Football is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of New York City.
Still, two Major League Soccer clubs call this city home – New York City FC and New York Red Bulls, with Brooklyn-based New York Cosmos playing in the North American Soccer League since 2013. Additionally – and more interesting for us – New York is abounding in fans of the most diverse European football clubs, as well as their pubs. This relates directly to the constant circulation of people from Europe through the city but also reflects the general tendency of supporting (at least) one European club among the American football fans. It varies from a high number of organized and sometimes official fan clubs, through pubs with association to a certain football club or a league, to just people randomly watching games in sports bars.
Many of the pubs which screen the European leagues have a license allowing them to open and sell alcohol in mornings enabling their guests the full experience of watching live football in a pub- although at breakfast time. One of these is the football bar Banter in Brooklyn which has the official NYC FC license but generally also screens the Premier League. Moreover, the bar’s patrons can arrange to watch any game of their choice there- providing there is no Premier League match on. On weekends, the pub opens at 7 A.M. and is full of people watching football and having a beer with their breakfast. Because of this early morning tradition, the slogan of the pub is "Football Never Sleeps", which actually very nicely summarizes the general dynamics of keeping up with both European and US football in America.
I went there with my NYC accomplices Diane and Alexa, in the evening however, thus with no match on. Our plan to request to watch a certain match there on Sunday morning didn't work out either, but only because we opted for a later brunch instead of getting up (and drinking) at 7 A.M. Anyway, this is one of those rare American sports bars that don’t look sterile with a very random splash of football related merch on the walls just because a sports bar is supposed to have some. There seems to be a genuine atmosphere and a real interest for football here- this might be because the owners are really football fans or because the pub bought me over right away with the Celtic FC scarves on display.
Watching and supporting St. Pauli in NYC
Anyone into German football beyond 1. Bundesliga, with a desire to watch a game in a pub and is not currently in Germany is always going to be short on options regarding where to watch second-division Sankt Pauli playing.
Unlike in many cities in the United States, this is not a problem in New York because of FC St. Pauli NYC (aka East River Pirates). It is a supporters club that organizes watching all St. Pauli matches together, among other things. One Friday night in May, Diane and I, together with two more friends from Berlin, set out to watch the match against Kaiserslautern in East River Bar in Brooklyn. East River Bar is situated on the ground floor of the former paint factory right under the Williamsburg Bridge. This place cannot be compared to any typical American sports bar but it rather resembles the pubs around Millerntor stadium in Hamburg, because of its dark and slightly tattered appearance. The scarves, flags and framed jerseys of FCSP and its NYC supporters group contribute to that impression. There is a Biergarten-style outdoor area behind the pub with a great mural of the East River Pirates' easily recognizable logo depicting the Statue of Liberty. This is where we happily stay after the match until the late hours. By the way, the pub is not a sports bar at all, but the group has an arrangement with the owners to organize their events there. When not observed from the perspective of sports bars, it should probably be said that it's actually quite a normal Brooklyn dive bar.
Unlike the previously mentioned pubs that open early in the morning for live football and most of the official football fan clubs in the United States, the FCSP New York supporters rather watch the matches on a tape delay in evenings. Taking the time difference into consideration, this means that they watch a match hours after it ends. I really have no idea how they manage not to find out the results during all those hours. My attempt to remain blissfully unaware of the match during the day ends in a failure. Although I remember to delete or mute all football-related apps from my phone, I forget about the various social networks where I follow a dozen or so FCSP related pages (as well as the fact that several friends are going to the stadium that day.) Thus, I spontaneously break our agreement to stay completely uninformed right away and I enter the pub with the knowledge of the result and who and when scored (1:2, Bouhaddouz in the 49th and Buchtmann in the 69th minute for FCSP). Great.
The match is projected to a wall from a laptop, using the page fcstpauli.tv. This is far from ideal. The sound is turned down and the German commentator can be barely heard, which is understandable but also strange for us who find the commentary important. The picture freezes from time to time. However, the tape-delayed and bad quality characteristics of the viewing do not spoil the atmosphere among the supporters, whether they know how the match went or not. Around 30 people have obviously gathered just because of the match, most of them wearing some variation on the theme of the FCSP official club logo or the skull and crossbones. A miscellany of chants are sung the entire time, sometimes in German but also in Spanish- someone kindly explained to a rather confused us that those are from the NY Cosmos supporters, who some of the FCSP guys also belong to. Almost everyone seems to know each other. The atmosphere is quite similar to watching an away match in Jolly Roger, but definitely with more serious jumping and chanting involved.
