From Portland to Hamburg, through Spain to Italy and on to a leafy London borough, we look at six of the worlds most achingly trendy football clubs
Considering the word hipster conjures up images of trendy and pretentious bearded, beanie-wearing, over-priced cereal-munching Nathan Barley types in tapered trousers and ironic Buddy Holly spectacles, you could be forgiven for presuming it to be well, perhaps just a mite pejorative. These bastions of self-awareness arent everyones glass of Fernet-Branca and generally dont refer to themselves as hipsters, presumably on the grounds that they presume gadding about Hoxton on a pogo stick or micro scooter to be completely normal behaviour and it is everyone else whose behaviour is odd. Besides, its not them to whom the term refers, its those other guys who look and act just like them in an outrageous bid to copy their unique style.
Although its precise origins remain mired in debate, the fairly recent introduction of the term football hipster into everyday parlance continues to amuse. A term of mockery for the kind of people who claim to find The Blizzard too mainstream, it used to describe a demographic who revel in the obscure by taking an interest or at least pretending to take an interest in niche aspects of football culture to which the greater general football-following public remain happily oblivious.
They are harmless folk: weekend warriors, kicking against the pricks and railing against the soullessness and venality of modern football, which they quite rightly claim to abhor. By extension, through no great fault of their own, certain football clubs have become symbols of football hipsterdom and many of them seem to have a lot in common: an almost blanket lack of on-field success, a history of anti-establishmentarianism, the status of plucky underdog, a nice away shirt, hated rivals they regard as sellouts, trendy sponsors (or ideally, no sponsors at all), subsidised tickets, ties to various charities, a good relationship with their local community, and a tradition of grand gestures and tolerance towards minorities often traduced by supporters of more mainstream clubs.
Many, needless to say, are owned or part-owned by their fans and have almost certainly featured prominently before now at some point in the Guardian, as youll see below. A weird number seem to have ties with Celtic Football Club, a longtime global brand but often cited as the original hipster outsiders, in so far as any institution dreamt up by a Catholic clergyman can be considered cool. Here then, for your delectation, are six fantastic football clubs dotted around the world to whom an emerging generation of modern football hipsters have hitched or will continue to hitch their wagons.
Of course, in this live-and-let-live world which features the comical desperation of many football fans to chisel out offence where none is intended (see the comments under last weeks Joy of Six for examples), its worth pointing out that if a club in which you happen to take an interest happens to appear on the list, that doesnt make your support inauthentic in any way. Those other Jeremy Come-Latelys might be bandwagon-jumping tossers muscling in on your club generating much-needed atmosphere and revenue, but its you who is the genuine fan.
1) FC St Pauli
Ground: Millerntor-Stadion (capacity: 29,546)
Location: St Pauli, Hamburg, Germany
League: Zweite Bundesliga
With their unappealing brown colours, undeniably cool and iconic skull and crossbones crest and steadfast devotion to worthy causes, St Pauli were perhaps the first club to sear themselves across the hipster consciousness in recent decades. OK, so Birkenhead rockers Half Man Half Biscuit prompted a rush on Dukla Prague away kits with their famous 1986 Trumpton Riots B-side, but in their day the Czech club were a serially successful army outfit who produced a Ballon dOr winner in Josef Masopust, so are in no way obscure enough for our purposes. St Pauli, by contrast, have enjoyed only modest success by comparison, yo-yoing up and down the top three tiers of German football, spending a lot more time out of the Bundesliga than in it. These days, they can be found in Germanys second tier, where they currently sit handily in third place.
St Pauli is and will always be a social, caring club, explained their club president Oke Gttlich in an interview with Uli Hesse reproduced in the Guardian. We will always take a stand against racism and homophobia, always look out after the weak and the poor, because its important for us. Its in our blood. With his team flirting with relegation from the second division at the time of the interview, Gttlich went on to stress the importance of the club not losing their focus on the equally important business of not falling behind their rivals in football matters, their consideration for societys weak is what earned them their place on this list.
St Pauli is the community based football club of a working class area of Hamburg of the same name. Their Millerntor-Stadion can be found within walking distance of Hamburgs famous docks and red light district the Reeperbahn, where their club shop sits cheek-by-jowl alongside various dens of iniquity, selling branded tat of every stripe and shade (well, stripes of green and white, as a nod to Celtic with whom they enjoy a fraternal bond, along with shades of brown and black), does a roaring trade from which they actually make very little money thanks to a woefully ill-advised, but endearingly rubbish business deal forged to save the clubs future some years ago.
A bog standard football club until about 30 years ago, St Pauli first adopted the philosophy that would later make their name a byword for trendiness in the mid-1980s, when their transition into a Kult phenomenon began in earnest and the club developed a left-leaning reputation due to the nature of an emerging fanbase of students, anarchists, hippies and punks, along with various sexually permissive, socially active and aware residents from the down-at-heel tenements surrounding the red light district where St Pauli is based. At a time when European football was being poisoned by right-wing extremism, their refreshingly liberal views provided a welcome antidote to footballs ills.
