There is, as the old saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. As we have seen travelling around the 3.Liga there is also more than one way to come up with a sporting team. In some countries it is all about location. A league decides that there are lots of potential fans that could sustain a franchise (and perhaps it is that name, rather than club, that is the biggest giveaway) so they look around for owners to create a team for that market. It is unsurprising, then, that many of the countries who operate like that do not have promotion and relegation from their leagues. Having invested all that money in creating a team for a specific market, owners are not going to want to take the risk that their team might be relegated and the subsequent loss of revenue that potentially goes with it.
In contrast many European countries have teams that could be described as being more organic in their formation. With a few exceptions most clubs originally began as groups of people in their cities, towns and villages who wanted to play football together. Especially in the larger cities this meant that there were often lots of clubs created, as people formed teams with people who lived close to them but would play matches against, and form rivalries with, other teams from within their city. As we have seen in looking at the histories of a number of the clubs in the 3.Liga it was also through mergers of teams in the same city that the modern forms of various clubs came about. When the Bundesliga was created in 1963 teams were invited to play based on regions and perceived ability but they were still teams who had been in existence, in one form or another, for a substantial period of time.
As a consequence, while we associate many of the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga teams specifically with their cities, those cities also tend to have other clubs as well. These teams are usually in lower leagues, but sometimes not that far removed in terms of success. As mentioned before, one of the biggest examples of this is TSV 1860 Munich who were actually chosen ahead of Bayern Munich to be the Bavarian representative in the original Bundesliga. Even though they are currently in the Regionalliga Bavaria they have spent much of their history in and around the Bundesliga (including winning it in 1965/66) and would be considered Munich’s second club. The 3.Liga team, SpVgg Unterhaching, who are currently a division above them, simply do not have the same history. Similarly, while Hamburger SV would be considered the main team in the city of Hamburg, FC St Pauli of the 2.Bundesliga still average around 30 000 fans at their home matches (Hamburger SV averaged over 52000 last season).
All of this becomes relevant because the final team that I am visiting during this 2017/18 season of the 3.Liga (and one of the most interesting) is also a ‘second’ team in their city, Fortuna Köln. While FC Köln have the more storied history, Fortuna have been in existence since 1948 with the reemergence of football post World War II. Like other clubs their existence is the result of a merger of three other teams; in this case Victoria Köln 1911 (confusingly distinct from the FC Viktoria Koln who were founded in 1904 and currently playing in the Regionalliga West), Bayenthaler SV 1920, and Sparkassen-Verein Köln 1927. However they are a distinct enough entity that they don’t try and claim any of those earlier dates as, somehow, their own. FC Köln were founded in the same year and in a similar way (their antecedent clubs were Kölner Ballspiel-Club 1901 and SpVgg Sülz 07) so they have an equal length history. However, FC have had much more success, spending by far the majority of their time in the Bundesliga since its formation, while Fortuna have had only the solitary season of 1973/74 in the top league. Sadly, they finished that season level on points with Wuppertal SV and had scored more goals but were relegated based on having conceded considerably more goals themselves. They drew 3:3 with the neighbors in the ‘home’ match of the local derby during that season but were thrashed 5:0 in the ‘away’ game, which was ironic because at that time they were sharing a ground.
Another big moment in the history of Fortuna Köln came in the 1982/83 DFB Pokal. In the first round they were drawn against SC Freiburg (who were in the 2.Bundesliga at that time) and beat them 2:0. In the second round they came up against the then third tier SSV Ulm 1846 and Fortuna won in a replay. However, their next three matches were all against Bundesliga teams. The third round saw them defeat Eintracht Braunschweig, 1:2 away from home. Then, in the quarter final, they conquered Borussia Mönchengladbach 2:1 in a replay at home (after having drawn 2:2 in Mönchengladbach). The biggest success, however, was a 5:0 thrashing of Borussia Dortmund in the semi-final which put them into the final against FC Köln, the only time to date that the DFB Pokal has had a local derby as a final. Sadly for Fortuna they went down 1:0 to a goal from German international winger Pierre Litbarski, but to have even got that far was an amazing achievement given that they were in the middle of a twenty-five year run in the 2.Bundesliga at the time.
