Chris Webster of Yorkshire St Pauli explains how the Yorkshire fan club of a German football team is challenging oppression and welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to Leeds. This article first appeared in the Northern Star, a bulletin of rs21 supporters in Leeds.
The politics connected to St. Pauli is the main reason many of our members fell in love with the club. An active stance against all forms of discrimination; sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc. led us to believe that there was more than a glimmer of hope left in an otherwise deeply prejudicial culture. Shaun Walsh explains the attraction:
Losing faith in the English game was definitely one of the things that ended up with me supporting St. Pauli. I was a Barnsley supporter for many years, and a season ticket holder there for five seasons in the early 90s. I loved the football – even when we were poor – but hated having to sit down, hated how much it cost me at the turnstiles (especially travelling away), but most of all hated being surrounded by racist, sexist, homophobic fans, something particularly prevalent at Barnsley around that time. The National Front openly sold their magazine outside the ground on match days, and I eventually could no longer tolerate being around that mentality every week.
Standing on the Sudkurve in FC St. Pauli’s Millerntor Stadium in Hamburg is the polar opposite of that feeling of “not belonging” – the first time I stood there I felt it was my home, and knew I would never support another team.
FC St. Pauli and its affiliated fan groups like YSP offers and creates a space away from the dogmatic nature of mainstream football, and the result is ultimately the last thing that matters. What does matter is ensuring we create and provide a community where anti-fascist principles are adopted, practised and promoted. So for the last year or so Yorkshire St. Pauli (YSP) has worked closely with Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS), a Leeds based charity. Through providing clothes and monetary donations we at YSP have actively sought to practice the ethos of the team we love so much and promote this philosophy in our community.
Over the last few months YSP have left the pub and attempted to play football with our friends from PAFRAS. Applying the principles that are entrenched in FC St. Pauli’s fanbase, we have welcomed the local refugees and asylum seekers into our community to play football with us on a weekly basis. To facilitate this, we provide football kit (some of which was donated by FC St. Pauli themselves) and split the cost of pitch hire between the non-PAFRAS YSP members. However, this is not an act of ‘charity’ in the classic sense. To an extent the term ‘charity’ implies a lack of human interaction, or at least a definitive ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’ of charity. In some cases, this is perfectly acceptable and we, as a fan club, practice this through our donations (raised through membership fees, events, etc.) to PAFRAS.
What we are trying to do through playing football is blur this distinction between the charity giver and charity receiver. To steal a slogan from the ‘Food Not Bombs’ movement this is an act of solidarity not charity. Yes, we are providing PAFRAS service users with kit, transport and a 5-a-side pitch to play football on, but more importantly we are providing a community that welcomes refugees and asylum seekers, and views them as equals. In the current political environment where UKIP are dominating political debate with disgusting anti-immigration rhetoric, our work in welcoming the very people that society discriminates against is becoming more and more vital. Realistically, a small group of football fans are not going to change the racist views that are so deeply rooted within our society but we have attempted to stop the rot in our community and provide a space where our friends feel welcome, safe and respected.