Having traded on their low-rent brothel of the league image, increasing their average attendance from smaller than 2,000 to crowds often numbering 10 times that amount in the intervening years, the club has since successfully survived a dangerous flirtation with liquidation, beaten their fierce rivals Hamburger SV on one occasion and developed a reputation as a caring club that conducts countless good works for charity. They are emphatically against discrimination sexism, homophobia, fascism of any kind and have become perhaps the most famously cultured club in Europe albeit one that sells branded snow shovels in its ludicrously over-priced souvenir shop for an eye-watering 37.
2) Real Oviedo
Ground: Nuevo Carlos Tartiere (capacity: 30,500)
Location: Oviedo, Asturias, Spain
League: Segunda Divisin
It is the club of Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, Michu and Adrin. For a very short time it was the club of Stan Collymore, although unlike the quartet of aforementioned Spanish luminaries, the former England international spent an unhappy spell there and ended, rather than began, his career at the Nuevo Carlos Tartiere. Currently playing their football in Spanish footballs second tier, where they sit comfortably in mid-table, Real Oviedo last troubled the top flight 13 years ago and could, as recently as last season, be found languishing in Spains second division B, the countrys third tier. A notoriously difficult prison from which to break out, last season they finally escaped after years of struggle in which their very existence was consistently undermined and threatened.
Our own Sid Lowe has previously provided in-depth analysis of their struggles (much of which has been shamelessly plagiarised here), having helped hawk thousands of the shares that helped secure the clubs future and make Oviedo fans and owners of us all. The short version: back-to-back relegations from La Liga in 2001 led to the local government withdrawing their support for the club on the back of an unedifying political wrangling. Many suspected plans were being made to eject the club from the municipally-owned stadium in which they play.
Mobilising to save Oviedo like so many fans at so many clubs before and since, supporters protested, raised funds and secured a stay of execution in what came to be known as Espritu 2003 (the Spirit of 2003). A lot done, more to do: the clubs woes continued, with the Spanish businessman Alberto Gonzlez taking a controlling share in 2006 before absconding from Spain to escape arrest for fraud. Once again, Oviedo were plunged into crisis, one that was averted in a highly publicised international share issue that secured both the clubs future and ultimately its hipster status.
With fans on the board and requiring 4m to secure Oviedos medium-term future, a share issue was planned with stakes in the club going for 10.75 a pop. Spearheaded by Michu, Mata, Cazorla and Adrin, who dipped into their own pockets while simultaneously publicising their boyhood clubs plight, the money flooded in from other players, other clubs, fans of Oviedo and fans other teams, not least a massive contingent of Guardian-reading football enthusiasts seduced by the publicity drive. In two weeks 1.93m worth of shares were bought by more than 20,000 people in more than 60 countries, wrote Lowe at the time. Small shareholders alone had rescued the club in the short term; long term viability was secured too.
It was secured largely through the efforts of a pair of a journalists and Oviedestas named Paco Gonzlez and Marcos Lpez, who somehow convinced one of the worlds richest men, the Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, to come on board and invest over 2m. His subsequent investments in the club have made him the majority shareholder but alongside him, shoulder to shoulder, stand more than 40,000 crazy hipsters located in 190 different countries around the world, thousands of whom have since made pilgrimages to cast an eye over their investment. Unsurprisingly, they are invariably welcomed with open arms.
3) Portland Timbers
Ground: Providence Park (capacity: 21,144)
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
League: Major League Soccer (Western Conference)
Viewed as grizzled, backward and unsophisticated woodsmen and hippies by fans of the neighbouring Seattle Sounders, the Timbers made global headlines this year after eliminating their hated MLS West Conference rivals from this seasons US Open Cup in a particularly wild encounter that led to three Sounders players (including Clint Dempsey, who snatched the referees notebook from his pocket and ripped it to pieces), being sent off. The fourth franchise based in Portland to call themselves the Timbers, the current incarnation joined MLS in 2011 and it is their current batch of devotees who have developed something of a reputation for hipsterish fanaticism in American soccer circles.
The Timbers are very well supported, having never failed to sell out the 21,144-capacity Providence Park, where name rights are paid by a not-for-profit healthcare provider and the waiting list for season tickets, capped at 15,300, currently numbers more than 10,000. In the north end of Providence Park, a 4,000-strong group of ultras known as the Timbers Army provide raucous, smoke bomb enhanced support led by the clubs official mascot Timber Joey, a lumberjack who saws a round of wood from a large log each time his team scores; a trophy to be presented to the goalscorer after the game (their goalkeeper also gets one for keeping a clean sheet). In predictable hipster fashion, the Timbers offset any potential damage to the environment caused by Timber Jims exuberance by ensuring a tree is planted for every goal scored.
