LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

FC Köln

Geißböcke roam in lesser pastures after Euro adventure

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Some of the finest players in German football – including Hans Schäfer, Wolfgang Overath and Pierre Littbarski, World Cup winners all – made their names for 1.FC Köln.

Though the club last won the league back in 1978, 1.FC Köln remain a major feature of the German game.

Their importance is linked to the national sports academy, producer of many of Germany’s top coaches and once headed by arguably its greatest, Hennes Weisweiler.

Born locally in 1919, Weisweiler played in 1.FC Köln’s first ever team in 1948, the new club having been founded from Kölner BC 1901 and SpVgg Köln-Sülz.

Remarkably, he soon became player-coach, leading the club after promotion to the then regional top flight in their first season. Weisweiler coached 1.FC and local rivals Viktoria until 1964, when he transformed Borussia Mönchengladbach into a European power.

Weisweiler’s ties to his former club remained strong – 1.FC mascot, the billy goat, has always been called Hennes. His namesake would make a dramatic return as coach in 1976.

In 1963, 1.FC were invited to join the inaugural Bundesliga. With 1954 World Cup winner on the wing, one-club stalwart Hans Schäfer, Köln had just reached three national finals, winning one in 1962. Triumphant manager Zlatko ‘Čik’ Čajkovski then moved on nurture a young Franz Beckenbauer at Bayern Munich.

Under former German international Georg ‘Schorsch’ Knöpfle, 1.FC Köln won that initial Bundesliga of 1963-64. Joining 1962 title winners Schäfer, Hans Sturm and Karl-Heinz Thielen was a genial young midfielder, Wolfgang Overath.

In the subsequent European Cup campaign, Köln held Liverpool for three matches until going out on the toss of a coin. Despite the emergence of later World Cup stars Wolfgang Weber and Hannes Löhr, Köln remained also-rans, although regular European competitors. Weisweiler’s return signalled a change.

With players such as goalkeeper Harald Schumacher, midfielder Heinz Flohe and forward Dieter Müller – and with Weber and Löhr still in the squad – Weisweiler’s Köln pipped his former club Mönchengladbach to the 1978 title on goal difference.

Despite the presence of a precocious Bernd Schuster, Köln narrowly failed to beat Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the subsequent European Cup semi-final. Later stars included Pierre Littbarski, Klaus Fischer and Klaus Allofs, but even under Rinus Michels, Köln could only pick up a German Cup, over city rivals Fortuna in 1983.

The last great Köln side, including Thomas Häßler, came under Christoph Daum in the late 1980s, twice Bundesliga runners-up and finalists in the UEFA Cup.

Even bolstered by the goals of Toni Polster, the arrival of a young Lukas Podolski and the later return of the disgraced Daum, Köln became either mired in mid-table or locked in the lower flight.

Winning the Zweite in 2013-14 thanks to the goals of Patrick Helmes, Köln re-established a more permanent foothold in the Bundesliga under Austrian Peter Stöger. Prolific French striker Anthony Modeste made an immediate impact in 2015 with a goal after 45 seconds, then a hat-trick, on his debut. 

Another 25 goals in 34 Bundesliga games in 2016-17 pushed the Billy Goats into fifth place, and European qualification for the first time in 25 years.

Modeste’s departure for China left Stöger’s Köln winless in the 2017-18 league campaign until well into the autumn. Despite the thrill of European football – 20,000 Köln fans massed into every corner of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium for the first fixture in September 2017 – relegation was inevitable long before the end of the season. 

A narrow win over Arsenal in the return game that November was all there was to show for all the promise of a potentially memorable season. The only other highlight was the return of prolific striker Simon Terodde, whose near goal-a-game consistency pushed Köln back to the top flight at the first attempt in 2018-19.

Sharing goalscoring duties was Anthony Modeste, who went AWOL from Tianjin to rejoin Köln. Hitting the net 23 times in all competitions in 2021-22, he pushed the Billy Goats back into Europe through the back door. 

Reversing a 2-1 deficit from the first leg with the Fehérvár, Köln made the group stage of the Conference League, filling the RheinEnergieStadion for all three games but slipping up home and away against Partizan Belgrade.

Winning only two games before Christmas, Köln were always struggling in 2023-24, fans bracing themselves for another season at the all-too-familiar grounds of the 2. Bundesliga while their stadium prepared to host five games for Euro 2024.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

The RheinEnergieStadion emerged from the old Müngersdorfer Stadion, whose original brick gateposts still welcome matchgoers pouring off the tram from the main road leading west from town, Aachener Straße. Surrounding them is a huge sports complex set in greenery, as envisioned by one of the greatest political figures in German history.

