The recent bad weather, and unexpected snowfall put pay to my chances of a second local non-league mid-week derby in a row. AFC Hornchurch v Barking, and other local non-league games were all cancelled. This meant I had an enforced break before my Bundesliga debut.
This weekend I, along with my six-month pregnant wife, made our way to the German city by train to sample the Christmas Markets, watch some football and hopefully get a sighting of Hennes VIII.
Refreshments: £4.50 (Bratwurst and chips)
Star man: Milos Jojic
Who are ya, FC Köln?
FC Köln, or ‘Effzeh’ as they are often known, was founded in 1948. The club was an amalgamation of several other clubs based in the city.The new club began life in the Oberliga West. This was the highest level in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, which at the time was part of the British occupation zone. Effzeh won their first Oberliga title in 1954 and were runners up in the National Cup Final (DFB-Pokal) the same year. Köln won the Oberliga title in four successive years from 1960-63. During this time they appeared in three national finals, winning just once in 1962.
Following their triumph in 1963 Effzeh, along with four other teams from Oberliga West, were invited to form the brand new Bundesliga. Their winning ways continued as they were crowned the inaugural Bundesliga Champions in 1964. Köln won its first DFB-Pokal in 1968 but had to wait until the 70s for the next, and final, title win. They also won a league and cup double in 1978. The club’s most successful European run came in 1986 when they reached the UEFA Cup Final losing 5-3 to Real Madrid.
- Köln entered the European Cup for the first time in 1962 and were one of the favourites. They went out in the first round after losing 8-1 to Dundee FC.
- Köln were knocked out of the 1964-65 European Cup Quarter Final Stage after a toss of the coin against Liverpool. The coin had be tossed twice after it landed vertically the first time (not sure I believe this).
- The club holds the dubious distinction of the worst ever Bundesliga goal drought. They went 1034 minutes, or 11 and a half games, without a goal in 2002.
FC Köln had been struggling in the League and were bottom of the Bundesliga table with only three points to their name and no wins. Effzeh had only one point from their last five league games and manager Peter Stoger had been sacked at the beginning of the month. A week before my visit they were 3-0 up against Freiburg but lost 3-4, conceding two penalties in injury time.
Wolfsburg were towards the lower end of the table with three wins and ten draws to their name. They had, however, won two and drawn two of their last five league games and were looking to move up the table. Wolfsburg had well known players such as Mario Gomez and Divock Origi to choose from in their squad.
The FC Köln experience
Train: The RheinEnergieStadion has a couple of tram stops within walking distance and is easily reached from Neumarkt and other locations in the city centre. The tram is also free with match tickets.
Car: The stadium is set back from the main roads in its own complex, so may be tricky to reach by car. Your best bet would be to park in town somewhere and jump on the tram.
We made our way to our hotel’s local tram stop. There were already a few fans, wrapped up in red and white scarves and hats, gathering on the platform. The tram was crowded with football fans and tourists enjoying the delights of the Christmas market. It was standing room only until we passed the main markets in the centre where a few people alighted for some mulled wine and precisely carved wooden Christmas ornaments.
As we got closer to the stadium we could see plenty of home fans on foot and lots gathering in nearby bars. We got off the tram at the RhineEnergie-Stadion stop and headed towards the main entrance. There is a large, square archway as you enter which perfectly frames the view of the stadium in front of you. You then walk down a less crowded and more picturesque version of Wembley Way, past stalls and the odd food stand to the Northern end of the stadium.
There is lots of space around the stadium and this theme is continued in the concourse areas inside. There are areas for fans to eat and drink in the lower and upper sections of the stands, although most of the food and drink is available on the lower level. I sampled a Bratwurst and the quality was similar to that available within the crowds of the popular Christmas markets.
The stadium has an industrial feel to it, which matches the general feel of the city. It’s a uniform two tier stadium with four clear stands that all fit together. The lower section of the Southern stand is a standing terrace large enough for around 8,000 home fans. There is also a small standing area for away fans in the North East corner. Another notable feature of the stadium is the rectangular pillars in each corner that become illuminated in red and white as daylight fades.
The arrival of the players is preceded by the entrance of the club mascot, Hennes the goat. He’s led out to great fanfare and stays pitchside to lend his support to the boys in red and white. On this occasion he failed to last until the final whistle as the heavens opened with around 20 minutes to go. He also seemed to be fairly skittish whenever the ball came near him. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to help his side’s struggles on the pitch any time soon.
As the players come out the crowd erupts into their own version of The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond and it is sung with some gusto. The singing continues for the majority of the game, usually instigated by the masses on the Southern terrace. When they begin a chant the rest of the stadium soon rise from their seats and join in. The atmosphere was consistent and led by the crowd and less reactive to the game situation than in England. There was still an edge, however, and on this occasion the referee was often the pantomime villain.
After the game finished the away fans were efficiently put on a tram back to one of the city’s main stations. Fortunately, for us this station was next to our hotel and we managed to get on the front of the tram with a few other home fans and stern but helpful local police officers.
FC Köln strike for first win of the season
Köln gave youth a chance for this encounter and fielded their youngest average lineup for 50 years. The home side started well and looked to pinch the ball from the visitors in midfield and catch them on the break. Wolfsburg started a little more slowly, but looked as though they still carried a threat in the final third through Origi and Gomez.
Effzeh created a few chances in the first half, usually from attacking wide positions but their finishing was poor and the visiting keeper was barely troubled. Most of the incidents revolved around some inconsistent refereeing decisions.
In the second half Köln kept up their intensity in midfield areas, and they also began to create some better chances. Jojic hit the crossbar mid-way through the second half and Klunter also went close. The visitors continued to look dangerous on the break, and neither side looked like they wanted to settle for a draw.
With 23 minutes left Effzeh got the vital break through. Jojic’s clever pass played Clemens through and he managed to find the net, despite the ball being slightly behind him. Wolfsburg pushed for the equaliser, but the home side refused to shut up shop. There were a few heart-stopping moments for the home fans in the last 20 mins but they managed to hang on.
Final thoughts and ratings
My first Bundesliga experience was well worth the trip and the hours spent at the crowded Christmas markets were enjoyable too. The overall feel around the ground was relaxed and fun, despite the home side looking likely to be relegated this season. The away fans were lively even though there weren’t that many of them.
Ticket availability – tickets were easy to get and there were a few empty seats. 9/10
Website/social media – FC Köln have a very helpful English website and twitter account. I was also sent a pre-game email with information about the stadium, it was in German though. 8/10
Travel – transport around the city is very easy, and the stadium has its own tram stop as well as others nearby. 8/10
Ground – a very impressive stadium that fits the landscape of the city. It also has WiFi. 9/10
Food and drink – there is lots of good quality food and drink available at the stadium at a good price. 9/10
Programme – the programme offered was a simple fold out sheet, but most information could be found on the website via the stadium WiFi. 7/10
Atmosphere – atmosphere was brilliant, and lots of the crowd stayed after the final whistle to celebrate Effzeh’s first win of the season. 9/10
Football quality – a good, exciting game where both sides looked to attack. There was, however, a lack of quality in the final third. 8/10
Cost – our tickets were £40 but there are plenty of cheaper options available if you book early enough. 8/10
Matchday experience extras – Hennes is an entertaining part of the pre-match routine and there are a few other bits going on around the stadium. The spacious concourses are good too. 8/10