Now it’s a fact. Cologne’s fans have to make the 2. League compete. After the bust in Freiburg, there’s no more hope. But the responses show that the FC is well-equipped to handle it. From Freiburg, Thomas Klein reports.
Jurgen bent down, picked up the one-cent piece that had fallen to the floor and handed it to Peter, who had dropped it from his pocket on the train. "Maybe it will bring good luck", said Jurgen. "Yes, let’s hope", Peter replied, wrestling a slight smile from himself. The fan of the 1. FC Cologne was together with his friends to the "relegation summit" traveled to Freiburg. But the necessary luck was missing for the cologners also on this day.
Coach Stefan Ruthenbeck’s team lost 3-2 (0-1) to SC Freiburg in a highly emotional game that sealed the sixth relegation in the club’s history. "My dream was actually to make it to the 34th. I hope that I can still play to keep my place in the league on the final day of the season, said the Cologne coach with tears in his eyes. "We are all composed. But of course it still hurts very, very much because it felt like more could have gone."
Hoger: "Have to pay it back"
With 22 points, relegation to the 2. League now can no longer be prevented. But instead of being subjected to savage abuse, the Cologne players were applauded and comforted by their supporters after the game in Freiburg. "That was very emotional. How they supported us and now said goodbye. I would never have expected it like this", said Marco Hoger visibly moved. "We honor that and take our hats off to each and every one and now we have to see that we pay it back."
The players had gone to the guest bend after the final whistle. The fans had raised their scarves and sang the Cologne song "En unserem Veedel" ("In our neighborhood") (In our quarter) intoned. Goosebumps atmosphere, also for the players on the pitch. "It’s beyond words. This only happens very, very rarely in soccer Germany", reported goalkeeper Timo Horn and added: "This has really become the exception that there is still such a unit in such a situation."
Smoke bombs in Cologne
The last time the team was relegated six years ago, it was a completely different picture: riots, smoke bombs, fans storming the pitch, players having to flee into the dressing room. "This is a black day for the club", said the coach at the time, Frank Schaefer, after the 1:4 defeat against Bayern. The club sank into chaos and was subjected to a long overdue realignment.
Smoke bombs in the Cologne stadium – terrible images during the relegation of FC six years ago
With Holger Stanislawski, the club brought in a coach with whom everything was supposed to get better, but it didn’t. It was not until a year after relegation that Peter Stoger took over as coach at 1 FC Cologne in 2013. FC Koln and changed the club permanently. Together with a new presidium and sports director Jorg Schmadtke, the Cologne team succeeded in what many considered an unexpected transformation.
Well positioned for direct promotion
Although neither Stoger, nor Schmadtke are still employed by FC, the positive changes at the club are noticeable. According to the club slogan "Noticeably different", Hoger, the new sport boss Armin Veh could extend the contracts with captain Jonas Hector and goalkeeper Horn on a long-term basis. That is remarkable and underlines the Andersartigkeit of the club from the Rhine.
While Champions League contender FC Schalke has to let go high performers like Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer in the summer, relegated Cologne celebrates important and unexpected personnel decisions. "FC is my club, Cologne is my home. That’s why I’ve always said that I can imagine going along this path if the perspective is right", said Horn.
The goal is: direct promotion. "We have to sort out this shitty season next season, so that we can play here again the season after next." hopes Hoger. "We go as a unit into the 2. League, that’s the positive", added Timo Horn, stoking realistic hopes of a quick reunion with 1. FC Koln in the Bundesliga.
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