2 June ~ Back in 2003, not many FC St. Pauli fans would have put money on the club still being around to celebrate the club's centenary. Struggling in the third division with debts of €1.95 million (£1.62m), the Hamburg side only survived by selling 140,000 T-shirts and launching a campaign entitled "Drink for St. Pauli" in the Reeperbahn's notorious bars.

Yet in May 2010, a 4-1 victory at Greuther Fürth meant that Pauli were promoted to the Bundesliga for the fifth time. During their centenary celebrations two weeks later, the club underlined their counter-cultural credentials by inviting not only Celtic but also kindred spirits FC United of Manchester. Former vice-president Christian Hinzpeter took the opportunity to describe St. Pauli as representing "not only the district of the city that bears its name, but also a whole attitude to life – independence, freedom, honesty".

But this is only half the story. Much of Pauli's success can be attributed to president Corny Littmann, who took over the helm in December 2002. On the surface, the theatre impresario is the perfect embodiment of Pauli's left-wing values. A former parliamentary candidate for the Green Party, Littmann was also Germany's first openly gay club chairman and called Christoph Daum a "trainer arsehole" in 2008 after the latter made homophobic remarks.

Yet Littmann is also the man who made FC St. Pauli "suitable for capitalism", as SPD politician Hans Apel recently stated. By professionalising the club's business structures and successfully integrating former players, Littmann has transformed Pauli into a debt-free brand with a merchandising turnover of €5.5m. A new south stand with 1,200 business seats has been opened in their Millerntor stadium, and work on the main stand is due to be completed this summer. "We've got to get the high-earners interested in football," said head coach Holger Stanislawski. "Football isn't a social utopia, we've got to understand that we're a business."

Unsurprisingly, this has led to clashes with sectors of Pauli's fanbase who are concerned that the club has drifted too far from their 1980s anti-commercialist ethos. Littmann's attempts to introduce a special club currency, the Millerntaler, for use in the stadium was blocked by supporters in 2008, as was a St. Pauli brand cola, the dubiously named Kalte Muschi ("cold pussy" – a single entendre  which didn't go down well with St. Pauli's anti-sexist principles). And when their self-avowedly autocratic president limited Hansa Rostock's ticket allocation to 500 in March, the fan group Ultrà St. Pauli organised a boycott of support which involved physically preventing other Pauli fans from entering the stand.

The different views as to how St. Pauli should negotiate a path between tradition and modernity highlight how deceptively disparate the team's fanbase is. It often appears easier to herd a pack of feral tomcats through Hamburg's fish market than to get Pauli fans to agree on anything. Some supporters, such as rock singer Thees Uhlmann, believe that the club has got stuck in a "charm trap" – Pauli's popularity throughout Germany has become counter-productive. "I want to look in the eyes of a trainer who is scared because his team is being shot down, taken apart, destroyed, beaten," Uhlmann argues. "I want respect and success and no sympathy."

The club's management appears to agree. Sports director Helmut Schulte said that Pauli would model themselves next season not on SC Freiburg, another well-liked team who perennially fight relegation, but Champions League participants Werder Bremen. So, with Corny Littmann choosing to resign as president just after promotion was sealed, Pauli's progress off the pitch looks set to be as characteristically unpredictable as it does on it. Paul Joyce

Comments (3)
Comment by Afrikaams 2010-06-02 12:40:39

Counter-culture? Celtic? You aren't serious are you?

Comment by Afrikaams 2010-06-02 12:41:19

Apart from that aberration it's an interesting article, thanks.

Comment by danielmak 2010-06-03 18:10:48

Ah, the great tension between purity and capitalism, collective decision making and a group leader. It seems that every interesting movement in the past century has come undone because of these tensions. Either everyone was kicked out of the group or everyone quit. I don't know where to find the middle ground, but it does seems that a club on the verge of bankruptcy needed/needs someone to make some decisions that will keep the club afloat *and* thriving (i.e., solvent enough so they can sign the players that the fans will want to see play and that will play well enough that championships of whatever kind are possible).

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