Their crest is also achingly hip, including a circular shape that signifies unity, wholeness and the pursuit of perfection, as well as a giant axe that behoves their status as grizzled, backward an sorry, the Pacific Northwests famous logging industry. Three chevrons arranged to resemble a pine tree represent the Timbers participation in three different leagues: the North West Soccer League, the United Soccer Leagues and Major League Soccer, while the ponderosa (translation: dark green) and moss (translation: light green) shades of their shirts represent the forests of their home state of Oregon.
Any doubt that might remain about the undoubted hipster status of the Portland Timbers was surely dispelled in 2011, when in a feature explaining the simmering and endearingly sweet hatred Sounders and Timbers fans (who, in so many ways, look and think exactly alike) reserve for each other, the Wall Street Journal listed some of the refreshments on sale to patrons of Providence Park: barbecued-tofu sandwiches, spinach salads and chocolate-covered bacon. Try asking for any of those particular snacks at Anfield, Old Trafford or the Emirates and see how far you get.
In terms of actual football ability, the Timbers who number former Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Brom defender Liam Ridgewell among their ranks are fairly accomplished. Theyve made the MLS play-offs twice since joining the league in 2011 and will play the second leg of their Western Conference semi-final against Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend. Should they win, they could face the Sounders in the final.
4) Rayo Vallecano
Ground: Campo de Ftbol de Vallecas (14,708)
League: La Liga
Location: Madrid, Spain
Described by the former manager Jos Ramn Sandoval as the last of the Barrio teams, Rayo Vallecano made headlines last year when players and fans of the club chipped in to re-home Carmen Martinez Ayudo, an 85-year-old woman who had been forcibly evicted from her house by police as a result of the financial crisis. Unbeknownst to Carmen, her feckless son had used her flat as security on a loan he was unable to repay and the lender had demanded the property instead. Its what we had to do, said the Rayo manager Paco Jmez, upon being quizzed about the clubs wonderful gesture. We couldnt just stand there; we will help her so that she can live somewhere with dignity and not feel alone. The following day during Rayo Vallecanos home win over Celta Vigo, fans unfurled a massive banner declaring: The evictions of a sick state, the solidarity of a working-class neighbourhood.
It was Rayo in a nutshell. The only high profile Spanish club named after a specific city quarter, Rayo Vallecano is the football team of Vallecas, a staunchly working class area to the east of Madrid and like most of the clubs featured here, their fanbase is defiantly left-wing and raucously opposed to the commercialisation of modern football.
When not rehousing homeless pensioners, they regularly protest about late kick-offs and the apparently random last-minute changes to Spanish fixtures for television purposes. Hailing from a neighbourhood where residents of every colour and creed are welcome, they remember with fondness the England international Laurie Cunningham, who was killed in a car crash while a player for their club in 1989. Their former captain Jos Movilla was once a bin man and remained active in the union throughout his playing days. Tucked in among the neighbouring tenements, their Campo de Ftbol de Vallecas stadium boasts one famous end that is exactly that: a concrete wall. Theres a soul here. Theres something about this place: every second something happens, from the first minute to the 93rd, Sandoval once said. Thousands of throats carry us, like the wind. It never stops; they never stop.
More recently, Rayo Vallecano further enhanced their hipster credentials by unveiling a new away shirt with its traditional diagonal stripe replaced with rainbow colours to represent the fight against homophobia, with each separate colour signifying a separate cause to which the club donates: the fight against aids, against child abuse and domestic violence; the fight for disability rights, for hope and the environment.
If any other club had done it it might have jarred, reported Sid Lowe. When Rayo did it it felt right somehow. If there is a club that should express a sense of solidarity with various groups then its Rayo, because it feels like it fits that discourse, it fits that narrative, it fits that self-identity.
5) AS Livorno Calcio
Ground: Stadio Armando Picchi (capacity: 19,238)
Location: Livorno, Tuscany, Italy
League: Serie B
A left-wing Tuscan port that was opened to all wannabe colonists in the 15th century, Livornos history as quite the cultural smorgasbord goes a long way towards explaining the reputation of local football fans as card-carrying leftie communists. Indeed, it was in Livorno that the Italian Communist Party was founded in 1921, so it should come as no surprise that nearly 100 years later, tributes to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro can often be seen on the Curva Nord at Livornos Stadio Armando Picchi (named after the former Italy international sweeper who began his career at the club), where supporters who take immense pride in the ramshackle nature of their crumbling stadium can be found wearing camouflage jackets, occasionally waving Palestinian or Irish flags (they also have links with Celtic) or putting on carefully choreographed displays of the prevailing ideology and belting out rousing renditions of Bandiera Rossa (The Red Flag). Whatever about not being in Kansas anymore, youre certainly not at a Lazio game. This is hipster heaven.
