Fan-tastic – not us! The slow death of Britain’s fan culture

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EDD PAUL says other other countries, notably Germany, have overtaken us in the way they watch their football… 

Football, as us Brits love to remind everyone, was a British invention. Formed in the public schools, adopted by the great unwashed, moulded and transformed by decades of bickering, ideological nit-picking and debate – we’ve done a lot to form the game as it is today.

Understandably, this means we feel a certain maternal pride over it; a selfishness and unwillingness to accept football, that great British invention, may not necessarily just be “ours” anymore.

For me, this shows itself most prominently in fan culture.

Up until very recently, no one did ‘being a fan’ like the British. We follow our teams up and down the land, support them through thick and thin…we were the envy of world when it came to supporting your team. The key word there, of course, being ‘were’.

With the development of social media, online visibility and good old Sky and BT, British eyes have been opened to what the world has to offer in terms of fan culture.

The unrelenting noise of the Sudtribune, the ‘Yellow Wall’, of Borussia Dortmund. The fierce and vibrant choreography of the SuperClásico between Argentinian heavyweights Boca Juniors and River Plate. The footballing world has now opened its gates to the wider British public, and for a lot of people, myself included, the penny has dropped; has British fan culture lost its way?

On a recent trip to Germany, I was determined to visit the Millerntor-Stadion in Hamburg – the home of FC St Pauli. For those of you unfamiliar with St Pauli, they are what’s known as a kult club.

Until the 80s, St Pauli were your typical German football team; however, due to the working class St Pauli area of Hamburg being heavily populated by society’s ‘outcasts’ – punks, anarchists, hippies, squatters, prostitutes, transvestites – this presence soon seeped onto the terraces of the Millerntor.

Suddenly, St Pauli had a heavily alternative fan base, and this wasn’t the only thing that made them stand out.

Their new supporters not only brought a sense of style to the terraces, but also hardcore left-wing views, which are still actively promoted today.

FC St Pauli are anti-homophobic, anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-sexism and as socialist as Jeremy Corbyn’s teapot – they are as much a political movement as they are a football club.

The first team wear rainbow designs on their official strip to support their anti-homophobic stance; they organised rallies, as well as launching a range of club merchandise, to support the influx of refugees into Germany; they even recently installed two beehives to make their own honey as a way of counteracting the declining bee population.

The fact their club symbol is the skull and crossbones, the Totenkopf, of the Jolly Roger and they play AC/DC’s Hells Bells as they walk out onto the Millerntor pitch for every home game is just the cherry on the top of a truly unorthodox cake.

It’s inevitable, then, that St Pauli attracts the attention of us overseas fans – which is precisely how I ended up at the Millerntor earlier this year to see them take on the Red Bull-funded RB Leipzig.

The atmosphere at the game was like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard – being a part of the crowd with one of the ultras groups was akin to being one huge living, breathing organism, taking over the stadium through endless chanting, flag-waving, drum-thumping, bouncing support.

This is where it clicked for me that us Brits have finally lost a step in the global football race – St Pauli, and the German fan culture as a whole, put us to shame.

As a long-suffering AFC Wimbledon season ticket holder, I can safely say from experience the British football experience is in decay.

Relentless cynicism, unrealistically high expectations coupled with an “I WANT IT NOW” mindset, expensive ticket prices…there are many reasons why the live experience is quickly becoming diluted.

Yes, we’ll all still go nuts when our team scores, but the overall vibe I’ve slowly gotten used to at live football is one of general apathy to everything – it all seems like we just keep returning to the ground every Saturday because there’s nothing better to do, rather than being excited at the prospect of what will be played out gone three o’clock.

The only break in the apathy is to hurl vitriolic abuse at the opposition players and fans, referee, even our own players – something we quite like mistaking for ‘passion’.

This is in complete contrast to German football – a vibrant, cheap, friendly and wholly invigorating experience which, after witnessing it at the Millerntor, reminded me why I love the game in the first place.

Us Brits may have invented football, but it’s quickly becoming apparent the Germans, and many other countries, are evolving it. We built it; now we sit and flick between Sky and BT while the rest of the world enjoys it.

This article was brought to you by Late Tackle football magazine, the national football fanzine, 'by fans for fans'.
On-sale nationwide or to subscribe CLICK HERE

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