When you hear that the 1. FC Köln is “just a Karneval club,” you have to know who is saying it in order to know what is intended by it.
Outside the effzeh community, the phrase originally was meant to deliver a heavy dose of dismissiveness toward the football capabilities of the Billy Goats. “Sure, you have a football team, but you’re really just a bunch of clowns better suited for parties and parades.”
Those who identify with the FC, though, wear “nur ein Karnevalsverein” like a badge of honor. While Köln fans are somewhat famous for being quick to elevate expectations beyond reason, they’re also well known for passionate support of all things effzeh. Many clubs have experienced having their home atmosphere overrun by the visitors from the Cathedral City providing a steady two hours of chanting and singing, whether running out to an 0:3 win up the road at Schalke or getting dominated in Bavaria by the champions.
And should the effzeh take down a bigger club, those fans are all to happy to remind opposing fans that their beloved club were beaten by a Karneval troupe.
The club itself has been increasing its embrace of the notion that it is, very much, a Karnevalsverein. Because the identity of the 1. FC Köln is so closely tied to the city of Köln and its people, for whom the Karneval is a major part of the civic identity, it makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective. Beyond the balance sheet, though, there is another very good reason: good old-fashioned fun.
Keeping in mind that the club and its beloved football team is a collection of people and that some of them are not native to the area, the Karneval is a great opportunity to allow the non-native players and staff to take a break from the intense focus on football and have a good time while connecting with their adopted community. For the native Kölners, of course, refraining from the Karneval is something akin to unfathomable.
A year ago, Peter Stöger and team took to the training ground dressed with regard for the November 11 festivities. As the city of Köln prepared to celebrate the launch of the 2015 Karneval session, which happens every year on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of eleventh day of the eleventh month (or the 11er im 11ten), the coach paired some Lederhosen with the special Karneval warm-up jacket while supervising the training session during which players donned red wigs, clown noses, and red-and-white striped socks.
And smiles. Inferring from the many videos and photos shared that day, one could say that everyone taking part that day wore smiles at some point that morning.
This year, the club doubled down on the Karneval fun for their 11er im 11ten training session and expanded the social-media participation in the festivities while taking a playful jab at a fellow Bundesliga club.
Inspired by the Leon Andreasen forearm-swatted goal that gave Hannover 96 a 1:0 victory at Rhein Energie Stadium, the players of 1. FC Köln took to the training pitch dressed in jerseys that identified the team as SG Flensburg-Handewitt, a club currently near the top of Germany’s handball first-division table.
Going even further with the Andreasen handball theme, the coaches ran the players through a scrimmage session during which goals would count only if struck by hand or arm.
The Hannover 96 Twitter team jumped at the opportunity to play along, reminding the effzeh that they had already shown their mastery of the technique, responding with “but we can do it better” and signing their message with the hashtag-version of traditional Köln-Karneval greeting “Alaaf!”
Being the professionals they are, the effzeh social-media team responded in a way that would lead you to believe that maybe they had baited their Bundesliga foes into engaging.
“We’re already training for the return match,” didn’t deter the Hannoverians from continuing, but the knockout blow gave the effzeh a decisive victory in this off-pitch rematch between the two entities.
After the brief training session was called to a close, the athletic equipment was exchanged for more-traditional Karneval apparel and everyone gathered for a group photo. Though the players displayed an array of costume ideas, the coaching staff’s group costume seemed to be best aligned with the theme of this year’s Karneval “We turn everthing upside-down” (Mer stelle alles op de Kopp in the Kölsch dialect).
Having spent some time and energy complaining about officials for having missed hand-play in both the Hannover and Hoffenheim matches, Stöger and company dressing as football referees comes off as a stroke of comedic genius, though Anthony Modeste’s banana might be the more eye-catching yellow-centric costume.
Check out Geissblog.Koeln, BILD, 1. FC Köln’s Facebook page, and the club Twitter account’s media page for more. But before you do, pour yourself a nice cold Kölsch, put on your red clown nose, and give a hearty “ALAAF!”