The first Chancellor of post-war West Germany from 1949, Cologne-born Konrad Adenauer was mayor of his home town when it was on its knees after the previous global conflict. Prioritising the feeding of local citizens as Germany starved to death in 1918 – and by doing so, inventing the soy sausage – Adenauer then had to tread a delicate path to appease the Allied victors whose troops occupied the Rhineland for several years after 1918.

One of the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles was to remove all fortifications from the region. In Cologne, these included the so-called Military Ring dividing the district of Müngersdorf from the inner city. Today this is Alter Militärring or Old Military Ring, and the name of the tram stop before the one serving the stadium.

Adenauer decided that a sports ground, with smaller courts and training pitches around it, would provide weary, hungry Kölner with much-needed recreation and gainful employment. Construction began in October 1921 and the largest sports park in Germany – until Berlin’s Olympiastadion complex opened in 1936 – was unveiled in 1923.

The main arena could accommodate 75,000 spectators for athletics or football, and sat alongside an open-air swimming pool, a velodrome and two smaller stadiums. Cologne had hosted major events before, such as the German Championship finals of 1905 and 1910, both at Weidenpescher Park, still in place today north of Cologne Zoo, but the Müngersdorfer changed the city’s status.

It paved the way for the German Sports University, founded in the former football hub of Berlin in 1920 but later moved here. In the early 1930s, Germany’s football powerbase was shifting west, first when Düsseldorf, then Schalke, won national titles. Three times in five years, the Müngersdorfer hosted the showcase final, before the event moved to Berlin’s Olympiastadion until 1944.

And when Cologne was chosen to stage the first post-war final in 1948, 75,000 crammed into the Müngersdorfer for the occasion. Adenauer, having spent the Nazi era broke, homeless and occasional imprisoned, had been reinstalled of mayor of his devastated city by the occupying Allied forces. Having opposed Nazism and paid for it bitterly, the great statesman must have enjoyed the moment, even though Cologne still lay in ruins.

There was also a packed house of 75,000 for the first post-war international game here, a 3-0 win over Ireland in 1952. As for domestic football, 1.FC Köln predecessors Köln-Sülz and Kölner BC were playing at the Müngersdorfer complex from the time of its opening, so it was natural for the newly formed club to move in after its formation in 1948.

Venue for major European games involving Mönchengladbach and Leverkusen, not to mention regular international competitors 1.FC Köln themselves, the 50-year-old Müngersdorfer was passed over when it came to selecting stadiums to host the 1974 World Cup. The City lacked the funds to carry out the large-scale modernisation required, which allowed Dortmund to build the Westfalenstadion, now Signal Iduna Park, from that allocation of the national budget for the tournament. 

As it turned out, the Müngersdorfer would be rebuilt soon afterwards. With a new upper tier and scoreboards, the 61,000-capacity arena was opened with a derby match between 1. FC Köln and Fortuna in November 1975. Thirteen years later, it hosted two matches for Euro 88.

For the 2006 World Cup, €117.5 million was spent on creating a whole new stadium, compact and intimate, with the running track removed, and steep banks of red-and-white seating holding 46,000 for internationals. Once FIFA left town, the sponsor’s name of the RheinEnergieStadion could be put back.

For league games, capacity is increased to 50,000, 1. FC Köln fans standing in the lower tier of the home end, the Südtribüne. The fan shop, club museum and 12.Mann Restaurant are in the Nordtribüne. Away fans are allocated sectors N6, N15 and N16 at the corner of the Nord- and Osttribüne, along with O11 and half of O12, depending on demand.

For Euro 2024, in shades of 1974, ambitious plans to increase capacity to 75,000 had to be curtailed, although regular sell-outs for 1.FC Köln fixtures would surely warrant it. A few thousand upper seats were added to raise capacity to just under 50,000. As well as England-Slovenia and Scotland-Switzerland in the group stage, a Round of 16 game will be played here.

Cologne also earned considerable kudos for co-hosting the final stages of the Covid-hit Europa League deciders in the summer of 2020, Manchester United scraping past FC Copenhagen but falling to Sevilla. The Spanish side then beat Inter in an entertaining final, 3-2, though with no spectators in attendance to enjoy it, of course.

Note that 1.FC Köln II, the reserve team currently in the fourth-tier Regionalliga West, play at the Franz-Kremer-Stadion, the ground within the club HQ of Geißbockheim, a 15-20 minute walk south-east of the RheinEnergieStadion on Militärringstraße.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The RheinEnergieSTADION has its own stop on red U-Bahn line 1 west from central Neumarkt, ten stops/18mins away, direction Weiden West. If you’re coming from Cologne main station, Köln Hbf, then follow the signs to Köln Dom/Hbf and take either lines 5, 14, 16 or 18 to Neumarkt two stops away. 

