Admittedly, this weekend in Bundesliga was a touch more quiet than usual, what with the absence of noise following goals scored replaced with heavy grunts and the shifting of feet from supporters. While this was undoubtedly an aberration as brief as those breaks Mario Gomez takes from scoring to admire his hair these days, it does provide us with an opportunity to observe how this season thus far has been slightly, well, bland. Now, please don’t mistake this as claiming Bundesliga lacks in any quality or has been packed with as much excitement as a full Serie A matchday involving fewer goals than can be counted on one hand.
Rather, if we were to press play on the old tape deck to hear the music of this early campaign, that song would be rather monotone, equally measured, and completely deterministic. Instead of an anthem that would find us blowing fire out of our nostrils and make our ears bleed from the chaotic din of it all, we have enjoyed a comfortable waltz thus far, one that has us tapping our toes for a brief spell but not quite getting us up on our feet yet ready to dance. Or if you prefer, think of the campaign to date as being a slow jam at your high school prom when you were wanting that one killer rock song to play in order to break out your reenactment of a scene in Footloose.
Granted, Hannover 96 did the entire league a favor over the weekend by pipping Bayern Munich, closing the gap at the top between the Bavarians and a still reviving Borussia Dortmund, but the slightly normal mood extends beyond just the results on the pitch. Many of the “clubs in crisis” have been ones to expect ten matches in, other than Hamburg SV’s brave attempt to make a Bundesliga dinosaur extinct in the top flight. This has denied us the unintentional joy of hearing the crazy coming out of last season’s Felix Magath-led Schalke 04.
Also gone are the odd linguistic stylings of former Wolfsburg trainer, stunning Schteve McClaren, when discussing the woes of crying wolves. Instead of claiming he’s being crucified like the Messiah in Köln, Faryd Mondragon decided Philadelphia needed a bit of Jesus, so we are left with nothing but Norwegian musings. VfB Stuttgart have yet to chafe under Bruno Labbadia thus far this campaign, and not having the Mercedes-Benz Arena in general fan revolt just doesn’t generate that much excitement. While there might be some rumblings at the BayArena over Robin Dutt’s early tenure with Leverkusen, supporters and club wouldn’t be as overly dramatic should Bayer’s form dip further as others, and perhaps that could be down to the narcotic effects of all those pharmaceutical fumes in the city air. Even Marko Arnautovic has attempted to be less controversial than in the past (at least off the pitch), and until he gets another tattoo against club rules or lets us know more intimate details of his current girlfriend’s measurements, we are left with Werder Bremen being normal.
The league needs a little “Hell’s Bells.”
While FC St. Pauli fit the German top flight worse than leather gloves on famous American athletes, their brief spell last season recalled us ever so much to the roots of the game itself and how even a campaign ending in relegation can be something to be celebrated. Blasting AC/DC prior to the players taking the pitch at the Millerntor as home supporters wave Jolly Roger flags presents a somewhat menacing and rough appearance to this neighborhood club–which would be a correct assumption in the main–but beneath the Kult persona there exists a unique romanticism other clubs cannot quite duplicate and the league could never manufacture on its own. When St Pauli are not in the first division, we somewhat miss this wonderful texture they bring to the narrative of German football.
Watch the players entering to the sound of AC/DC’s Hells Bells. There is nothing quiet like it anywhere else in the Bundesliga.
Last season was beautifully flawed, with eternally-tenured club servant Holger Stanislawski’s squad of part-time police officers and 1.Bundesliga cast-offs seemingly destined to go right back down to the second division. Although they started brightly enough in 2010/11, the goals soon dried up as St Pauli’s small squad built on the lowest wage budget of the league was unable to keep up against the greater quality of their opposition on a weekly basis. The lack of goal scoring became such an issue that at one point during last season, captain Marius Ebbers sought out psychological counseling to discover the source of his own inability to contribute on the scoresheet. As the season wound down, FC St Pauli were unable to escape the drop right back down to the 2nd division while Holger’s yeoman’s work was rewarded individually with a longer stay in the top flight at Hoffenheim.
In Ebbers’ tale, as with other stories that emanated from FCP over the season, we experienced directly unique issues far too often overlooked in a league desperately seeking an appeal to the wider footballing masses. Much like the anniversary of Robert Enke’s suicide elicits reviews of mental illness and the pressures on today’s modern footballer, the story of Ebbers seeking help in identifying his sudden shyness in front of goal spoke not only to this issue but also to the amount of pride some players still have not only in their performances but also to how they represent their clubs and communities. At a time when players go straight to the media to blame trainers, a club’s facilities, or the fans for their poor performances, there was Ebbers finding fault with himself and demanding of himself what more could be done to make St Pauli a success in the top flight.
What St Pauli also throws into the face of Bundesliga is the very issue of a contemporary club’s soul and what something being “for the good of the club” truly means. Last season St Pauli put this question to the league and its fans over their decision to allow showgirls in a designated executive suite at the Millerntor Stadion as well as toying with the inclusion of more advertising in the park. On the one hand, having the girls from Susi’s could have been interpreted as a community endeavor and the synergy of having a local business setting up shop within the stadium on matchdays when they would otherwise be competing with the club’s patrons for attention sounded just the sort of thing a neighborhood club would do.
As the Reeperbahn has never been considered a place for the naïve schoolboy, though, we’ll go ahead and dismiss the normative issue of strippers in the stadium.
The decision to allow Susi’s in the Millerntor was resolved between the club and their supporters with a compromise of a sort, but what really divided officials from their Kult followers was the consideration of more advertising boards around the pitch. Red flags flew, social romantics demanded officials get their heads screwed back on, and the club had to have a serious heart-to-heart with their fan groups. The pursuit of additional revenue and the sacrifices to football aesthetics and club values made in that pursuit became fodder for discussion in light of the issue slowly disappearing in top European leagues bloated with cash and commercial incentive.
Certainly, these are football topics as delightful as a toothache, but the absence of such owing to St Pauli’s residence in 2.Bundesliga currently allows mainstream coverage of German football to gloss over them far too easily. The fun factor, though, comes with having the club playing the same division as current Bundesliga strugglers Hamburg so their derby can be experienced by all. With FCP having spent so much time in the lower divisions of late, coupled with HSV’s stubborn refusal to ever be relegated, these decidedly fierce matches are denied being played more often. The depth of passion from both sets of supporters bleeds into the play on the pitch, with February’s Hamburg derby–decided by a lone goal from St Pauli’s Gerald Asamoah–capturing so many of the elements that draw us to this beautiful game.
So, while HSV’s points total thus far suggests they would be joining the Kult club down in 2.Bundesliga, they will likely not remain there by season’s end, so it is down to St Pauli to be promoted again to the top flight. Early returns on their 2.Bundesliga campaign indicate this as a possibility, but the 2nd division hosts such a number of talented clubs bunched closely together, their quest for promotion will be a season-long initiative. Should new trainer André Schubert win the trick during his first season in charge, it would be a welcome return to being back in black after a potential Bundesliga season of soft rock.
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