St Pauli Stadium [photo: Maddy Schoonheim, June 2023].
St Pauli Stadium [photo: Maddy Schoonheim, June 2023].

A museum like no other

A football club museum driven by its societal values

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Maddy Schoonheim Reinwardt Academy

At the start of the summer of 2022 a group of third year cultural heritage students of the Reinwardt Academy visited Hamburg. Normally, the visit would include art centers and museums. In this article, Bachelor student Maddy Schoonheim takes us along in this study visit, reflects on the museum from a heritage angle and looks ahead on the general potential of football club museums.

Hosting one another

Each day we had to visit a heritage related institution and had to show the relevance of this place to our fellow students. We all worked in duo’s and had the responsibility to host the rest of the group. I formed a duo with fellow student Nora and we both had little interest in football at the time. By the time of writing this, I’m in my final year of the cultural heritage bachelor…One more thing you might want to know about me: I used to be a big football fan.

A political interest in football?

In the preparatory weeks, Nora and I had to figure out what our programming was going to be. Naturally we were leaning towards an art related institution, a gallery or a renowned museum. In one of our lectures Fc St. Pauli and the St. Pauli neighborhood was first mentioned to us. Their leftist nature sparked our interest and was a new discovery for us in the football related world. We thought the program we could host for our group members who don’t have this association with the club yet could be very interesting and insightful for them. 

From a couple of e-mails to a parking lot

Through the network of Football Makes History we got in contact with Matthias Thoma from the Eintracht Frankfurt museum. We asked him if he had any contacts in Hamburg and we were then referred to Sönke Goldbeck from Fc St. Pauli museum. We talked through E-mail correspondence about our plans and asked if an impending visit in the time-slot of our study trip was doable. And before we knew it weeks went by and… suddenly there we were. Waiting in a parking lot in front of Millerntor Stadium, the grounds of FC St. Pauli. We were greeted by two amazing volunteers who let us inside of the museum which also functioned as a supporters home on match days. 

Nothing to celebrate, everything to celebrate

Going into the exhibition, it was wonderful to see how cult-status Club St. Pauli introduced themselves; in the best way a club with no particular great sporting accolades could. They first speak to the haters of the club, something which they also mastered in the stands of Millerntor. Whenever the opposing fans would chant another F*ck St. Pauli, the St. Paulians would respond to the opposing fans’ creative accolades with a round of applause. In this same manner they acknowledge that they have no trophies in the museum to admire but they do have a place for the hatred of these opposing fans. Because if there is one art the St. Paulians have mastered (as they said themselves into the introductive text) it’s “turning shit into gold”.   

Squatting the past

The main exhibition shows stories of former players and the known history of the club but it’s mainly colored in by the fans that run this museum. It tells the history of the relation to the squatting movement and how that ideology blended into the culture of the main group of fans. The museum gives you enough general football history but it also makes you feel the identity of a St. Paulian which is essentially one of the hardest things to capture in a classical museum setting. Clubs considered grander in the sense of trophies often fail to capture what it feels like to be a fan of a club in their museum. This again comes down to the way the museum operates. 

Fans at the heart

The main reason this museum came into fruition tells you enough about the fans that run the FC St. Pauli Museum. Located inside Millerntor-Stadion, this place was meant to become a Police station. Naturally the fans opposed this idea because having a police unit this close into the official grounds of the club didn’t feel right to the supporters. Not only did they just oppose the idea they thought further, if they were to protest the police coming there they might as well come up with a better alternative and use for this part of the stadium. From that point onward the current whereabouts of the Fc St. Pauli museum were found. This is what the whole concept of St. Pauli feels like to me. If you have a goal, something you stand for you should also actively show that and provide better options and solutions to reach those goals.  

Supporting values

This museum is an extension of a group of fans and it shows that. When I asked one of our kind hosts if the more left leaning policies and ideology is initiated by the board of directors or the fans itself, he replied with definitely the fans. He told me the reason he came to be a St. Paulian wasn’t because he was simply born into a St. Pauli family and followed the family line of clubs you can support. Instead, he actually started off supporting the rivals of St. Pauli, HSV. Then, once after a match he heard anti semitic chants on public transport directed at St. Pauli fans and decided that his current club isn’t the one he should follow because he does not stand behind what was said that day. 

What did we make of this?

Me and my fellow cultural heritage students felt that the focus on fans and values at St. Pauli was most positively striking. Before entering this museum, we had asked our group what their association was with football and it all came off as negative, mainly because of the nature of hooliganism and the lack of a safe space in stadiums. Seeing what St. Pauli stands for in the exhibition changed all of our minds about what a football club could be and what it can stand for. We could totally understand why St. Pauli has fan clubs abroad in The Netherlands for example. As far as I know there simply isn’t a Dutch club that appreciates the same values as St. Pauli in one of the top competitions.  

What about me?

When I grew up I adored Football. The sport was a true bonding mechanism between me and my father. As I finished my teen years and found more of my own identity something changed. I could still appreciate the nature of the sport but the culture surrounding it was not something I felt comfortable in anymore. For me football would become something I could still casually talk about with my dad, but going to matches or participating in the culture would start to feel hostile and uninviting. Visiting this museum and this club made me frustrated and a bit sad not by the club itself but because of the state of fan culture in The Netherlands. I know a club with values like this can work and can carry a large crowd of supporters who think and feel the same way about problematic topics because St. Pauli showed me how that can be done.

Find out more

You can find out more about the St Pauli museum on YouTube. The museum also has its own dedicated website.

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St Pauli Stadium [photo: Maddy Schoonheim, June 2023].
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