During these years of relative success the club president had been a former football player by the name of Jean Löring. Through an electrical business and real estate investment he was able to put in a lot of energy (during a game in 1982 against SV Darmstadt 98 the floodlights failed, and he fixed them himself) and money (it was estimated that he spent somewhere between 30 and 40 million Deutschmarks supporting the club). However, Löring also had a reputation for being a difficult person to deal with. A prime example of this is a game between Fortuna Köln and Waldhof Mannheim on December 15, 1999. At the time, Fortuna were being coached by the former German national goalkeeper Toni Schumacher. However at half time, with Mannheim already leading 2:0, Löring sacked Schumacher and decided to coach the second half himself (it did not help, the team eventually lost 5:1). On another occasion he was a little violent in his approach to a referee and was banned from the stadium. To sidestep this restriction he dressed himself in a Santa Claus outfit and watched from the stand (apparently) unrecognized. All in all, the clubs fortunes ended up matching those of their president. In 2000 he was forced to relinquish the presidency when he had to declare insolvency and the team were relegated that year. On March 6, 2005, Löring passed away from cancer and that year the club entered insolvency themselves and were forced to withdraw from league play.
Between January 2009 and January 2012 the club was partially owned by the web-based venture deinfussballclub.de. This was seemingly an experiment in having a fan controlled football club with members being invited to become part of a group impacting the decision making behind the scenes and even on the field. As originally proposed 30 000 people (from anywhere in the world) would become members and have the opportunity to make decisions on all sorts of things, from transfers to formations, and effectively be running a football club via democratic vote. However, by the time it launched, a need for finance to help run the club meant that 10 000 people ended up paying euro 39.95 for the privilege to participate on the site. The reality turned out to be nowhere near as exciting as people had hoped. Those controlling the site only put trivial decisions up for voting, leaving fans frustrated. What it eventually accomplished was that the club is now partially owned (the 50+1 rule means that he is not in complete control) by Michael Schwetje who runs an online company that comes up with business ideas (and indeed had come up with the online football club idea).
Even though the idea may not have worked in the way that it was intended (or at least in the way it was sold to its members) it did result in some success for Fortuna Köln. During the years from 2010 to 2015 they achieve promotion from the fifth tier of German football to the 3.Liga. Indeed, during this season they have spent most of their time in the top half of the table and looked like they would be among the challengers for promotion during the first half of the season, before falling back in their recent run of six consecutive losses before todays game. Even with the travails of late they still sit comfortably in 7th, just a couple of points behind their opponents, Hansa Rostock. It is a lovely warm and sunny spring day as I make my way to the Südstadion in the south of Köln (in contrast FC Köln are based in Müngersdorf to the west of the city and FC Viktoria Köln 1904 in Höhenburg to the east). A couple of tram rides (the number 18 to Barbarossaplatz then change to the number 12 and go to Pohligstraße) will get you there from the main station, although it is worth looking at the famous Dom which is outside the station before you make the trip.
The stadium itself is like a number of the grounds that I have visited this season (it is particularly reminiscent of Jena’s Ernst-Abbe Sportfeld) with a running track around the pitch and one covered stand of seating with the rest being terraced standing areas. It was nice to see lots of families in attendance and the children were particularly entertained by ‘Fred’ the red panda based mascot of the club (I have been trying to find out why they would have a red panda but have not been able to get that information). Unlike most of the other teams in the league, their seating was not numbered on the ticket so, as one of the first people at the ground, I was able to find myself a comfortable position near the center of the pitch and settle in for what I had hoped would be a good match. Although, as mentioned, Fortuna Köln have had a terrible run of form, the reverse fixture back on November 25th finished 5:3 to Rostock, so I was hoping to at least see some goals. If nothing else Rostock usually brings sizable away support who create a good atmosphere and are worth watching, although the last time I saw them was against Osnabrück a couple of weeks ago when some unusual circumstances saw most of their Ultras leave the ground just as the match got underway.
