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Saturday 5th April 2014 k 13.00

2 Bundesliga
SV SANDHAUSEN 2 (Blum 50 Adler 69)
FC ST. PAULI 3 (Gonther 55 Schachten 77 Rzatkowski 78)

Att 8,050

Entry Complementary (would have cost €11) for Stehplatz or terrace

Programme FREE

Badge €4

I’m not saying that the Baden-Württemberg town of Sandhausen is low-key, but when you turn off the autobahn and follow the football signposts, you end up at the stadium of FC Astoria Walldorf, who play in the 5th tier Oberliga Baden-Württemberg! It was enough to fool a significant number of St Pauli fans including one group who’d parked up their VW van, lit their barbecue and a cracked open a beer. We found the ground, spotted the error, and trusted the satnav and travelled the 4-or-so kilometres to the correct ground. It proved to be an interesting detour if you understand the recent history of the club.

Sandhausen is a small town that grew up around the growing of hops for beer and tobacco, although the latter is now restricted to just the one district. The Hardtwaltstadion is on the south-western edge of the town and the surrounding streets are shut-down by the Polizei on match-days so it pays to be early as there’s only street parking. Another tip for photographers is that many Bundesliga clubs do not allow SLR cameras in the ground. I took my compact, and immediately spotted a SLR being used, so it isn’t a hard and fast rule.

I joined the queue for a ticket, and was debating whether to go for a seat or to stand when I was tapped on the shoulder, and a complementary handed to me. That made my mind up I suppose! The ground reflects the club’s rapid rise through the Oberliga Baden-Württemberg, and the then third tier Regionalliga Süd. The club were founder members of the new 3 Bundesliga, and won it in 2012. The main stand has had a large terrace added to the right of it, and a huge temporary seated stand behind one goal. Floodlights arrived as late as 2011 and the result is a stadium that is functional rather than beautiful. What makes it remarkable is that is so very nearly never happened.

In 2005 the owner of SAP software, and TSV 1899 Hoffenheim, Dietmar Hopp wanted to merge Hoffenheim with Sandhausen and yes, Astoria Walldorf. ( I wonder if the St Pauli fans made it to the game?) His idea was to create a Heidelberg-based club with the capability of establishing themselves in the 1 Bundesliga. There was plenty of history within Walldorf, the club is after all named after Johann Jacob Astor who was born in Walldorf in 1763 and later emigrated to the United States where he became a successful businessman. His descendants, founders of the Astoria and Waldorf hotel chains supported the town of Walldorf and the new football club, formed in 1908, was named Astoria in his honour.

That history was not likely to be lost easily and when Sandhausen and Walldorf rejected Hopp’s approach, he concentrated his efforts on Hoffenheim funding both their new stadium, the Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim 22 km away from Hoffenheim, and their meteoric rise through the divisions to the top-flight.

Despite the ground being nowhere near its 12,100 capacity the walkways seemed full, and the queues for food (7 types of sausage available!) and drinks long. Sankt Pauli are always a draw at this level, people being attracted by their fans social conscience and Ultra culture. Certainly the visiting fans were right behind their team throughout the game, and produced a stunning display of pyro’ and banners before kick-off.

The catch was is that for the vast majority of the game those fans had little or nothing to cheer. The first half was a litany of missed passes and lack of ambition, but the second was a different matter altogether. Sandhausen’s best player Danny Blum took advantage of a defensive howler to fire his team into the lead. St Pauli soon equalised, Gonther heading home, but Sandhausen regained the lead through Nicky Adler taking full advantage of a suicidal Jan-Philipp Kalla pass.

That could, and maybe should have been it, I certainly thought it would be but two goals in a minute won the game for the visitors. St Pauli counter-attacked and a diagonal ball found Marcel Halstenburg on the right. He looked more than a little off-side as he took the ball, but carried on forward before his cross found left-back Sebastian Schachten working the  left channel beautifully. He volleyed home for the goal of my weekend, never mind the game.

That shell-shocked Sandhausen and their misery was completed a minute later when Marc Rzatkowski was on hand to tap home after Manuel Riemann could only parry Halstenburg’s cross out to him. It was quite a turn-round but the anger on the faces of the home faithful was a reminder of how they felt about the genesis of St Pauli’s second goal. I strolled over towards the away end, where the party had started. Not for too long you understand, there was another ground to find, a game to see, and a story or two to discover. I returned to the car with a real sense of two clubs with identities, St Pauli’s wrapped up with what they stand for and Sandhausen’s with their town. That is something that the likes of Dietmar Hopp and others in the higher echelons of football should consider more deeply.