“Since 2016, we have already raised around 4,500€ for charities and we hope to take this much further in the future.
“We are also committed to fighting all forms of discrimination, not only in football but in the wider community too. We have players of all races, religions, cultural and political backgrounds and as a result we are the perfect advert for what tolerance and multiculturalism can achieve in society.”
Hamburg Hurricanes are not your usual eighth tier football club. Founded by English expatriate in 2011, the Hurricanes offer much more than a field to kick a ball around. The German club help expatriates from all over the world settle into their new homes and has also done more than its fair share to help the local community. Not bad for a club which started off life as a simple forum post.
The Hurricanes caught my attention especially due to the fact they were formed by an Englishman and have fielded many more English players during their existence. I caught up with the club’s founder, Luke Webster, a man who had already helped set up a club back in his hometown of Southampton before making the move abroad, to find out more about this unique club.
English Players Abroad: First things first, why did you first move to Hamburg and how long had you been thinking of the idea of setting up a football team before you first made the post online? Did you have any previous experience of running a football team?
Luke Webster: I moved to Hamburg with my wife (who is from Hamburg) in 2011 after we had lived together for five years in Southampton.
I had played football competitively back home for many different clubs but have been involved with running clubs since I was 20. I was a founding committee member of a Southampton Sunday League team Sporting Compass which was started as a works team for a shipping company I worked for at the time. When the company was sold a year later and most employees left or were made redundant, I was left as Chairman, club secretary, treasurer, team manager and kit man! It was a lot of work but nothing unusual in grassroots football all over the world. I learned a lot about running a football club and although we were not particularly successful on the pitch, the club was one of the most enjoyable, friendly and open minded clubs I have played for and they are still going strong 13 years later.
When I first moved to Hamburg I was actually more focused on joining an existing club as this would help me settle into the German way of life quicker but after a trial with a local club it was obvious that while speaking almost no German it was going to be very difficult to find the kind of playing environment I had at Compass. That’s when I decided to look online and see if any other like-minded expats were also struggling to find a quick and easy way to enjoy some football. I realised quite quickly that there was a lot of potential and with my background in running clubs I settled on the idea of working towards an official league team consisting of international people.
EPA: How long did it take to go from a casual kickabout to starting up an organised league team? Was it easy to liaise with the local FA to enter the Hurricanes into the league?
LW: The very first kickabout back in March 2012 saw six people attend. After a few weeks we were consistently at around 10 which was perfect for what we needed initially. But over time the group grew to well over 50 members and eventually in Spring 2013 we regularly had 20-30 people joining the kickabouts. This was no longer workable and it was at this time that we decided organised 11-a-side football was the logical next step.
We initially joined the Hamburg Freizeitliga, which is a more relaxed hobby league and is not a part of the football pyramid in Germany. This meant that there was not too much paperwork involved but we have always had a strong core of native German members who have been vital in the club’s progress, particularly with the club’s switch to the official German league system, without them the club simply would not exist.
EPA: What sort of standard are the first team currently playing? Would you admit that winning has become more important now that you have progressed through the leagues?
LW: The first team are currently in the Hamburg Kreisliga which is step 8 on the German league system. After two consecutive promotions we are expecting our progress to slow a little as the quality of our opponents is much higher.
First and foremost, we are a football team and, therefore, on the pitch we play to win – but it is extremely important to us not to lose sight of what our clubs stands for and we will not sacrifice those principles for short term success.
EPA: How much do enjoy getting to spend time with the many nationalities in the Hurricanes squad and how do you help newcomers settle in to the club?
LW: This is easily the most enjoyable aspect of our club. Our members are all in Hamburg for very similar reasons but often come from vastly different backgrounds and without a football club to act as a focal point, many of us would never have come in contact with one another. I have personally benefited from meeting so many different people and learning more about their own cultures and I am a much more open minded person as a result. Also from a footballing point of view, it is a real challenge for our coaching team to build a strong and successful team with a mixture of so many different footballing styles and cultures. I also think this can be a huge positive for us as well though, as we have the ability to find a real balance to our team, with a backbone of European work-rate and determination complimented perfectly by African power and athleticism as well as flair and creativity from South America.
In terms of integrating new players, this mostly revolves around beer! We always try to have a drink in our clubhouse after training or organise watching matches at Paddy’s Bar, our sponsor.
In general we try to ensure that every single member understand what it means to be a Hurricane. They were all new once and remember how hard it was moving to a new country, this means that each and every member takes some responsibility for getting to know the newcomers, this for me is the most rewarding part.
EPA: How does the football in Hamburg differ to what you were used to in the UK. Is it a different style of play, for example, or are the referees more strict?
LW: Referees are perhaps a little more strict here but this is often because our playing styles are so different, most of our British players for example really struggle to adjust when they first arrive as they are used to fighting hard for every ball and putting in big tackles whenever possible. Football in Germany, like with most of mainland Europe, is more focused on using the ball intelligently and staying on your feet is an important part of that.
EPA: I have seen online your club has mentioned social, environmental and political causes, would you say off the field matters and issues are more important to the Hurricanes than other clubs as you play an important part in helping expats settle into a new environment?
LW: This is definitely a big part of our identity. Lots of clubs support local charities but with our unique set up we have the potential to reach people much further afield and therefore have a bigger impact.
As our club grows and gains more followers we hope to use this as a platform to raise money and awareness for a wide range of causes.
EPA: How proud are you that your forum post has gone on to spawn a football club like no other? Could you have imagined it to have ever gone this well?
LW: I am immensely proud. I had an idea from the very beginning that it could become something very special but I honestly did not think we would achieve what we have done so far. But it is a huge team effort and every single player, committee member, sponsor or fan that has been involved since that first kickabout back in 2012 have all played their part. It is now a very strong and self sufficient club that would have a bright future regardless of who is in charge and that is very satisfying for me.
EPA: Finally, how far do you think the Hurricanes can realistically go? Are you hoping for more progress up the leagues?
LW: From a footballing point of view, I think we will always be a bit limited to how far we can go as our team of expats is changing massively every season. Many of our players are here for work or study placements for one or two years which means we are forever recruiting new players and ability levels can vary a lot – so a promotion squad one season could be much weaker by the time they play the next at a higher level. This is the big challenge we face. Most other clubs in Hamburg will have players come through their youth teams and could expect a group to play together at the same club for 15 or 20 years, this consistency is a big advantage at the higher levels, but we will always stay true to our roots as a club for expats, it’s just a question of when we will reach that limit.
In terms of what the club can achieve off the field, I personally think there are no limits and I believe we can make a real impact as the world’s best amateur club by playing good football, having fun and having a positive effect on the wider world through football. This is our long term aim and to achieve this we need to find more supporters so please please follow us on social media and become a part of the Hamburg Hurricanes story!