Source: Manchester Evening News
May 01, 2010
The Reds of Manchester are on their way to wave the flag in Europe again.
This time, though, it's not Fergie's Old Trafford superstars - but FC United who will be making their way over to the continent in a bid to win more friends with their independent spirit of adventure.
The Unibond League Rebels have been invited to take part in the centenary celebrations of German club, FC St Pauli.
The Hamburg-based club are on the brink of promotion to the Bundesliga, the top level of German football.
It will be a major milestone for the German club, who like the Red Rebels are a community-based club.
The match between FC and a St Pauli All-Star team will take place on May 15 at the 22,600 capacity Millerntor Stadium - right in the heart of Hamburg's dockside district famous for its ladies of the night.
With just two matches to go in the 2009-10 season, St Pauli are in second place in the German second division.
They have a three-point advantage over their closest challengers for automatic promotion, FC Augsburg, and a vastly superior goal difference.
St Pauli, who won 6-1 in last weekend's match against Koblenz, can secure promotion to the Bundesliga with a win away at Greuther Fuerth.
That will be a relief to Andreas Kahrs, St Pauli's centenary co-ordinator, as finishing third in the league would mean the club has to participate in a play-off for a place in the top division, against the team that finishes third-bottom in the Bundesliga.
The play-off matches have been scheduled for mid-May - meaning St Pauli's anniversary fixtures would have to be re-arranged.
Andreas invited the Rebels because, he says: "Both clubs are all about their fans."
Andreas takes pride in explaining that no major decisions are taken at the German club without discussions and agreement among members.
The St Pauli fans played an important role in saving the club from financial ruin after a crisis broke in 2003.
The club went into freefall after just one season in the Bundesliga (2001-02) and spent four seasons in the third tier of German football.
The fans' "Save St Pauli" campaign ensured that the club survived to see its centenary year.
Andreas also emphasises that his club prides itself on its tolerance and openness to supporters from minority groups. The dockside district was one of the first places in Germany to attract large numbers of immigrants.
And although the St Pauli club colours are brown and white, many fans wear the skull and crossbones symbol that first flew on flags in the Millerntor Stadium in the 1980s.
At that point, says Andreas, football in Germany was tainted by the presence of right-wing extremists but such fans were driven away from the terraces of St Pauli.
Perhaps surprisingly to people in this country unfamiliar with the name, St Pauli can now claim one of the largest support bases in Germany and is the fifth most successfully merchandised club in the country.
FC United will run out on to the pitch to the strains of St Pauli's unofficial anthem, AC/DC's Hell's Bells.
Three days later, St Pauli will continue their celebrations with a match against Celtic.
FC United board member Alison Watt is delighted that the Rebels will play their part in the German club's celebrations.
"To be invited to take part in such a special occasion is undoubtedly a great honour and achievement for our club," she said.
"We hope that the fixture will provide a memorable trip for our supporters who can make the journey and we know that it will be a fantastic experience for our players, an opportunity that most non-league footballers will never get the chance to take part in."