It has been noted just how much about Jackson Irvine and FC St. Pauli seems to mesh so brilliantly. If, however, you think that the Australia midfielder has come to merely bask in local life and play some football on the side, you would be quite some way off target.
The famous names jump off the page in this season’s 2. Bundesliga, from Schalke 04, Champions League semi-finalists ten years ago, to Werder Bremen, 2004’s Bundesliga winners. Hamburger SV, previous champions of Europe (1983), are in there too, but it is another part of the famous German city which currently has its iconic flag planted at the peak of the table.
With the curtain soon to fall on 2021, FC St. Pauli, one of the world’s most uniquely-popular clubs, have given themselves a very real opportunity over the coming months to seal a top-flight return for the first time since 2011. Die Kiezkicker’s cosmopolitan squad fits well with an Aussie who, along with his Aberdonian and Dutch heritage, crossed the world as a teenager for a sink-or-swim grounding in Scottish professional football.
That, though, only lightly skims the surface of why Jackson Irvine has felt so in sync with the renowned anti-fascist, activist club. One other fibre is undoubtedly music, and although arguably every club in football has some relationship with it, St. Pauli’s is a devoted marriage, that has also lost none of its anarchic adventure over time.
“There’s a few German punk bands who’ve sent me some stuff recently, which has been really interesting to listen to,” says the former Hull City and Burton Albion man, “A couple of labels have sorted me out with some records; I haven’t got my record player over here with me at the moment but I’m keen to check out a few more.”
Corresponding character traits aside, the 28-year-old brings considerable on-field calibre to the club he joined back in the summer. Featuring in each of Australia’s games at the last World Cup, the one-time Celtic prospect struck double figures in the Championship for Burton Albion in 2016/17 – not bad for a midfielder at the division’s supposed minnows.
This site has given footballers the chance to dive into a different realm over the past ten years, sharing a musical layer to their life that many perhaps didn’t know they possessed. In Jackson’s case, however, the secret has long been out.
The midfield man from Melbourne with the Lou Reed tattoo has been in bands in the past, encompassing metal and other genres. A sizeable part of what makes him the player he is, is how he did not grow up in a stringently-coached system, where the off-the-cuff element that can be game-changingly brilliant is sometimes lost along the way.
That is not the only way in which he could be described as a touch off-key.
“Singing for me is absolutely off the cards; I’ve got an absolutely shocking voice, as my girlfriend will testify to, because she has to deal with it all the time! But I played in loads of different bands in high school.
“We had a kind of circle of friends that I played with when I first started high school, and as we came through to 14/15/16 and linked with local guys and started playing more outside school as well. With that was eventually the band that we recorded with in the last years before I moved to Scotland.
“It was constant. I did music group performance as a subject at school as well, so we were doing it at an academic level, aside from playing for fun.”
Where do I begin?! I could not be more excited to play for this amazing club and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a member of this historic community. Let’s go! 🤎 @fcstpauli @fcstpauli_EN pic.twitter.com/KAHHNdQ4L5
— Jackson Irvine (@jacksonirvine_) July 5, 2021
The Scottish League Cup winner (with Ross County in 2016) was picking up a guitar as young as three or four years old, so where did that come from, and was there someone in the family who performed musically?
“It was definitely from my parents, but not really a musical family, to be honest. Music lovers in a lot of ways, but not people who were instrumentalists or from a musical background in that sense.
“I was very interested in toy guitars when I was really young; I used to love pressing the buttons and hearing sounds, and I think my mum recognised that I was very responsive to that kind of thing. That got me down the musical path quite early.”
Floods of bands have paid homage to FC St. Pauli, on stage and in song, and while the fan fabric of the club very much interlinks with other genres and their respective subcultures, punk is typically referenced, with its foundational principles long reflected in the club. Sven Brux was among those during the 1980s to find in St. Pauli somewhere he felt he could watch football again, free from the dominance of right-wing hooliganism that was so rife at the time.
The heart of the FC St. Pauli we see today grew from the realisation of spectators at games back then that there was acceptance. The message spread, between members of the punk scene who had previously supported neighbouring Hamburger SV and other clubs before being deterred, and those who were newly discovering football through St. Pauli.
