St Pauli vs Hamburg: High stakes in derby clash as rivals battle for Bundesliga promotion
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 07/03/19 9:40am
City rivals Hamburg and St Pauli are both fighting for promotion to the Bundesliga this season. They meet on Sunday in a high-stakes clash that could be crucial to their chances of returning to the top-flight. James Walker-Roberts looks ahead to the game and how both teams got here...
Remember the clock?
It was one of the most unique features in any football stadium; a digital clock that ticked away in Hamburg's Volksparkstadion to proudly show how long the club had been in the Bundesliga.
It had been ticking for 54 years and 261 days when it finally stopped last summer, ending Hamburg's reign as the only ever-present side in the Bundesliga since the inception of the league in 1963.
Along with the ignominy of losing their ever-present status in the top-flight was the fact it came in Hamburg's 99th year, meaning their 100th would be their first spent in the second tier.
Fortunately for Hamburg, whose clock now displays the age of the club, it looks like their first taste of Bundesliga 2 might be short-lived. With 10 games of the season remaining they are in the second automatic promotion place, one point off top spot and three points ahead of third-placed Union Berlin.
And the Bundesliga might not just be getting one Hamburg club back, but two.
St Pauli, whose Millerntor-Stadion is about six kilometres away from Hamburg's Volksparkstadion, are also bidding for promotion from Bundesliga 2. They are fourth in the table, one point off third - which is a promotion play-off place against the third-from-bottom team in the Bundesliga - and four points behind Hamburg as they prepare to host their city rivals on Sunday.
Bundesliga 2 table
|Cologne (automatic promotion place)||24||48|
|Hamburg (automatic promotion place)||24||47|
|Union Berlin (promotion play-off place)||24||44|
St Pauli's history with the Bundesliga contrasts wildly with Hamburg's.
While Hamburg had never been out of the top-flight before the 2018/19 season, winning the league six times along with three German Cups and the European Cup in 1983, St Pauli have spent most of their existence in the second tier, occasionally dipping below and also above. Their last two visits to the top-flight resulted in bottom-place finishes and immediate relegation in 2010/11 and 2001/02.
Rather than their achievements on the pitch, St Pauli are best known for being a politically-engaged club. It is a club that is owned by members, and on their "guiding principles" section on their website, they say the club "conveys a way of life and is a symbol of sporting authenticity".
St Pauli is linked with punk music, pirate flags and left-wing politics. In 2016 they wore shirts with the message "No Football for Fascists" across the front for a game against RB Leipzig to support International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Before a game last year fans marked the occasion by holding up cards bearing the names of people murdered by the Nazis.
St Pauli and Hamburg are different in so many ways, and they have a fierce rivalry.
When they last met in the Bundesliga in 2011, St Pauli goalkeeper Benedict Pliquett celebrated a 1-0 win by kicking the Hamburg corner flag after the game. Pliquett, a former Hamburg player, also had a t-shirt made with the words 'derby winners' written across the front. It was St Pauli's first victory over their rivals since 1977, but was not enough to prevent them avoiding relegation.
St Pauli have been bidding to return to the top-flight since that season, while Hamburg's top-flight status has been slipping away.
In fact, Hamburg have been on something of a downward spiral since losing to Fulham in the 2010 Europa League semi-finals, when they missed out on the chance to play the final in their own stadium.
Since the semi-final defeat, Hamburg have had an incredible 16 managerial changes. There has also been trouble higher up the hierarchy.
"The problem is they have made a lot of wrong decisions in recent years," Henrik Jacobs, journalist for daily newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt, tells Sky Sports.
"They have fired so many coaches and at the same time got a lot of money from an investor, Klaus-Michael Kuhne, who is one of the richest people in Germany. The problem is that Kuhne tried to influence the decisions of the club.
"He wanted to see stars playing for Hamburg, like Rafael van der Vaart. So Hamburg paid a lot of money for old players instead of working on a new, young team."
Hamburg narrowly avoided the drop in 2013/14 and 2014/15 after winning the relegation play-off, but in 2017/18 - after a season in which they had three different coaches - they were finally doomed. Now they are trying to rebuild.
After eight years of returning debts, Hamburg are looking for younger players and have introduced a self-imposed salary cap to prevent overspending. Financially the club still has challenges, but Jacobs says the change brought about by relegation has been refreshing
"After many years of frustration the fans are very optimistic to see the new approach of Hamburg. It's nice to win many games again and to be on the top of the league. The fans can identify with new way.
"But in the same way nobody knows what will happen with the financial situation. Some fans are concerned."
Hamburg's change of approach is noticeable in their squad, which is now largely made up of players from the reserve team and academy, although it also includes former Germany midfielder Aaron Hunt, ex-Rangers defender David Bates and ex-Tottenham midfielder Lewis Holtby. Their leading scorer in the league is striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who spent last season on loan at Leeds.
Just as Hamburg's previously consistent presence in the Bundesliga contrasts with St Pauli yo-yoing between divisions, so St Pauli's off-field approach contrasts with Hamburg's in recent years.
"The secret of St Pauli's success is continuity in important positions," says Jacobs. "General manager Andreas Rettig and president Oke Gottlich are following a good strategy. They also made good transfers before the season, especially with Marvin Knoll and Henk Veerman."
Head coach Markus Kauczinski has been in charge of St Pauli since December 2017. Last year they finished 12th in the 18-team Bundesliga 2, only three points above the relegation play-off place, but this season they are firmly in the promotion battle.
In January they re-signed Alex Meier, who made his Bundesliga debut for the club against Hamburg in 2002. Now 36, Meier had a brief stint with Hamburg after leaving St Pauli, but this will be only his second taste of the derby.
"It's a special game for the fans and the city," he told Hamburger Abendblatt this week. "At St Pauli, everything is a little smaller and more familiar, and as long as you give everything, the fans are behind you unconditionally."
St Pauli head coach Kauczinski says the derby comes at the "right time" for his side.
"We're obviously looking forward to it, especially in the position we're in having won our last two games. I've noticed how alert and focused the lads are and how they're putting our plan into action. I get the feeling the derby's coming at the right time. The lads are raring to go. It's going to be good."
Sunday's meeting is the biggest clash between the city rivals in years. Whoever wins will not only boost their own promotion chances but will also provide a setback to their opponents.
Hamburg coach Hannes Wolf says he is expecting a "cauldron-like atmosphere", but St Pauli's Jan-Philipp Kalla perhaps sums up the anticipation best.
Kalla, 32, has been with St Pauli since he was a youth player in 2003 but has never played in the derby. He missed the goalless draw earlier in the season and in 2010/11 he was an unused substitute for the famous 1-0 win at Hamburg.
"For me, pictures have been buzzing around for months, little movies. It's about the derby win in 2011, the first meeting in September and many other positive things we've worked out recently - making me believe we can win the derby."
"This is a moment I've been waiting for, for many years."