadion in the penultimate game of 90/91 playing a major part in St Pauli’s relegation. The tide had turned too at the home of their illustrious rivals, as the success of the 1980s, which had brought consecutive Bundesliga titles and a European Cup, gave way to financial difficulties at the turn of the decade. Just weeks after watching their neighbours drop out of the league, HSV were forced to sell star player Thomas Doll to ensure the club’s survival. Feast quickly turned to famine for Hamburger supporters, with their team yoyo-ing between midtable and the top five for the next twenty-six years. The one crumb of comfort came with the relegation of FC Köln in 1998, which left HSV as the last ever-present club in the Bundesliga and earned them the nickname The Dinosaur. At a club that values trophies and medals above all else, it represented a pitiful lowering of expectations.

Four miles down the Bundesstraße 4, trophies are the last thing on St Pauli’s mind. In the corridors of the Millerntor stands a wall-mounted display case full of posters, one of which bears the phrase “We don’t have silverware. Instead we have something a lot better. We have a story to tell.” Perhaps its this story that convinced legions of Hamburger SV supporters to abandon their seats at the Volksparkstadion in the 1980s and join the St Pauli revolution. Or perhaps it was the rise of fascism in the stands. In 1982, with their team riding high off their fifth Bundesliga title, the first skinheads began to attend HSV’s home games, displaying anti-immigrant badges and pledging their support to the National Democratic Party. They were soon recruited by the Hamburg-based neo-Nazi group Aktionsfront Nationaler Sozialisten, and violence at football matches increased, eventually leading to the murder of a sixteen year old Werder Bremen fan by a member of the HSV hooligan group Lowen. Over the next five years there was mass-migration to the Millerntor by left-leaning HSV supporters, all looking for a safer space to enjoy football.

Away from The Story, footballing success has been hard to come by for the ever-growing St Pauli support. Brief returns to the Bundesliga in the mid-90s and early-00s ended in relegation, with HSV taking the lion’s share of the spoils across the six derbies, leaving the newly christened Buccaneers without a win in over thirty years. On their most recent return to the top flight, they finally set the record straight. Ill-feeling across Hamburg had already been inflamed after the first weekend of the 2010/11 season when, upon returning from a 3-1 win at SC Freiburg, a group of St Pauli supporters and goalkeeper Benedikt Pliquett were attacked by masked men at the Hamburg-Altona train station. It became clear that the assailants were aligned with a HSV hooligan movement, and fuelled the fire ahead of the first Hamburg derby for eight and a half years. In the cauldron of the Millerntor, Mladen Petrić’s 88th minute equaliser preserved HSV’s unbeaten run against their neighbours. Ahead of the reverse fixture, the powers that be at Hamburger decided to relay the pitch four days before the game, only to watch as three days of torrential rain rendered the surface unplayable. A small minority of HSV’s support took news of the postponement badly, and subsequently attacked St Pauli’s club shop to vent their frustrations.

Ten days later, on a tense night at the Volksparkstadion, Hamburger fans showed no intention of quelling the hostility between the two clubs, unfurling a banner that read: “Rebellious skull and crossbones – sold out! Self-managed home terrace – sold out! Trendy legend – sold out! The person who has nothing left, must dance on the pole.” The travelling St Pauli supporters responded by setting off pyrotechnics twenty-five minutes into the game, commemorating the year of their foundation. The unruliness that followed encouraged Hamburg police, replete with riot gear, to enter the stand housing the away fans and make their presence known. The air of dissent was punctured just before the hour, when the Ghanaian born German international Gerald Asamoah met Fabian Boll’s flick on from a corner to head past Frank Rost and give St Pauli the lead. Despite late pressure, the Buccaneers held on for an historic win. Those vital three points left St Pauli in 12th, with just twelve games to go. Survival looked well within reach.

As Thomas Meggle explained to Uli Hesse in a piece for Eight By Eight magazine, “Our problems began with the derby”. The midfielder was forced to retire at the end of the 2009/10 promotion campaign with injury, but has retained an interest in the fortunes of his former club. He would watch on with his fellow St Pauli supporters in horror as their team picked up just one point from their remaining games. Relegation was confirmed after an 8-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich, a club that represents everything St Pauli oppose. Had you been out on the Reeperbahn that night, you wouldn’t have known that the local football club had lost its place in the top flight, as fans came out in their hundreds to celebrate a remarkable journey. Hope of an immediate return was extinguished as the club missed out on a promotion play-off to Fortuna Düsseldorf the following year. Since then, they’ve slid between both ends of the table, narrowly avoiding relegation in 2014, before finishing fourth again in 2015. Last time out they finished three points above the drop-zone.

HSV’s recent history has hardly been a smooth ride either. The departure of Armin Veh to Eintracht Frankfurt in 2011 was the beginning of a revolving door policy at the Volksparkstadion, as nine managers came and went in the next seven years. The Dinosaurs narrowly avoided Bundesliga extinction in 2014 and 2015, before a brief revival under Bruno Labbadia saw them finish in mid-table. The sales of key players in Son Heung-min, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Rafael van der Vaart soon began to take their toll however and, on the final day of last season, a 2-1 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach wasn’t enough to save them from the first relegation in their history. The clock in the north-west corner of the Volksparkstadion, that proudly displayed the length of time that HSV had been in the Bundesliga, had stopped.

This season, Die Rothosen were served a slice of harsh reality on the opening day, as visitors Holstein Kiel left Bahrenfeld with all three points with a 3-0 win. Results began to pick up for Hamburger shortly afterwards, with four victories on the bounce, including an impressive dismantling of Arminia Bielefeld,  propelling them up the table. Retaining the services of Lewis Holtby looks to be Christian Titz’s best piece of business in the summer, while Pierre-Michel Lasogga has returned from a disappointing spell at Leeds United in a rich vein of form. The emergence of Jann-Fiete Arp, tipped to have a bright future with the national team, may also become one of the stories of the year. With the good feeling returning, the last thing Titz and his team needed was a 5-0 home defeat to Jahn Regensburg last weekend. Another day to forget for a fanbase that are begging for amnesia.

For the pirates of St Pauli it’s been a mixed start. Back to back wins had the Buccaneers flying high mid-August before defeats to Union Berlin, FC Köln and Erzgebirge Aue saw them sink towards the bottom of the table. A turnaround in form arrived with victory at FC Ingoldstadt 04 before the midweek win over Paderborn brought them back to within a point of HSV and the automatic promotion places. The creativity of Ryo Miyaichi  is a useful weapon on the left-hand side, while summer recruit Henk Veerman looks a capable striker for the second division. At the back, however, St Pauli look porous, having already accrued the second leakiest defensive record in the league.

It has so far proven an unpredictable season in the 2.Bundesliga, and the Hamburg derby looks too close to call. History and form suggests that the team with the star signings and lucrative sponsorship deals will earn the bragging rights on Sunday, though its foolish to write off the passion and fight of St Pauli. Whichever way the result goes, it promises to be a special occasion.

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