Overall journey time is around 30mins including changes, single tickets (Preisstufe 1b) €3.50. Your match ticket is valid for travel from up to four hours before kick-off on game days, and until 2.59am afterwards. Line 1 runs every 5-6mins weekday daytimes, every 10-15mins evenings and weekends.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The club caps season-ticket holders at 25,500, around half the capacity, and must allocate 10% to visiting supporters, ie 5,000 seating and standing tickets. This means about 15,000 tickets per game are set aside for general sale online, a healthy number, but they get snapped up pretty quickly.

Keep a look-out for the pre-sale date. These are digital purchases, there’s a €5 levy if you want a printed ticket, although you can save it as a PDF offline and print it out yourself.

For all enquiries, contact service@fc-koeln.de or call +49 221 99 1948 0 on WhatsApp.

While members can pass on spare tickets to family and friends, the club also runs a ticket-exchange scheme on match days – those offloading tickets should go to ticket office 28, those looking to buy, ticket office 25, both at the Süd/West corner of the stadium. This service operates from 2hrs before kick-off and a 15% levy is charged on top of the regular value of the ticket.

Prices start at €17 to stand in sectors S1-S6 in the Südkurve (€10 for under-17s), rise to €39-€44 (€27.50-€31 for under-17s) for a seat at either end, Süd or Nord, €55 for a place  (no discounts) nearer the corner flag in the Ost- or Westtribüne behind the long sidelines, and €68 and €79 for the best seats over the halfway line, again no discounts.

Under-6s are usually admitted free, provided they sit on the adult’s knee or share the same seat.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

At the stadium, the FanShop (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm, home games from 10am) sits behind the Nordtribüne. Other outlets include Geißbockheim clubhouse at Franz-Kremer-Allee 1-3 (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm, match days except Sun from 10am), C&A at Schildergasse 60-68 (Mon-Sat 9.30am-8pm), Köln Arcaden at Kalker Hauptstraße 55 (Mon-Thur 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm) and B-Passage of Köln main station (daily 9am-9pm) at Trankgasse 11.

Home shirts are currently neat white with the letters of Cologne-based supermarket chain REWE emblazoned in red across the chest. The change strip of sky blue with slightly darker blue diagonal stripes features red piping.

Cologne Cathedral features on T-shirts, club badges and, of course, Kölsch glasses, while Hennes the goat also appears on branded bottles of shampoo, sticks of lip balm and, natürlich, bottles of Cologne.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Your first port of call should be the excellent Geißbockheim (daily noon-10pm), the clubhouse and training centre set deep in the woods at Franz-Kremer-Allee 1-3. Classic black-and-white archive shots of Wolfgang Overath and Hennes Weisweiler surround a traditional bar-restaurant, where a full kitchen operates most of the day, and Kölsch is obligatory. 

It also has a shop and ticket-information outlet. You’ll find it just off Militärringstraße, a 10min walk from the Klettenberg Klettenbergpark stop on the No.18 tramline. The stadium is about 3km away up Militärringstraße – a taxi shouldn’t be expensive.

Sadly, the former bar-dotted stretch of main Aachener Straße near the stadium is now dominated by a giant McDrive. One stop nearer town, at Alter Militärring U-Bahn, with the closure of Treffer, Stadtwaldgarten is a handy choice, though it’s more steakhouse than sports bar.

At that same junction, just up Alter Militärring, Em Ringströßje is as local as its name, opened by a celebrated opera singer in 1964, and passed from the Nelles family to the current owners in 2022. Kölsch is a must, of course, but there’s Augustiner Hell as well, plus regional and seasonal cuisine. Open from 5pm but from 3.5 hours before kick-off on match days.

Just behind the stadium overlooking the lake on Guts-Muths-Weg, the Club Astoria is an upscale restaurant whose beer garden opens through the summer from noon. Closer to the stadium on the same Südkurve side, Playa in Cologne is a beach bar/beer garden in the warmer months, with skating in winter. Open from 5pm weekdays, it screens major home games from 2pm on Saturdays in a public viewing area, and also operates from noon on Sundays. Treat yourself to Sion Kölsch or Paulaner on tap, particularly if you’ve been roped into a game of beach volleyball.

At the ground, in the Nordtribüne, the 12.Mann Restaurant overlooking the pitch is VIP- and reservation-only on match days. Everyone else gathers around Bei Hennes in the outlets lining the Osttribüne, and/or the myriad Früh Kölsch spots, kiosks, vans and trolleys. Note that payment around the stadium is cashless, with a German Girocard/EC card or regular credit card.