East River Pirates
St. Pauli NYC is a group "non-established" since 2008. They say for themselves that they seek to "provide a home-away-from-home for FCSP fans" through watching matches tape-delayed "in convivial camaraderie while upholding the proud St. Pauli tradition of standing firmly against racism, sexism, homophobia, and fascism". As Shawn, one of the group members, tells me, around half of the group grew up in Germany in or around Hamburg, so they support the club because it's their local team, making the NYC group really a home away from home for them. There are some other stories there too. Shawn was brought to a match in East River Bar 3 years ago by a friend who knew she liked football. St. Pauli just fit right away for her, because: "the people were great and the politics were right".
Christiano Erazo tells his story: "As an immigrant from Ecuador soccer has been one of those things that's always been around me when I grew up, never missed a world cup. But even more so than a soccer team FC St. Pauli represented the left community broadly, and that is what sparked my passion for FC St. Pauli". He adds that the passion towards FCSP brought him together with the NYC supporters and people who share the same ideology and love towards the club both throughout NYC and the rest of the world. He finishes with "The East River Bar will forever be brown!"
Being part of the community
The political dimension is obviously very important for the group and that's precisely what attracts new members to the group and supporting the club. For Shawn the group is a place where like-minded people can get together every week. She continues: "We also share information about actions that are going on so those who are able can show up and we can be there together. Some of our group are more politically active than others, but politics shape a lot of how we build our club and, for example, the causes we decide to raise money for." As she explains, being part of the wider St. Pauli global fan community connects the NYC group also to international politics, so they try to balance their efforts in supporting both their global and their local communities.
The group keeps in touch with the other international fan clubs through personal contacts and social media, especially with the well-known supporters groups from Yorkshire and Glasgow. Also, as Shawn tells me, they have a lot of friends among the local fans in Hamburg and many of them visited them, some even lived in New York for a few years and were very active members of their fan club before returning home to Germany. Most of them have seen at least one match at Millerntor. Unfortunately, unlike the fan clubs from the UK and continental Europe, it is very hard for them to arrange to travel to Hamburg together and they still haven't managed to do so, but they talk about it every year. Besides that, a couple of the active members of the FCSP NYC are big supporters of New York Cosmos and they connected the group with the fan community there. As Shawn tells me, they go to a few Cosmos games every year and the Cosmos fans join them at East River Bar when they can, being really integrated in the St. Pauli community.
Collecting donations and organization of fundraising events is one of the most important activities of the East River Pirates. Every year they choose a cause to support and raise money for throughout the year from donations at the matches. As Shawn summarizes, this year their focus was on legal assistance for immigrants in New York and last year they helped the groups that help the homeless. I ask how they decide about the specific causes to raise the money for. She replies "We try to identify an organization to donate to that has a philosophy we agree with and that will appreciate the donation of a few thousand dollars that we raise each year."
The fundraising activities also contribute to strengthening the connections among the St. Pauli fans and it's an important aspect of belonging to the large international community of St. Pauli supporters. Besides their regular initiatives, the NYC group sent a significant donation and support to the 1910 e.V. initiative for a St. Pauli museum at Millerntor, something many of us have been looking forward to for years. The weekend after the Kaiserslautern match, the group organized another whole day fundraising party for Viva Con Aqua, the now already huge international water initiative that came out of FCSP in 2005. They collected almost 3,000$ in a day during which they barbequed, watched the game against Bochum, had a concert, an auction and all kinds of fun activities organized. The special shirt made for this occasion is at the same time my favorite New York City souvenir ever – with the inscription “No Human is Illegal” in all languages of players and coaches of FC St. Pauli.
Regardless of one's opinion about the North American football fan culture (and FC St. Pauli and their fans for that matter), the East River Pirates look like a great group of people whose idea of providing "a home away from home" to the fans of FC St. Pauli doesn't seem like just a phrase. Although I didn't socialize with all of them as much, the matches and other events of this group are definitely a friendly space where a leftist football enthusiast will feel more than welcome. That's what definitely makes them special among the vast number of football fan clubs of New York City and why yet another article on St. Pauli fans is worth writing.
P.S. I'd like to thank Shawn for replying to my questions (and Diane and Alexa for putting up with me the entire time). Keep up the amazing work and see you next year! I hope someday your dream will come true and I will see all of you together at Millerntor.