Now head of matchday organisation and fan matters, having taken on various roles over the years, Sven embodies the club’s ethos and modern backstory, while also doing more to welcome and immerse supporters than could ever be condensed into an article. Of the vast pieces in the FC St. Pauli soundscape, which has included ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ since the 90s, he cites the significance of their hymn ‘Das Herz von St. Pauli’ by the Phantastix, which he describes as ‘a punky version of an old Hamburg-St.Pauli song’.
“Fifteen years ago, I wrote to the Guinness Book of Records, saying that FC St. Pauli is the worldwide club with the most songs made about it and existing on CD, vinyl, tape etc. – but they refused to take it!” he explains. “So, in 2010, at the 100-year anniversary, we produced a five-CD box set (‘St. Pauli Einhundert’), and since then, many more have been played and produced.”
“In the same year, we celebrated the club’s birthday with a big, open-air concert in the stadium, with a lot of bands from all over the world. All of the bands we know personally and are real supporters of the club.”
Sven was on the microphone that day as event moderator, as the unity and raucous harmony that football and live music at their best make you feel was fantastically captured. For Jackson, if he was to put a festival together, which performers from all-time would be headlining?
“Me and my girlfriend have actually played this game before, put your dream line-up together, except we do it with more current bands, so if it’s all-time…phwoar. There’s some big, obvious ones I’d kill to have seen live, like (Jimi) Hendrix, (Led) Zeppelin; the classic, festival, Woodstock-era bands.
“The Strokes are obviously still going, but I’ve never had the chance to see them, and I think they’re like the ultimate festival headline band. My girlfriend and me, we always argue if we had our dream one, would it be The Strokes or Tame Impala?
“They would be our headline acts of current bands, so I’ll stick them in there, too.”
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Part of his formative, personal soundtrack also happens to be right in tune with his values and ideals today, as he recalls.
“Billy Bragg was a big one with my mum. Billy Bragg and Wilco ‘Mermaid Avenue’, that’s one of the main soundtracks that I think of, especially my kind of younger years.
“I was very lucky that my mum had that interest, always playing more alternative radio stations and records as well. Particularly of home, I suppose it’s those Australian bands of the late-90s/early-2000s; Powderfinger, Jebediah, Something for Kate, those Aussie rock bands.”
For German influence in his recent listening, Stockholm songstress Molly Nilsson, who has for some time now been based in Berlin, gets a mention. Although the pandemic has understandably presented an obstacle, adding to his vinyl collection is ordinarily among his favourite pastimes.
“I love going into the smaller stores especially and trying to find local labels in the cities I’m living in, when I’m travelling and stuff. It’s pretty cool.”
Despite that vintage affection, St. Pauli’s number seven is very much from the CD generation, with The Offspring’s ‘Americana’ the first album he remembers buying. The catchiness of ‘Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)’ saw them cross into the mainstream like never before, and the single also may have contained the first German (sort of…) that Jackson ever knew: the Def Leppard-sampled ‘Gunter, Glieben, Glauchen, Globen’ line from Mutt Lange. German language tutors around the world shudder…
Jackson recalls what drew him to that album in particular.
“I think it’s when you’ve got that young, ‘rebellious’ nature in you, and that pop/punk/rock sound was a big part of things for a lot of kids who grew up in the late-90s/early-2000s especially. Offspring have obviously been around a lot longer than that, but that record in particular, it spoke to the young rebel in me!”
It is AC/DC’s ‘Hells Bells’, the opener from the classic ‘Back in Black’, that chimes and thunders out before St. Pauli home games. That choice arose from a discussion at the club offices about introducing some more modern music, and has been part of the Millerntor matchday experience since around the start of the century, as has the team’s goal music, Blur’s ‘Song 2’.
Although his persona is much more mellow than intense, Jackson will seek something with similar tempo and bite to listen to before heading out for kick-off. Away from match day, he gives a general glimpse into what is currently helping ignite his senses.
“At the moment, I’m listening to the new Idles album; that’s kind of been on repeat. I’ve been listening to a lot of synthy, indie pop.
“There’s a song called ‘Bad Feeling’ by Cobra Man, that’s been my song of the week. Really into a band called Pom Pom Squad at the moment as well, who are really cool.
“I’ve always got something new as it comes out.”
It could actually be said that the more sincere a bond you have with music, the less suitable you are to run the playlist for an unforgiving changing room of footballers! As he is asked of any occasions when he was team DJ, Jackson also gives the lowdown on the current sound set-up at St. Pauli.