As this game began the away end was packed and it was not a surprise later to find out that the crowd was 3598, nearly 1200 more than Fortuna Köln have been averaging so far this season. Both teams play a short, quick passing game and like to make use of their wings and that was on display from the beginning without creating too many chances. However, after 20 minutes Hansa Rostock received a free kick about 30 metres out on the right hand side. Their captain, Bischoff, sent a free kick across the box which neither the Köln keeper, Bruhns (a teenager replacing their regular keeper Tim Boss), nor Rostock back Scherff could quite get to, and the ball flew wide of the left hand upright. This became a pattern for Rostock’s game, they looked very threatening on crosses, corners and free kicks but just could not get the ball into the net.
Around the 30 minute mark something seemed to happen among the Rostock away support once more. The ultras group disappeared from the front of their section, the drums stopped beating and the chants went quiet. Earlier, songs and banners had been produced targeting a variety of teams; “Scheiße, Scheiße, Scheiß HSV!“, ”Scheiß St. Pauli!”, “Scheiß Dynamo!“ and “Scheiß FC Köln!“, much to the amusement of the Fortuna fans and it wasn’t this that caused the change. Apparently what had triggered the exodus was that some Rostock fans who had been banned from the stadium tried to get access to the away supporters end. In the process of keeping them out the police resorted to using pepper spray and a hundred or so of the ultras tried to walk out in support. Once again the riot police were called in, this time to keep the spectators in the stadium, and they were largely successful. However, without the singing, the chanting, and the banners, much of the atmosphere was gone.
Back on the field both teams had chances but were just not able to convert. The closest opportunity fell to Fortuna Köln in the 36th minute. A good passing move saw the ball with Farrona Pulido at the top of the box directly in front but his shot was blocked in a way that sent it straight up in the air. When it came down Keita-Ruel was able to head it into the back of the net but he had come from an offside position when the original shot was taken. It was an accurate decision but that didn’t stop the home fans from shouting abuse at the linesman for much of the rest of the game. Near the end of the half Wannenwetsch had a good chance for Rostock but it was cleared off the line by Mensah for Köln. At the other goal Keita-Ruel had a double chance but it was kept out by a combination of the Rostock defensive players. As always Janis Blaswich in the Rostock goal was doing incredibly well and it will be a shame for them when he is recalled from his loan by Borussia Mönchengladbach at the end of the season, particularly when it is hard to see him getting past Sommer to make the first team.
As the second half began it was clear that Fortuna Köln were making a much better fist of things than they had in the previous six games. They were doing lots of pressing and after only two minutes Farrona-Pulido had a shot from about 16 meters which was blocked by Rankovic (who had replaced Nadeau for Hansa Rostock at half time). Rostock were struggling to mount any attacking threat so coach Dotchev brought on Alibaz in the 60th minute to try to change things up. Instead it was Köln who had the big chance when Keita-Ruel was brought down at the top of the box and they were awarded a penalty in the 65th minute. Keita-Ruel stepped up to take it himself but Blaswich was able to pick the right direction and get down to hold on to the ball to his left. Despite chance after chance it was beginning to look like neither team was going to be able to break through.
Indeed, the most interesting thing that happened in the second half was the creation of a dummy by the Hansa Rostock supporters which was then set on fire. It was put out by an attendant with a fire extinguisher who then was goaded into using it for the remainder of the half. Both teams had chances without ever really looking like they were going to score as the second half progressed. Fortuna Köln seemed to be happy to have at least reversed the run of losses, while Hansa Rostock seemed equally happy to stay ahead of the teams below them, especially given they had no chance of making the top 4. It was sad to have, once again, lost the atmosphere from the Rostock supporters. Hopefully the circumstances at away games that are bringing about these walkouts will diminish or disappear before next season because, as a neutral, it is much more exciting when they participate. With two rounds to go it has been a fun season in the 3.Liga and it will be interesting to see whether Wehen Wiesbaden or Karlsruher make the playoff and who the 4 or 5 new teams will be that join FC Kaiserslautern in the league next season.