After the visit to Düsseldorf I was having a re-think about how I viewed German football in larger stadiums. A few years ago I visited Borussia Mönchengladbach and was struck by just how much different it was to top flight English football. It was all about the fans, who in return didn’t get ripped off by the club. Mönchengladbach who became very famous after their European Cup exploits in the 1970s with fans crammed into the steep sided Bokelberg stadium to watch the likes of Günter Netzer, Berti Vogts, Jupp Heynckes, Uli Stielike, Rainer Bonhof and Allan Simonsen. In 2004 they moved to the new 54,000 capacity Borussia Park but by building a large terrace into the new stadium they’ve managed to keep the tradition and the atmosphere alive. But my last visit to Borussia Park was way back in 2007. Was Düsseldorf now the tepid norm?
So, after being greeted outside the Hauptbahnhof by a motley band of chanting 1.FC Köln supporters holding up a sign saying “Welcome to the nicest city in Germany”, we made our way out to the RheinEnergieStadion on the packed number 1 tram from Neumarkt in the direction of Wieden West. They run special trams on matchdays marked up as E-RheinEnergieStadion. They seem to run every couple of minutes but it was still busy. Our tram seemed to take longer than necessary whether down to my aching back, the excitement of seeing a new stadium and/or being cramped on the tram. But 15 minutes or so later we got off at the stop for the stadium and made our way in. It has these wonderfully tall towers in each corner with support wires that remind me of suspension bridges.
The RheinEnergieStadion is the replacement for the old Müngersdorfer Stadion and sits on the same site as the former stadium on 999, Aachener Strasse. What a great address eh? It was renovated in 2003 to be ready in plenty of time for the 2006 World Cup. The city missed out in 1974 after the stadium went over budget as wasn’t finished until the year after the World Cup. Cologne’s loss was Dortmund’s gain back in 1974. The new ground was built at a cost of 120 Million Euros.
1.FC Köln or the Die Geißböcke (The Billy Goats) as they are known as after a succession of goats were named after legendary player and manager Hennes Weisweiller. Rather ironically he went on to manage Viktoria Köln and then moved on to a hugely successful period with hated rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach. Weisweiler then had a season with Barcelona before coming back to 1.FC Köln from 1976-1980 during the period when the club won did the league and cup double in 1978 (the league by goal difference over Mönchengladbach) and one other cup success in 1977. They also finished as cup runners up in 1980 with a team including Tony Woodcock, Dieter Müller, infamous goalkeeper Harald Schumacher, Pierre Littbarski, Bernhard Cullman and Bernd Schuster. For the record the club were formed out of the merger of two clubs in 1948 to become the largest side in Cologne.
Since Weisweiler left in 1980 there have been, believe or not 32 different mangers in charge. One per season on average. Stability is not a word I would use to describe this. The 32nd appointment since Weisweiler is current incumbent Holger Stanislawki who spent 18 years at St Pauli as a player and manager and then left them to manage Hoffenheim where he was sacked in February 2012. 1. Not surprisingly given the instability FC Köln have experienced since Weisweiler’s departure they’ve got themselves a reputation in recent years as a yo-yo team. Lukas Podolski left at the end of last season for Arsenal after rejoining from Bayern Munich in 2009. Current manager Stanlislawski seems to have his budget and his work cut out after last season’s relegation from the 1st division.
We took our seats in the 2nd tier again. It was even steeper than the away end at Boston United. The Fan Kultur protest was in force but it didn’t stop the playing of the club song created by local band Höhner (The Chickens) who sing in the local Cologne dialect. It’s a song loosely based on the “Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomond” which everyone sings, or tries to. It’s quite a stirring number and has a nice tempo change (accompanied by vigourous scarf waving) as the players take the field. It’s all very impressive to a wide eyed Torquay United fan where Robert Miles’ “Children” used to be played through portable Saisho speakers. But’s a better song than Mönchengladbach’s “Die Elf vom Niederrhein” even if Hennes won more managing the Foals than he did for the Billy Goats. Aber Scheiße Borussia Mönchengladbach!
The game itself was bloody awful. A couple of mid table teams with Köln having trouble scoring more than a goal a game so far in the season and opponents FC Inglostadt (the team heavily backed by Audi) suffering from the same illness. Funnily enough as the German leagues went into the Winter Break both teams had identical records of P19 W6 D8 L5 F22 A21 Pts26. On loan forward Anthony Ujah (from Mainz) looked the most likely to score and did so on the stroke of half-time with a decent header. It proved to be enough for the Billy Goats who held on after their wonderfully named goalkeeper Timo Horn made a couple of decent saves as FC Inglostadt pressed for an equaliser. I stood at the top of the stand in the 2nd half. The words “steep” and “breezy” best describe the experience.
The slightly manufactured attendance figure of 38,500 was announced in a stadium that holds 50,000. Not a bad turnout considering the current position of the team but not as good as the average gates that Mönchengladbach were getting a few seasons back when they were in the 2nd division. What the home fans must be hoping for now is to emulate their rivals and build a sustainable ethos on home grown talent. I hope that they do as they seem to be more of a proper football club than most. It seems to me that you could make a comparision of Köln and Mönchengladbach to Nottingham Forest and Derby County. Two clubs with successful periods, both sharing the same legendary manager and both yo-yoing between divisions. I think most of our party enjoyed the trip to the Müngersdorfer. We all bought club hats and looked like authentic idiots on the tram back to Neumarkt. I now have a goat on the back of my car.