“I have briefly; it never lasts long but I try my best! When I first signed here, I had a little injury in my first week, so I was spending a lot of time in the gym, and I had my phone linked up to it a lot at the start.
“It mustn’t have gone down too well because I haven’t been offered the opportunity to go again since! It’s Paqa (Leart Paqarada) on a match day, and in the gym, it’s mostly just whoever’s in first.
“Big Dennis Smarsch, he has his on quite a lot, and even our sport scientists, Christoph (Hainc Scheller) and Karim (Rashwan), they play their music quite a lot, too. It can be quite varied, which isn’t bad, but it’s not always quite to my taste!”
He reveals some of those who have held the role for other teams he has represented in recent years, starting with the Socceroos.
“More recently, Dom Sefton, the kit man, he’s the first man in, so he’s got everything firing; he loves his Aussie classics as well. It’s quite funny, the Australian national team sitting in the dressing room listening to INXS and Midnight Oil before a game – how stereotypical can you get?!
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“Mat Leckie, and Bailey Wright when he’s there, are two guys who are confident putting their tunes on. At Hibs (where the team were split into separate dressing rooms due to COVID), we didn’t even really used to play music much.
“Hull was definitely Reece Burke; the last two seasons, for sure, he was the main man for music in the dressing room.”
You don’t have to have ever been a professional player to appreciate how the customary tap on the glass can send shivers down the spine of a player in a hotel dining room filled with their new teammates and staff. While he may be a few steps ahead of most in football instrumentally, considering his self-confessed, sketchy vocals, has Jackson had many initiation songs to tackle in his career?
“I’ve had to sing everywhere I’ve been – except here! I think in Germany, they only do it in the training camp at the start of the season, and I was kind of a late signing, so maybe next season they’ll make me do it a year later and I’ll have to torture everybody.
“I’ll never forget my first song, when I was at Celtic when I was 17/18, the first time I went away with the first team. We were away at Inverness in this hotel, and you have to sing at dinner before the game, so I had to stand up on this table, and as I stood up, I hit my head on like a hanging light.
“So, straight away, everybody was laughing. Neil Lennon was the manager.
“I sang ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart, that was my go-to. That was a very memorable one.”
Following his stellar season at Burton Albion, his move to Hull City in 2017 saw him join a club only just out of the Premier League, with the prospect of helping them return there and getting to play in a global powerhouse of a league a tantalising opportunity. It is the club he has played the most for in his career to date, though he couldn’t have envisioned when signing his three-year deal that he would depart at the end of it in the midst of a pandemic, with the league season still not yet completed by the summer, and the team ultimately heading for League One.
He became one of numerous players in the Championship who saw their time at their respective club cut short, after an extension, be it long-term or just to cover the extended season, could not be agreed. It was not remotely how Jackson had wished his time there had ended, though when asked about which teammate(s) from his career he would record a cover song with, it is the team he instantly goes back to.
“Oh, that’s a good question. I have played with a few guys that have been quite musically inclined.
“Sean McLoughlin at Hull holds the candle of being the only person who recognised that my tattoo was Lou Reed on first viewing! Sean’s a bass player back in Ireland as well, so he’s definitely in the group.
“George Honeyman, he’s the frontman/singer; anyone who’s seen any of those clips knows that he’s got all the charisma. To be fair, from my time at Hull, we could have formed a decent little group at one point.
“If George is the singer, it’s got to be a showtune, it’s got to be something big. Maybe we could do ‘Immigrant Song’, Led Zeppelin, something like that, get him going.”
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He has certainly found himself part of a finely-functioning collective this season. As the action draws to a close for the calendar year, Timo Schultz’ St. Pauli top the 2. Bundesliga by a point after 18 games, with a 3-2 Hamburg derby win at home also secured back in August.
Ex-Charlton Athletic and Preston North End loan forward Simon Makienok is another member of the squad with a Championship past, as is the league’s current 14-goal leading scorer Guido Burgstaller, a Cardiff City signing during Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s tenure. Having played in four second-tier seasons during his time in England, Jackson gives his take on how life in Germany’s equivalent measures up.
“The games are definitely more controlled here. Maybe results-wise, it’s as unpredictable as the Championship, but the flow of games is definitely not quite as chaotic.
