THE stickers which are plastered across the front of The Jolly Roger pub on Budapester Strasse in Hamburg just a goal kick or so away from the Millerntor Stadium leave passers by in no doubt about the left wing leanings and punk ethos of St Pauli supporters.

Anti-Fascist Action. Boycott FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Kick Out Homophobia. Fight Racism. No Link Shaming. No Place for Antisemitism. No Beer For Nazis. International Day Against Police Violence. And The Revolution Must Come.

Their reputation for being the beautiful game’s most socially aware, politically active, alternative thinking fans is deserved.

There is evidence of the German outfit’s longstanding association with a Scottish club in amongst the sprawling display - Celtic badges and crests have been stuck up by overseas visitors to the watering hole during pilgrimages to the district in the past.

The Herald: The fact that St Pauli’s fierce rivals Hamburger SV have a friendship with Rangers which dates back to the 1970s – when workers from Glasgow travelled to the port city to find employment - was partially responsible for the bond first forming three decades ago.

Yet, their passionate followers are also kindred spirits. They share the same ideological outlook on the world, rail against humanitarian injustices, throw their weight behind charitable causes and show backing for independence movements around the world.

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The two sets of supporters have been meeting up regularly in Hamburg and Glasgow to drink beer, play music, sing songs, cheer on their heroes in friendlies, celebrate their solidarity and generally have a grand old time on a regular basis since way back in 1991.  

Is, though, a love affair which has endured for 32 years in danger of fizzling out?

The pro-Palestine protest staged by members of The Green Brigade ultras group at Parkhead back in early October just hours after Hamas militants had launched attacks on western Israel from the Gaza Strip, murdered over 1,000 innocent civilians and soldiers and taken hundreds more hostage saddened, concerned and angered many of the St Pauli faithful. 

As did seeing the red flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – a group which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the EU, if not in the United Kingdom – held aloft by the same individuals at the Champions League match against Atletico Madrid at Celtic Park a few weeks later before they were banned indefinitely a long list of misdemeanours.

Banners which read “From Gaza to Glasgow – Fight Antisemitism” and “Free Palestine from Hamas” in German were unfurled in the stands at a St Pauli game shortly afterwards. A photoshopped image, with the words translated into English, was then downloaded onto social media. It prompted a savage response from Bhoys Celtic.

The ultras – who walked out of the cinch Premiership game against St Mirren at the start of last month in protest at the punishment meted out to The Green Brigade - posted a picture of several of their members standing in a line holding Palestinian flags and banners which read “F*** St Pauli” and “Free Hamburg From Hipsters” on X (formerly Twitter).

The Herald: “That picture was disappointing,” says Alex as he lights a cigarette outside the Shebeen bar, another establishment in the near vicinity of the ground which is popular with both Celtic and St Pauli supporters. “I think a lot of people here were unhappy about it.

“And with what happened on the day of the attacks on Israel as well. The situation in the Middle East is complex. It is one thing to sympathise with the plight of the Palestinian people. But showing support for Hamas, even appearing to show support, is something else altogether. I think that a lot of our fans were disappointed with that as well.”

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Antisemitism is, for obvious reasons, of particular concern to them. The accusation has been strenuously denied in Scotland. Does Alex believe it was justified? “I am not sure,” he says. “That is a very difficult conversation to have in Germany.”

It becomes clear why emotions are so raw as you approach the stadium. There are posters plastered onto walls which show the faces of many of the Israelis – of Gadi Moses, 80, Tami Metzger, 78, of Shifra Noy, 70, of Kfir, nine months - who were taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 under the headline Entfuhrt - Kidnapped.

The St Pauli Museum that is situated in the Gegengerade stand is incredible. You could spend hours in the vast space looking at the sepia-tinted photographs, watching myriad films and studying the elaborate exhibits.

There is a section which tells the story of Max Kulic, the Jewish footballer who was forced to flee from the National Socialist dictatorship in the 1930s. Mostly, though, it is devoted to their colourful and storied fan subculture.

