Dark Days in the Domstadt: Köln Fans Cross the Line

A summer-long series of undesireable incidents was apparently not quite enough embarrassment for a few self-described “fans” of 1. FC Köln.

The last few months saw visited upon Effzeh nation:

  • 1. FC Köln was relegated to Bundesliga 2 after a horrible season.
  • Poster boy for the club, fan favorite, and the best, by far, player on the team finalized the long-rumored transfer to Arsenal of the Premier League.
  • Financial troubles led to a decision to dump players with big salaries, leaving new coach Holgar Stanislawski necessarily fielding mostly developing youth players and newcomers on match days.
  • A test match scheduled to be played in the Netherlands had to be moved to the FC’s home stadium when local officials in Heerenveen feared their security resources would be overwhelmed by the fans from Köln.
  • The home opener had to be played in front of a smaller-than-normal crowd (23000) due to penalties resulting from fans rioted in the wake of last season’s final match with Bayern.
  • Four matches into the season, the new-look Billy Goats had secured just a single point going into the International break, leaving them in that all-too-familiar second-from-bottom spot where they finished in the top league just months ago.
  • The only goal scored for FC Köln this season came on a penalty, leaving the faithful fans with little to celebrate in the run of play.

All of this really should have been adversity enough to make that red-and-white ball cap and scarf feel heavy enough to hang one’s head. Certainly, rival fans had plenty of material with which to poke fun at 1. FC Köln as a club and its fans.

Yet, none of it even comes close to the story that emerged on the last day of the transfer window.

When news of the mutual decision to dissolve the contract between the club and 23-year-old defender Kevin Pezzoni, fans were in a celebratory mood. Not only had Pezzoni been struggling and, hence, become many fans’ favorite scapegoat for the overall woes of the team on the pitch, but the club had also finally made some moves to address the lack of punch in the offense thus far by bringing a pair of young strikers (Anthony Ujah and Sascha Bigalke) into the fold on the day of a home match many were certain would end the downward spiral of the team’s fall through the table.

Within a few hours, the Billy Goats were saddled with yet another failure to score or secure points, but by the end of the weekend, the tone of the rivaling ridicule moved from “Ha! Your team is horrible!” to “Bad team; worse fans!”

Word began to spread that the reason behind the dissolution of Pezzoni’s contract was not the decline in quality of his play, rather that threats of violence toward Pezzoni had grown so prominent, it was decided the best thing to do for the man’s personal well-being was to allow him to freely seek employment elsewhere.

Pezzoni had dubiously had his nose broken after being punched in the face at a Carnival celebration back in February. It was reported at the time that it was a personal matter revolving around the woman accompanying Pezzoni at the party and her ex-boyfriend.

In Pezzoni’s last appearance with the club, he was substituted off the field in the 34th minute after being caught out of position on a play that resulted in the first of two goals for Erzgebirge Aue in what had appeared to be a bit of a shocking result at the time. As it is, Aue has managed just one other goal in their four other matches to date.

Stanislawski, in discussing the matter, seemed to imply that off-field run-ins with fans seemed to have had a great impact on Pezzoni’s play, saying he hoped Pezzoni would be able to rediscover his “love of the game.”

Pezzoni certainly was aware of being booed by home fans, as he told Welt am Sonntag, but that hardly compares to the story he tells of five men showing up outside his home the night after the match in Aue. According to Pezzoni, the five men yelled up at his apartment that he should come down so they could take care of him (“wir machen dich fertig”), calling him a Wichser (wanker), and generally milling menacingly before departing.

The next morning, Pezzoni found a note on his vehicle warning him he should be careful after dark.

Shortly after reporting incidents to Stanislawski, Pezzoni found himself without a club.

Player and club management have offered differing views on how the contract was resolved.  Manager Jörg Jakobs publicly spoke of the separation stemming from mutual agreement as to what was the best solution. Pezzoni has claimed otherwise, saying he was hoping the team would find a way to protect him while keeping him in the club he’d grown to think of as his over the last five years in its service.

Pezzoni has since stated he believes the club took advantage of the situation to be rid of a player who was perceived to be struggling, especially in light of reports of fiscal problems within the organization leading to the summer-long exodus of top talent and top salaries.

Public opinion would seem to imply there are no winners in this situation. Pezzoni remains unemployed, the club’s image is further tarnished with perceptions of yet another example of gross mismanagement, and fans are left with a public image of being non-supportive and overly aggressive. Generally, when discussion turns away from the pitch and toward those in the stands, it’s not generally a positive development for anyone. (See our interview with Professor Harald Lange on the dark side of fan culture.)

While Pezzoni will have to wait for a team to give him a chance to redeem his reputation as a player and the club will simply have to turn around the entire football fortune of a struggling club to being the process of rehabilitating public perception, the vast majority of Effzeh fans have rallied around the idea of non-violence, seemingly weary of allowing the actions of the worst hangers-on to drive the public image of one of the largest fan bases in German football.
Countering the tactics of Facebook group “Pezzoni aufmischen” (Rough up Pezzoni), a group of fans started a group called “1. FC Köln – Fur denVerien, gegen Gewalt” (for the team, against violence) quickly drawing 5000 fans who “like” the movement and, more importantly, making known publicly that the true voice of the fan, regardless of team loyalty, is one of support, while violence has no real place.
Hopefully, all sides will soon find a way to return to keeping the drama on the pitch.
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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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