“I probably didn’t realise what an effect it has on you, playing so many games in the Championship. I feel like here, when you’ve got so much more recovery time and training preparation, the amount of tactical work we can do on the field during the week, I feel that definitely has an impact on the way you approach a game at the weekend.
“That’s one of the major differences that I’ve found so far. Definitely the cultural and footballing change that I was looking for at this point in my career.”
Together with settling into his first season in German football, while residing in a new country during a pandemic, he has been back to Australia, and to Vietnam, Japan and China on international duty in recent months. Away from training and matches, how much of his wider surroundings has he been able to properly sample since his arrival at the club?
“Obviously, the situation is starting to deteriorate a little bit, but the last few months as a vaccinated person, you’ve got good freedoms and been able to kind of go back to that normality. I’ve found my little locals and I’ve got one or two little spots.
“There’s a famous venue in Hamburg called the Molotow, which I’ve been to two or three times to see some bands; really cool vibes there. After Christmas and New Year, I think we’re going to see some more international touring bands coming back into it as well; I’ve got a couple of tickets to some gigs lined up in February.”
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He has so far been savouring his introduction to the St. Pauli story. When you have a club outside of the elite, with a history that has stirred the imagination of people from far and wide, the frequent re-telling of certain details can lend itself to misconceptions building here and there, alongside dissenting voices from outside.
Sven Brux notes: “People who don’t like us often say that we are officially against commercialism at football but are the club with the most marketing stuff, fan shops etc. The difference between us and most other clubs is we accept that we have to earn money because it´s necessary when we want to exist in professional football, but most of our commerce is the decision of every single fan.
“They can decide on their own whether they go to the fan shop to buy some stuff, or how many beers they drink at a home match, but we rebuilt the stadium with more than 50 per cent terracing. The members decided that the club is never allowed to sell the name of the stadium, there is no advertising in the stadium in the last seven minutes before kick-off, there are no stupid, sponsor-paid games at the half-time break, and no corners are presented by a sponsor.
“You see the difference?”
In a sport where integrity and even inclusivity are all too often relegated to the bench, they are pivotal players at St. Pauli. That especially resonates with Jackson at this point in his life and career, but make no mistake, the professional desire and determination that took the teenager who was dropped off at Barrowfield for his first Celtic trial to being broadcast around the globe in a World Cup continues to bubble.
“Absolutely. I think post-COVID, and the period of my career where, at 27, I found myself out of the game for nine months, you do kind of re-evaluate your priorities, in football and life.
“To experience a cultural change, and to be a part of a community in a football club like this, it all just fit together so nicely. Obviously, I’m so thankful that the club has given me the chance to come here and be a part of this.
“The success that we’re having on the field is definitely a symptom of the attitude of everybody that we’ve got here; everybody’s driving in the same direction and has those same values. For this point in my life and my career, it was definitely the most important thing I was looking for, as well as being part of a successful football team, which is ultimately why I play the game.
“I’m still very driven and career-motivated to push myself to play at the highest level, and the opportunity to potentially do it somewhere like this could be everything you want at once.”
Players will be instantly linked to what they did and where they played long after their last game. The entirety of their identity, however, is not football, and some would say that being engaged in other interests is particularly helpful.
His fondness for travelling will factor in strongly when he retires but is owning a music venue anywhere in the thoughts for Jackson?
“It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. Where in the world I would do it is probably more the question, but that would be amazing.
“It would be so cool to be somewhere where you can play your own music, book your own artists and be a part of a local music community as well. That would be super-cool.”
For now, he gets the chance to end on that exact, talent-booking theme. As has been the regular way to close these interviews over the years, the player is asked for a selection of teammates from their career that they would love to play alongside again in a small-sided game.
Rather than being asked to identify the outright best they have worked with, the emphasis is instead just on putting forward some examples of those that they know would bring ability and enjoyment. In Jackson’s case, a fitting ‘rock star’ line-up.
“If we’re going rock star players then John Brayford definitely strays into that position, there’s no doubt about that. Fraizer Campbell up front, for a guy that loves a party and a good time.
“Paul Slane, for anyone who listens to the Open Goal podcast; I played with Slaney (at Celtic) and he’s massive for a laugh. I’ll go Stevie Bywater in goal.
“One more…let’s go Martin Boyle; let’s get an Aussie-Scottish lunatic in there! So, I think that team is a recipe for at least three arrests!
“It would be a game of 5-a-side, it’d be three points, then a night in the cells for that team.”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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