One of the original Serie A sides, playing in a stadium once named after a daughter of Benito Mussolinis daughters, of all people, Livorno currently play in Italys second tier having spent recent decades in and mostly out of Serie A. Perhaps the highlight of their entire existence was a 2-2 draw with Milan on the opening day of the 2004-05 season, when travelling supporters of the newly promoted side spent the entire game mocking the then Italian president Silvio Berlusconi.
Boasting up to 10 different Ultra groups, the best known collective of Livornos hardcore fans is the Brigate Autonome Livornese 99(Autonomous Livorno Brigade), from whom the clubs most famous former player, Cristiano Lucarelli, Serie A top scorer in 2004-05 and a local lad who wore No99 on his back in honour of the aforementioned ultras. He famously rejected better offers to leave his hometown team from other clubs during his four-year spell by saying some players buy themselves a Ferrari or yacht with a billion lire; I just bought myself a Livorno shirt.
A self-confessed admirer of communism and Guevara, Lucarelli has the Livorno club crest tattooed on one of the forearms that were integral to his famous double-clenched fist goal celebration and enjoyed two largely happy spells at the club before his retirement in 2010. He once courted controversy by paying for a bus to transport Livorno ultras who had been arrested for rioting at an away match and had Bandiera Rossa as his mobile ringtone, adding to his own and his beloved clubs hipster credentials.
6) Dulwich Hamlet FC
Ground: Champion Hill (capacity: 3,000 [500 seated])
Location: Dulwich, south London, UK
League: Isthmian League Premier Division
While Livorno is located in Tuscany, Dulwich Hamlets Champion Hill stadium merely resembles the Italian region. At least thats what one indignant and rather deluded local resident told a council meeting in the late 1980s, as he attempted to block the south London clubs efforts to get a new stadium built on the decrepit environs of decidedly unexotic-sounding Dog Kennel Hill.
Prompting much mockery by likening what was then a fairly grim neighbourhood to the diverse and natural landscape of Tuscany, he suggested its panoramic vistas would be spoilt by the introduction of a new supermarket and accompanying football ground, which in 2013 became the first in London to become an asset of community value. This classic exercise in nimbyism prompted an amusing terrace chant which endures at Dulwich Hamlet home games to this day: Tuscany! Tuscany! Were the famous Dulwich Hamlet and we look like Tuscany!
Some will argue that Clapton FC and their ancient Old Spotted Dog Ground should be Englands representatives in this Joy of Six. Others might think Lewes FC and their celebrity shareholders, organic burgers and comedy match-promoting posters deserved the gig. Manchesters rebel alliance FC United and the newly trendy Class of 92-owned Salford City were also considered, but it is the fairly recent surge of support led by south London Nathan Barley types that has ensured Dulwich Hamlet have for the time being at least stormed front and centre in the pantheon of non-league English football clubs its become extremely fashionable to cheer from the terraces.
Although they play their attractive brand of free-scoring, free-conceding football in the seventh tier of English football, the Isthmian League, Dulwich Hamlets hipster credentials are second to none. Unusually for an English football clubs kit, theirs is blue and pink. Unusually for an English football clubs manager, theirs is black. Indeed, the current issue of local freesheet, the Brixton Bugle, carries a prominent story in which the man in question, Gavin Rose, lauds supporters for organising the first Black History Month exhibition in English football history. Last year, Dulwich Hamlet became the first non-league team to publicly back the gay rainbow laces campaign against homophobic abuse in football. More recently, they hosted the first anti-homophobia friendly by taking on Stonewall FC, Britains first openly gay mens football team. Indeed, so genuinely left-leaning and right-on are Dulwich Hamlet, their players and fans almost certainly felt guilty for spanking their guests 6-0.
At Champion Hill, match tickets cost 10. You can enjoy the football while drinking locally brewed craft beer and bratwurst from pop-up stands. You can stand on the terraces. You can smoke. Their self-styled ultras, The Rabble, throws its weight behind politically liberal and invariably worthy local causes, including a food bank and the campaign to pay employees at Brixtons Ritzy cinema the living wage. A campaign is currently afoot to introduce fan ownership of the club, while women and children are not only welcome, but actively encouraged to attend. Dulwich Hamlet fans have also forged an official friendship with the German club Altona 1893. Many of their male supporters are young, look like students and sport the kind of beards that require actual time and effort to maintain.
Small wonder, then, that many of the monotonously predictable and sneery comments that appeared below a recent Observer feature on the club (yes, of course theres been a Observer feature on the club) dismissed all concerned as a shower of bandwagon-jumping hipster wankers. It seems such is the price one must pay these days for the very heinous crime of enjoying yourself and having a good time at the football.