These days FC St. Pauli enjoys a cult status amongst football fans in Europe. Left leaning politics, and a rock ‘n’ roll attitude has made the club hugely popular all over Europe. But, the buccaneers of the league didn’t start out as a rebellious club. After WW2 the club was for a brief period even amongst the best teams in Germany. Here is the story about “Die Wunderelf”.
The year is 1910, and football is considered to be the “English disease” in a Germany ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm. But, the sport is gaining ground amongst some young man. Some of the come from St. Pauli, then a suburb of Hamburg. The ” Hamburg-St.Pauli Turnverein” opens a football branch. From now on all the kids from St. Pauli who want to play football, play there.
No bastion of rebellion
23 years later Adolf Hitler grabs the power in a Germany that still is torn apart by the First World War. One of the first orders of business for Hitler is to indoctrinate the youth. Football clubs, and other youth organizations are now run by Hitler’s SA.
The same goes for St. Pauli. President Wilhelm Koch is at first protesting the Nazi’s use of St. Pauli’s stadium and training grounds for their events. Koch writes that these areas shouldn’t be used for anything else, but football. In the end Koch folds under the pressure of the regime, and becomes a NSDAP party-member in 1937.
World War 2
1939: World War 2 breaks out. Football is amongst the least of concerns of the citizens in Hitler’s Germany. Towards the end of the war Hamburg is barely recognizable. A shimmer of its former, glorious self.
But, the Hamburg district is one of only three districts that manages to organize a championship for the local clubs during the years of the second World War. St. Pauli participates in that league, but isn’t anywhere near winning the Hamburg championship during the years of the World War.
Meatballs and sausages
1947 play resumes in Hamburg. The city is currently being rebuild, and the other pleasures of live have slowly returned to the forefront of the populations mind.
St. Pauli play in the Oberliga Hamburg. On their team plays the former Dresden player called Karl Miller, who started out at St. Pauli in the early 30’s. His father, Karl Miller sen, runs a butchers shop in Hamburg. Miller lures a number of the best players from Dresden to St. Pauli. Former German finance minister and life long St. Pauli supporter Hans Apel explained this migration of the players in the German documentary “Mythos St. Pauli”:
“There came this guy, and he told the players three things. First of all, the Russians can’t catch me, the club will have a fantastic stadium in the near future and they can give you food. That was worth more then a giant transfer fee, or anything else back then.”
Member of “Die Wunderelf”, Harald Stender, told the makers of the documentary that he still remembers his former team mate Karl Miller vividly.
“He told me once that I should come to the shop. Karl Miller and Karl senior were both butchers. And when I came to the shop Karl took me to this little room at the back of the store. And he gave me sausages.”
Besides sausages, Miller sen and his son gave the players of the team meatballs and other meat based products that were hard to come by in a time when food rationing was normal. Miller senior’s meat lured some of the best players in the country to St. Pauli. The club that had always been in the shadow of the big and mighty Hamburger SV was suddenly turned into one of the best clubs in the country. “Die Wunderelf” was born.
Miller’s meat had an immediate effect on the results of the club. 1947 St. Pauli win the district championship in Hamburg. Amongst the players who played for the club in that season are one time German international Alfred “Coppi” Beck, Heinz Hempel, Josef Famula, Walter Dzur, Heiner Schaffer, Heinz Köpping, Fritz Machate, Rolf Börner, Hans Appel and “Tute” Lehmann. Even future German national coach Helmut Schön couldn’t resist Miller’s food, and played a couple of matches for the buccaneers.
“Die Wunderelf’s” run continued until 1952. After the win of the Hamburg championship the teams were reorganized into a different a league system. The Hamburg teams played now in Oberliga Nord, which included the best teams from Northern-Germany. St. Pauli managed to grab the second place in the table four years in a row. The team reached the quarter finals of the German championship twice in that period as well.
A return to glory?
After 1952 St. Pauli’s Wunderelf was dissolved, and the club returned to its former anonymity. The buccaneers are not surprisingly not amongst the 18 teams that form the Bundesliga i 1963. The fans have to wait until 1977 to watch their team compete in the highest tier of German football.
The club has a couple of stints in the Bundesliga as well in the 90’s, and one in the 00’s. Last season promotion came as surprise for most of the people who follow German football. Having said that, the team as done well so far. 28 points after 25 games is better then most experts expected, and winning the away match against Hamburg put a big smile on the face of every St. Pauli fan. This season the team can once again brag about having defeated the mighty dinosaur of the Bundesliga. If this team manages to manifest its position in the Bundesliga, maybe the second “Wunderelf” of the FC St. Pauli will be born. Only time can tell.
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