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Counting the cost of being a cult club

1. FC Union vs. St. Pauli on Friday evening was a special game in many ways: the black sheep derby. It was noisy and busy; a 0-2 win for Pauli taking little shine off a great night, but it also raised questions about what it means to be a real fan.

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Photo courtesy of www.union-foto.de

For many years scientists have been beavering away on what is known, in the correct circles, as the Belle and Sebastian principle. The very point at which someone or something small crosses over a line and becomes beloved by the greater public, meaning that they are no longer deemed cool. “They used to be so much better“ is the classic indie refrain, a sentence spoken by anaemic, single young men in pullovers the world over as they adjust their stupid glasses, and tousle their stupid hair. Or, as Morrissey (who became the undisputed king of these people, for a while) sang

“We hate it when our friends become successful“

Belle and Sebastian were always the embodiment of twee, whiny shite wrapped in a comfortable jumper- so it never bothered me when the general public started liking them. When your friend’s Mum started buying their albums.- but it hurt a lot of people, beholden to the idea that they were their band. That, somehow, the purity of their relationship was ruined by all of these people liking them too, so it was scrapped. They moved on and simply started listening to even worse bands that couldn’t possibly make it onto Top of the Pops. Their exclusive club just changed it’s name.

Its hard to do that in football. Partly because the idea of a football club being cool is a rare concept, and the idea of large swathes of the population supporting one from outside of their own town is, comparatively, very new. Apart from exceptions like Juventus (who were always bigger outside of Turin, than within) for the majority of the last hundred or so years, football remained an introverted sport, confined to its localities.

I’m getting towards my point here, eventually. On a beautiful Friday evening in Köpenick, under a Laura Ashley sky of coral pink and lavender, the Alte Försterei was sold out long in advance for the clash between 1.FC Union and St. Pauli. Both sides marketed as cult clubs with sections worried about being caught in an identity crisis.

On the Union forums some have been talking about how the Eisern faithful were drowned out by all the Pauli in the stadium. It’s the fault of the new fans, they say. Its because they haven’t been through the Oberliga with us. They just know the second division. If there were giant foam hands on sale, they would be wearing them, is the unflattering inference from the talk.

Union are on an undisputed upwards curve, ticket sales and membership is at an all time high.

Although it is a minority view, it’s easy to understand why this can be resented in many ways. A lot of these people built their own stadium with their own bare hands- they are allowed a certain sense of entitlement to the club they rescued- but at what point does one decide that they would rather be skint and roofless again? To have their own little club, hidden in the woods that nobody comes to see any more.

But at the same time St Pauli are worried about their soul being sold down the river. There has rarely been a club so successfully (and some might even say, cynically) marketed in football. They are definable by the skull and crossbones, beloved by football fans with a left leaning bias the world over. They have lost many original fans already, and will continue to do so as the impossible balancing act continues of being a club by and for its fans, but one that wants to succeed on the biggest stages.

Union face a similar quandary, increased ambition means the need for increased income.

On the night I didn’t think that there was a real problem with the atmosphere at all. Pauli were certainly bloody loud, but they weren’t confined to their end this time, they were dotted all around the stadium, friendly pockets of drunken cheering. Union made a hell of a noise too, but it’s difficult to even consider being outsung at home.

For all the similarities between the clubs, St Pauli were deserved winners of a scrappy game. In the first half Christopher Quiring started turning the St Pauli left back inside out so often he must have had to unscrew his shorts off at half time, and John-Jairo Mosquera should probably have had a penalty when he was clattered down having u-turned in the box. He had to leave the field injured five minutes later- his replacement Halil Savran flashed a shot just wide.

But Pauli weathered the storm, and then opened the scoring with the piece of luck that was denied to the home team all evening. Markus Karl made what would usually be a fantastic, last gasp, sliding challenge on the edge of the box, but the ball squirmed onwards to Deniz Naki who slotted home with ease. As another Quiring cross found the giant Christian Stuff, Union hoped that something would run for them, but his desperate shot hit the post. It just wasn’t to be. Markus Thorandt forced the ball through Jan Glinker’s legs near the death for the decisive finish.

Union shouldn’t worry too much about losing to Bundesliga aspirants like St Pauli, and neither should they worry too much about the onslaught of new fans disrupting their club. In a couple of weeks again the only roar audible inside the Alte Försterei will be from themselves again. Nobody should resent St Pauli making a name off being the first team to stand up against racism and sexism, and with fans as dedicated as they are, even less should worry about the spirit of Union disappearing.

Read more at NoDice.com.