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In Hamburg it’s spelt „Demokratie“

Submitted by on November 22, 2010 – 11:25 amOne Comment

Our correspondent Ed in Germany reports from FC St Pauli’s annual general meeting. (WARNING: this report contains unashamedly leftie politics…)

Now being a resident in Germany and choosing to spend a large chunk of my free time caught up in the affairs of FC St Pauli, I have occasionally had the odd email or question when back in Manchester about how fans have an influence on the club in comparison to our own system at FCUM.

Germany is often held up as the shining example of fan involvement in football, and St Pauli is probably even more famous for having fans who believe, and not just in football, in rights for all. Up until this year Id never been that involved with the voting side of things at FCSP, but having travelled up and down the country to watch them for a good amount of time and on a regular basis, I thought this year I was qualified enough to have a say. Having now attended, here is a brief outline which, hopefully, provides insight without being a rather dull set of minutes.

So we’ll start with the famous 50+1 rule. I won’t lie, I’m no expert on it, but basically it means you can have up to 49% external investment e.g. Adidas hold a large chunk of the ownership of Bayern München, but the rest must belong to the club. Whether that rest means active fans (and by that I mean us scummy, cheapest tickets possible, standing terrace kind of fans) or a collection of old chaps who’ve been involved in the club since the 19th century, is seemingly undefined. It does however mean that the more, shall we say, proletarian fans do get a say and cannot be automatically overridden.

In terms of St Pauli, communication between club and fans is a mix of unofficial and official methods. These range from letters (I’ve just written one moaning about something or other), to discussions with groups e.g. the Ultra’ Sankt Pauli, to when things go completely bandit and suddenly the club makes a wrong decision and finds people boycotting the refreshments or holding up banners in the ground.

The most high profile form of communication though is the large general meeting per year, called the Jahreshauptversammlung. For the sake of making this article of a size that it can be hosted on a website, I’ll stick to talking about this event.

The event is open to all members. These can be the passive members (who belong to a group called AFM) or active members i.e. those who take part in any of the sporting departments of St Pauli such as cycling, boxing, rugby or chess. Also worthy of note is the presence of the press, who sometimes come in handy when a vote is unwinnable but dissent is present, as they will document stuff that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t make it into the minutes.

The whole event is pretty lengthy (1.5 days!). This time around, on the first day (when I was there) of the 8500 or so members, a rather measly 576 turned up, suggesting for many getting priority on tickets is perhaps more important than the day to day running of the club. Of those 576 you get a good mix of men and women, young and old, from a boisterous block of Ultras right through to a brilliantly old chap who was like a German version of the Major from Fawlty Towers.

Before we really descend into detail, here are a few other points of note which I felt would be of interest to FC members, and other fans of democracy in football.

I’m a complete JCL of a member and so as I haven’t been registered for a full 3 months, I was allowed to attend but not vote. I assume this is to stop sabotage of the voting procedure. The whole squad was there including the coach, Holger Stanislawski and Denis Naki, the latter delighting our section when he louded chanted “Ultra’ Sankt Pauli” as he walked past. Admittedly the players are all on full time pay, but it was still a Sunday and good to see them in attendance.

There is no opportunity to vote by post. You turn up or you keep schtumm. Not quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing to be honest. All points up for voting (and the GM is the only occasion when formal voting occurs) have to be registered in advance and backed up with the signatures of other members, as we have at FC. There is a minute’s silence for all members who have passed away in the previous year, which I think is a nice touch.

Apart from that, it is a similar set up to our own meetings, albeit that due to the size of the club, the board aren’t able to make quite so many jokes that everyone gets or refer to so many members on first name terms. Essentially the board are up the front (both in conduct and dress, a little more formal than the FC board), with a flag behind them, fans dotted about in the seats in the auditorium.

There then followed a number of speeches by various members of the board and other heads of departments. The speeches varied in quality, but there were a number of interesting points that came out of them, as well as the reflections on the successful season last year and 100th anniversary celebrations.

The board were adamant that the stadium must remain where it is in St Pauli despite the restrictions that has through not being able to build on areas over the nearby underground line or encroach on the big open space next to the ground where the fair is regularly held.

The new Gegengerade stand (which is the one we were bouncing around in when we played in St Pauli) will be rebuilt. Interestingly the plan is to not include any VIP boxes there. It will have a capacity of 12,600, of which 11,000 places will be standing, making it the largest terrace along the side of a pitch in Europe. The focus on standing and rejection of yet more business seats, produced some positive murmurs in our area.

Eventually they will redo the Nordkurve too which will then potentially push the ground’s capacity up from 24,000 where it currently is to 30,000. They want to increase discussions with fans (this appears to already be coming into play), after some recent squabbles.

Mr Spies, who sits on the board, and who was responsible for the birthday celebrations, mentioned how much he’d enjoyed the matches against Celtic and FC United of Manchester. As I was sitting there in my Ten Acres Love Song tshirt, I was obviously quite chuffed with this, which drew a smile from the other member of my fanclub who was there.

Despite only being on the board, rather than president, Mr Spies’s central position on the table and general presence suggested he holds a fair amount of sway. This would seemingly be positive considering his speech went on to stress the importance of the clu’bs connection with the local community, the importance of fan involvement and ensuring the club’s less than glowing conduct during the Third Reich is not brushed under the carpet.

