St Pauli ready to hoist the Jolly Roger over the Bundesliga
It's been a week of mixed emotions in Hamburg.
On one side of the city the fans of Hamburger SV are still bemoaning their lost opportunities last Thursday.
Rather than the Rothosen - red shorts - it will be Fulham who will contest the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid in their own Nordbank Arena on May 12 after Hamburg's 2-1 defeat at Craven Cottage.
However, in the areas down by the docks and the famous Reeperbahn, or should I say infamous depending on your point of view, there has been unrestrained joy over the last day or so from the fans of cross-city rivals FC St. Pauli.
St Pauli have been immortalised in a Blur song - photo: Getty
The smiles are not just because of the Craven Cottage comeuppance of Hamburg, the club that famously beat Juventus 1-0 to win the European Cup in 1983, but after a 4-1 away win at Furth on Sunday, arguably Europe's most atypical professional club are heading back to the Bundesliga after an absence of eight years.
More than 9,000 St Pauli fans followed their team to Furth and, as happily pointed out by German newspapers on Monday, peacefully invaded the pitch after the final whistle, while more than 10,000 people congregated on the Reeperbahn.
What a better way to celebrate your centenary than with a promotion back to the top tier of German football?
St Pauli, resplendent in their rather unusual brown kit - now how many teams can you name that have regularly played in that colour - and their supporters in their Jolly Roger totenkopf - skull and crossbones - attire are now set to wreak their own particular brand of fun and mayhem when they visit the comparatively staid surroundings of Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen next season.
Words like eccentric or odd are often used in the context of St Pauli but results have still to be achieved on the pitch so The Buccaneers of the League, as they are often known, are not really football's answer to the Harlem Globetrotters.
However, there is a certain attitude and atmosphere that surrounds St Pauli.
Even though the club has been around in its current form since 1910, a unique identity has emerged over the last quarter of their existence.
"St Pauli opens its home matches with AC/DC's Hells' Bells, and after every home goal Song 2 by Blur is played, turning the stadium into a giant mosh pit," says Wikipedia. "St. Pauli is also a worldwide symbol for punk and related subcultures."
"It was in the mid-'80s that St. Pauli's transition from a traditional club into a 'Kult' club began... An alternative fan scene emerged built around left-leaning politics and the 'event' and party atmosphere of the club's matches.
"Importantly, St. Pauli became the first team in Germany to officially ban right wing, nationalist activities and displays in its stadium in an era when Fascist inspired football hooliganism threatened the game across Europe."
The promotion comes at an appropriate time as St Pauli are expanding their Millerntor-Stadion to 27,000 in order to accommodate their ever increasing fan base.
St Pauli's Deniz Naki celebrates promotion to the Bundesliga with the club's supporters - photo: Getty
St Pauli have been in the Bundesliga before, managing to stay in the top flight for three years between 1988-1991, while the club had a brief stint in the Bundesliga in the 2001-02 season.
Sadly, it wasn't a glorious swashbuckling ride on the pitch as they finished bottom and by a very long way, having only won four games that season.
They slid through the 2. Bundesliga the following season in similar fashion and then spent four years in the regional third tier - the Regionalliga Nord - before starting their climb back up.
There are a few signs that St Pauli is finally having to join the 21st century; perhaps in the same way that punk icon Iggy Pop is now doing adverts for insurance companies.
Do I hear the words 'Sold Out' being uttered by some radical elements?
Club legend Holger Stanislawski, who has been a player, sports director vice-president and is now their coach, told German newspapers after Sunday's game, "St Pauli can't afford to be a social utopia anymore."
They are moving to new training facilities in 2012, and the current clubhouse where fans and players still mingle together for a coffee or beer - imagine that at any other first division club across Western Europe - may just become a distance memory.
Sponsors have increased the club budget to around €40m (£34.6m) so regular and frantically solicited injections of emergency cash from friends in the theatre world of club president Corny Littmann who, coincidently, is openly gay, are no longer necessary.
Stanislawski has also warned that if he's still the coach in July, and several other clubs are believed to have already made bids for his services, then sentiment could be in short supply.
Familiar faces who have been with the club since its days languishing in Regionalliga Nord look set to be shown the door and while Stanislawski has promised loyalty to many of the players who have got them back in the Bundesliga, he has said that three or four signings are inevitable.
Nevertheless, if St Pauli do lose a modicum of their charm as commercial reality bites, they should still bring a lot of fun to the Bundesliga next season.
Comments on this blog in the space provided. Other questions on European football to: firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.
Here's a couple from the postbag relating to Barcelona and Inter Milan.
Q) Why did Barca get rid off Samuel Eto'o, or why did Eto'o leave Barca ? They were the best match. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not of Barca's quality and he has been struggling to come to terms with the league. Ahad Shaukat, Karachi, Pakistan
A) I wouldn't agree with your comment that Ibrahimovic 'is not of Barca's quality'. At the start of the season he was scoring regularly and despite Barca paying over-the-odds for him, he was doing well on the field. However, injuries and a subsequence loss-of-confidence have lead to a dramatic decline in his productivity over the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see, with the summer to rest and get fully fit again as Sweden are not going to South Africa, whether he can recapture his best form. It's quite well known that Guardiola got rid of Eto'o because of a clash of personalities but, taking a season-long view, it's clear that Inter got the best of the deal.
Q) When will Uefa step in and say enough is enough when it comes to the harassment that the Inter players and coach are going through? I just read that Mourinho's car was attacked by Barcelona fans and I believe it is simply unacceptable. No protection is being given to a visiting team. Obed Schacht, Malmo, Sweden
A) Unfortunately, although I don't have statistics on this, this seems to happen more often in Spain and Italy than in countries like Britain and Germany. It's down to home clubs to liaise with public authorities and the local police to ensure that a visiting team's security is ensured. The solution to me is very simple, national federations, for domestic fixtures, and Uefa for European fixtures should impose sanctions if security is compromised.