Tens of thousands of people roamed the streets of downtown Cologne, Germany, on the night of Monday, April 21, 2014. A soccer game that had taken place earlier that evening had elicited the colorful celebrations.
Soccer is the element that electrifies this city. Although 1. FC Köln haven’t been competing for national titles, not to mention European titles, this club is at the center of the talk of the town. The stadium is practically sold out every time, and red and white pennants, flags, and other items that demonstrate the love the people of Cologne have for their billy goats (as they are kwon nationwide because of their mascot) can be seen all over town. There is a certain fascination attached to the club that goes beyond tradition and titles from the past – past as in the 1960s and 1970s.
People painted the town red because a 3-1 victory over mid-league rival Vfl Bochum had sealed both the club’s promotion to the first division (called Bundesliga) and the second division championship.
I can’t tell when exactly my interest in this team began. I know that the first game I’ve ever attended took place in 1993. They played Kaiserslautern – a team they had made it a tradition to lose against. And that’s what they did that Saturday afternoon (0-2).
But it must have been something about the atmosphere that boosted both my father’s and my own interest. It wasn’t the same stadium, and at that time attendance wasn’t even close to what it is nowadays. But from that moment on we couldn’t stop going to see them play. The 45-mile drive couldn’t stop us; neither could their mediocre play.
By 1998, the visits had become more frequent. The season wasn’t going well. Celebrating their 50st anniversary, Cologne got relegated to the second division for the first time. Being both one of the last “founding fathers” of the Bundesliga to have stayed in the league without interruption and its first champion back in 1964, the summer of 1998 was a major change.
I got my membership with the club as a birthday gift from my parents just weeks after this relegation. And we decided to get season tickets for the following season.
The 16 years that followed have been a roller coaster ride. Last week’s promotion was the fifth one. Only time will tell if it’s the last one. Which would be what fans would deserve. The number on my membership card is 4,250 – the club has just announced their 60,000st member this week, and aims to break the magical barrier of 100,000 soon.
The club went through a rough time beginning a few months prior to the last relegation. After heaving experienced a splendid first half of the 2011/2012 season, things went downhill after the Christmas break.
While the players forgot to collect points, the club’s president resigned. The manager was sacked weeks later – the coach didn’t last much longer. Despite hectic efforts to get the ship back on course, the its sinking could not be prevented.
But a new crew was aiming for salvage. A new presidential team, a new management, and a new coach were only the beginning. Most of the older and expensive players that had caused the trouble were told they could find new homes, regardless how difficult and costly that might become for the club.
Last season became a transitional one. With one more change, yet another new coach, the current season was supposed to be the one that would bring the team back to where it belongs.
And the season went fine. When I left my post with the end of the first half of the season, they were on top of the league. The lead wasn’t enormous, but it was looking good. And the teams consisted of a healthy mixture of young, talented players and experienced players that could make the difference.
I was in the library when it happened. It wasn’t a question if they would make the promotion anymore. It was more a question of when it would happen. Too stable a season had they played, too shaky had the rivals’ performances been.
Thanks to some fortunate results over the weekend, it was clear: win that game and the party could begin. Both the promotion (first two teams go up directly, while the third placed team has to face the third last team from the first league to decide who ends up in which league) and the second division championship would be theirs – not that the latter would matter all too much.
I’ve been there for each of the five delegations and all of the four promotions – either live in a stadium or on TV. This was a premiere. Six hours behind and occupied with a demanding (but enjoyable) semester, soccer had been relegated.
That was exactly what I had been telling myself all the time: It’s just a game, and it’s not defining what I do with my life or where I’ll be doing it.
Yet, I was surprised to find out how easy it was to let go and just let an app notify me when goals were scored or conceded. But at that Monday afternoon, I had one eye on my phone, waiting for news while doing my writing.
— Faryd Mondragon (@FarydMondragon) April 22, 2014
— Ruth Hofmann (@Sky_RuthH) April 22, 2014
Seeing the photos popping up on Twitter, the ones that showed the frenzy once it had become clear that they would be playing in the Bundesliga again, made me realize that I had missed this moment, this fun.
Although a side of me wishes I had been there, I know that I have won my own moments and my own fun here, doing what makes me happy.