To most Rangers fans, there’s a historic fondness of Hamburg’s HSV. A footballing friendship which has spawned decades, with mysterious enough origins.
It’s something, which as a Rangers fan, has always intrigued me. Why? Well, firstly the similarities between Rangers and HSV are striking.
HSV is the dominant club of one of Europe’s traditionally working-class cities. A European footballing force from northern Germany, with a rich, trophy-laden history.
They also have an intense, cultural rivalry across their city in St. Pauli.
So, I booked a cheap ticket to a town normally associated with raucous stag-dos and went in search of one of its other defining features. Football and HSV.
Before I left, I’d been advised by a friend if I donned a Rangers top it’d make a huge difference in how I was welcomed. And it really did.
From the train ride from Hamburg’s Hof Bahnhof, all the way through the winding park path up to the foot of the stadium, their fans loved it. They clinked beer cans with me, excitedly asking me if I’d come specifically to watch their team and asked questions about Rangers.
As for the match, I quickly bought a beer, took my seat and soaked up the atmosphere. In true German style, their Ultras had no problem generating it.
In the crowd, fans were waving smaller examples of the famous blue and black union jack from their tie with Celtic in 2009, and their chants had a real similarity to those the Union Bears belt out at Ibrox. The two groups will have close bonds, given the history of this relationship.
Unfortunately, HSV couldn’t match the intensity of their supporters. They were rudderless and incredibly poor as they were hammered 3-0 by Ingolstadt to all but kill their promotion hopes this season.
The place was packed, the fans were raging, and the entire thing stank of Ally McCoist Championship season.
As I left, the support felt like the Rangers support that season too. We’d almost come to expect it and so had they. This was a monumental dent to their automatic promotion hopes, but there was nothing they could do. You either laugh or cry. Or drink.
Upon walking back down I was approached by a couple of supporters. They gave me a beer and started talking to me about football. And Brexit, everyone always wants to talk about Brexit.
One of the boys, Arnold, couldn’t wait to show me pictures from his trip to Glasgow in 2009. Hamburg beat Celtic 1-0. He was still so proud of it, despite it being almost a decade ago, talking fondly of the bears he met.
For the next few hours, I sat and spoke to a range of Hamburg supporters. Each of them had an affinity to Rangers, much more so than our supporters perhaps do to them. There was Rangers memorabilia in the bars, and several German fans wore red, white and blue bar scarves to the game.
This is a relationship they celebrate and have done for decades, as one supporter told me.
Named Maik, and in his 50s, he told me it is his dream to visit Ibrox. Maik also told me he had been following Rangers for years.
So, where does it come from, this relationship? That’s the hard part. Ignore chimes from the Eastend about this having something to do with their friendship with St. Pauli.
I was assured Rangers have had a presence in Hamburg long before Celtic were linked to HSV’s rivals. If anything, the opposite appears true.
It’s also said that the iconic Ibrox transfer and legendary success of HSV hero Jorg Albertz didn’t do it any harm. None of this has ever been officially ratified, but it’s touched on in this Vice article.
Now, it stands as one of Rangers, and HSV’s, most important European relationships. The exact origins of the friendship don’t really matter – what does it that it certainly isn’t going anywhere.
And if you get the chance to see it first hand, they’d be very happy to see you.