My favourite quote of the day was one attributed to Volker Ippig (the crazy looking keeper, with wild blonde hair tucked under a cap, who played in the friendly with FC), but brought back up in the board speeches. “Es geht nicht um Fussball, sondern die Menschen”. It’s not about the football, it’s about the people. It certainly got me all dewy-eyed.

The main event however was yet to come, as former President Corny Littman took the stage. Littman was during his time in charge, extremely high profile. Most reports seem to make a lot of his homosexuality (it got a mention here too), still at least in public a rarity in our sport, but what is probably more interesting is that he presided over a time when St Pauli went from nearly bankrupt following 2 successive relegations, to the stadium being rebuilt and getting back to the Bundesliga, at which point he stepped down.

That should all mean him holding near deity status amongst St Pauli fans but instead opinions are deeply divided. The younger, arguably more anticapitalist, fans didn’t like many of the decisions taken which, whilst saving the club, also brought greater levels of commercialisation which perhaps has continued longer than might be necessary.

From my own point of view, I was at this point still in favour of him. However the relationship worsened when he seemingly went back on a promise to the fans, that Hansa Rostock (hated rivals and always a fixture with plenty of scrapping) would, against police advice, get a full away allocation.

Not only did this decision to obey the police irritate many fans out of principle, but he had not stuck to his word and in doing so had set a precedent meaning fan rights for away ticket allocations might be reduced at other “high risk” matches.

A boycott of the first 5 minutes of the match against Hansa Rostock last season, partly enforced by a controversial blocking of the entrances to the Sudkurve followed, in what in the end turned out to be a bit of an own goal by us pro-boycott fans, however well intentioned, as the media turned on us as well as it causing many divisions in the fanbase.

Littman then seemed to orchestrate a direct attack on Ultra’ Sankt Pauli and the Fanladen (a fan run project and shop which organises much of the ticketing at the club as well as offering advice to fans on matters in and outside football etc), removing their privileges. This happened despite many other groups such as Skinheads St Pauli and my own group, Sankt Pauli Mafia having also endorsed and taken part in the protest, for which we received no negative attention or punishment. It seemed like another common case of Ultra-bashing, a popular hobby for the German equivalent of Middle England. At this point, Littman’s relationship with a large section of the fanbase disintegrated.

Back at the general meeting, his taking to the stage prompted a walk out by a sizeable minority of members. Whilst other speeches had focused on the previous year, his spanned the whole of his time as President. It was rather melodramatic, expressed learnings but no apologies and seemed to be rather less his final report (a moment he undeniably deserved) and more a play for the role of “Ehrenpresident”/Honarary President, which he was “reluctantly” up for in a vote later in the day. 30 minutes later the speech drew to a close.

After an explanation of the accounts, where I certainly missed the FCUM mix of powerpoint and layman’s terms which just about allow me to keep a grasp on the maths, it came down to the voting. In most cases this was carried out by holding a voting card up at the right moment (yes/no/abstain).

Where votes were close, counters were used. For the case of voting in the new president and board, somewhat worryingly, there were only enough candidates to fill the roles, so there were no surprises. This was however carried out by ballot box.

Of the other votes of note, the club will no longer use TNT for postage services as the company, at least in Germany, does not adhere to minimum wage standards for some of its staff. The club also said it would endeavour to apply this rule of ethics to all of its other agreements.

An old club employee who had been given a certain recognition of service, also had it removed (posthumously) due to it recently being discovered that he had been a member of the SS during the Third Reich.

But the main event was always going to be Littman and his honoury presidency role. The coach Stanislawski was the one to put it forward as a motion, which of course held some sway. A number of people presented other pro and counter points, not least around whether a club like St Pauli should entertain the idea of unnecessary hierrachical roles.

One employee had researched what qualifications the role required at other clubs such as Schalke and Nürnberg e.g. length of service, which it appeared Littman didn’t necessarily meet. Finally though it was the complete lack of definition of what influence or priviledge the role held, that meant that the decision will be delayed for a further year (essentially meaning it probably wont go through).

At this point quite a lot of members saw their arse and exited stage left, most notably Mr Littman himself and the Rugby department. One member of the Rugby department delivered a lengthy elitist rant, involving attacks on other members and which single-handedly proved George Orwell’s views on the sport were correct, then strongly criticised those who had demonstratively walked out during Littman’s speech. As soon as the vote was completed, he then walked out on the meeting himself! This rather dramatic turn of events left the rest of the meeting with a feeling of anticlimax.

In conclusion, and without being smug, I’ve got to say, we have a very healthy number of active members, I like our regular “spot votes” via internet on things such as new kits or season ticket prices and our less formal general meeting, with subsidised cups of tea and sandwiches is all in all a more comfortable event.

Scarf waving

However if we are around in 100 years, have operated through a world war, have numerous sporting departments to represent and a very generational split between a tie and blazer group and a progressive left “youth”, I think we can count ourselves very lucky if it runs as smoothly and offers so much chance for involvement and free speech as I witnessed yesterday with my adopted club in Hamburg. And that’s just day one!

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