There is an international area where their links with clubs around the world are explored – they also have strong ties with, among others, Rayo Vallecano in Spain, Club Universidad Nacional in Mexico, Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel, AEK Athens in Greece and Oakland Roots in the United States - in depth.

The Herald: Sven Brux, the former St Pauli fanzine editor who did so much to foster their links with Celtic, is interviewed on a screen about the origins of the relationship. A supporter called Dixie enthuses about his experiences over the years. A father and son wearing green and white hoops stand transfixed.

Brux, who is currently the head of matchday organisation and fan relations, did not, doubtless because he is a club employee and is unable to get involved in such a contentious and sensitive issue, did not respond to requests for an interview. 

In the museum café, two locals spot a saltire on my rucksack. “Are you Scottish,” one of them asks. “Are you Celtic? Are you Rangers?" Inverness Caledonian Thistle is clearly not the answer they are expecting. They raise eyebrows, exchange quizzical glances and grin. News of The Duncan Ferguson Revolution has clearly not filtered through to Tor zur Welt.

St Pauli are enjoying a real revival on the park this season themselves. They are currently on top of the 2. Bundesliga and hopes are high among their followers that they can win promotion back to the top flight for the first time since 2011.

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Michael and Markus are happy to talk about the title push. But they have seen the “Victory to the Resistance” and “F*** St Pauli” banners which were produced by Celtic supporters, are well aware of the friction between elements of their respective fanbases and offer their take on the spat too. 

“These are good times for us, for the team,” said Michael. “There is great optimism after how we have started the season. The ‘F*** St Pauli’ picture was noticed and it did not go down well. People were especially hurt that it came from Celtic. But is this what all Celtic fans think? I don’t believe so. I’m sure it is nothing and will blow over.”

His friend has personal experience of the Celtic-St Pauli alliance. He explains that he has attended games at Parkhead “five or six times” over the years. He is of the opinion that a spark had gone out of the romance a little even before the banner exchange.

“I’m not so sure it is as important to the younger generation of supporters as it used to be,” says Markus. “Back in the early 90s, it was very strong. The number of fans who participated in events was always pretty large.

“But those fans have grown up and do not support the club in the same way as they used to. I know that I don’t. I don’t sense the same level of enthusiasm for it among the more active supporters now. I think it has cooled.

“Maybe Covid had something to do with that. We haven’t played each other in friendly matches in a long time now. Maybe that has played a part. Maybe I am wrong. But recent events haven’t done anything to help. There is definitely ill-feeling there now. The photo was bad. I do not think the damage will be easily repaired.” 

The Herald: Back in The Jolly Roger, a few regulars are perched on stools watching a replay of the Bundesliga match between Borussia Monchengladbach and Hoffenheim which had taken place the day before on television as Irish rebel tunes blare out of speakers.

The barman obligingly attempts to put on the St Johnstone v Celtic game and pokes away at a laptop for several minutes. Eventually, he comes over and apologises. “I am sorry,” he says. “We have Celtic TV, but it appears someone has forgotten to pay the subscription.” An indication of a cooling in relations? Or just a simple oversight by management?

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The Green Brigade and Bhoys Celtic can bring colour, noise, vibrancy and atmosphere to matches at home and abroad when they behave, raise large sums of money for worthy charities and have their backers.

But a large contingent of their fellow fans, a silent majority perhaps, have grown increasingly weary of their less savoury activities of late. Indeed, there was an appeal to the board by one exasperated shareholder to make the current ban permanent at their AGM last month.

There is, as the proliferation of flags at matches in recent weeks has highlighted, widespread empathy for the population of Palestine and revulsion at the actions of Israel during a bloody conflict in the East End of Glasgow.

There is, however, also dismay at the reputational damage which has been caused, and the schism which has opened up with St Pauli, by the thoughtlessness, recklessness and crassness of the young team.  

It will be a shame if the actions of a tiny minority lead to their affiliation with the coolest club in world football souring and possibly even ending.

It is, in all likelihood, just an unfortunate episode which will be forgiven and forgotten in time. The course of true love never runs smooth. That said, reparations will clearly need to be made and attitudes re-examined before the flame can be rekindled.

The Herald: