NEW YORK – When FC St. Pauli comes to Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium to face the Cosmos Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the event will not only be the first international friendly the club has hosted since 1985.
It also will be the culmination of an interwoven history and friendship between two supporters groups that have made their mark in the Big Apple and developed a strong friendship over the better part of a decade.
The East River Pirates, one of the foremost St. Pauli supporters’ groups in the U.S., were founded 10 years ago out of a desire to support a professional soccer team that was in line with New York values. For Sören Thode, one of the founding members of the Pirates, the ethos of the club the group was founded to support is about more than just the game.
“To me and I believe to many more, I think being a St. Pauli fan means that you can create your own space,” he said. “You are carrying a message that says you care about people and your surroundings. It means that soccer can be inclusive. It means that you don’t have to hate every other football club your team plays against.”
It was from these individualistic roots that East River Pirates were born with the help of a few members of the Borough Boys Supporters Group, who went on to be integral in the 2013 Cosmos reboot. From this intertwined beginning, a long friendship was born.
“Back in the day, many early Cosmos fans organized in Manhattan Celtic bar, Jack Dempsey’s,” said Anthoney Stephens, an original Borough Boy and longtime Cosmos supporter. “Spending so much time shoulder to shoulder with Celtic supporters much of their mentality rubbed off on us and sharing friendships followed soon after. A group of Cosmos fans together with several St. Pauli supporters living in New York founded the East River Pirates. Now 10 years on, the East River Pirates and Cosmos fan friendship is our longest and most enduring.”
Over the years, the East River Pirates and Five Points have supported each other’s efforts, through thick and thin, on and off the field. Members of ERP have been found in the stands at Cosmos games for years as well as chipping in for the section’s philanthropic and social awareness efforts.
Five Points members have gone to East River Bar for viewing parties and donated gear and money to bi-annual Viva Con Agua events, put on by the Pirates to support St. Pauli’s global clean water initiative. For Stephens, the two clubs are polar opposites on the field but both work towards a common goal.
“Historically speaking the clubs couldn’t be more different on the field,” he said. “Ours is a much younger club with a star-studded history being the original galacticos, with the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer, and Chinaglia. St. Pauli with a much longer history bouncing between the Bundesliga tiers. In those differences we use football to create the world we want to live in. St Pauli with their history of taking on causes for the social good, and the Cosmos using their history and star power to bring their style of football diplomacy to the world, even being the first American club to play in Cuba [in more than a generation] to help the normalizing of relations between the two countries.”
Added Chrsitian Erazo, a ong-time member of both groups: “I think what brought us together was not only the overlap in members, but the similar ideology that drives each base of supporters. For me, as a member of both groups, being a St. Pauli and New York Cosmos supporter means supporting the idea of football for all. We’ve always tried to create a party atmosphere centered around those values and love, and I think May 23 will show that.”
Not only is the friendly 10 years in the making, it is the culmination of years of work for two supporters’ groups that believe in existing to resist. They go against the grain, tread their own path, and can’t wait for this once in a lifetime match.
“It means everything,” Thode said. “It’s like a dream comes true. “It shows what is possible if fan groups work together. The long and tight relationship between the East River Pirates, the Borough Boys, and more recently Brigada71 certainly put in a lot of effort to make this match a reality. We are very proud and we want to show the world who we are, what we do, and that there are no borders and no limits if you share the same passion.”