Cologne were the first champions of the Bundesliga back in 1963/64. - © DFL
Cologne were the first champions of the Bundesliga back in 1963/64. - © DFL
bundesliga

Cologne Fanzone: Getting to know the Bundesliga's first ever champions

Cologne are back in the big time and bring one of the Bundesliga’s most passionate set of fans with them – as well as a goat. bundesliga.com gives you the lowdown on the league’s first-ever champions…

History

With over 100,000 members, 1. FC Köln – known in English as FC Cologne – is the fourth largest club in Germany after Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Dortmund. They were the first champions of the Bundesliga era, winning the 1963/64 season by six points back when only two were awarded for a win, scoring in all 30 games and leading the table on every Matchday bar the fourth. They would finish the second season in second place as well as reach the quarter-finals of the European Cup, where they went out to Liverpool on a coin toss (which had to be repeated after the first attempt stuck upwards in the mud).

They remained one of the Bundesliga’s dominant forces throughout the 1970s, winning their second title in 1977/78. That came the same year they retained the DFB Cup, making them one of just four clubs to win the double in the Bundesliga era. They would also reach the 1986 UEFA Cup final, losing 5-3 on aggregate to Real Madrid. All in all, Cologne finished in the top four 14 times in the first 29 Bundesliga seasons, won the DFB Cup four times and reached five further finals.

Cologne won two of the first three Bundesliga titles back in the 1960s. - imago sportfotodienst

The good times would soon come to an end, however, and in 1998 they were relegated for the first time. The Billy Goats (so called because of their mascot Hennes, himself named after legendary coach Hennes Weisweiler) would become a classic yo-yo club, alternating relegations and promotions over the following decade. In 2001/02, they went 1,034 minutes without scoring (over 11 games), which is the longest drought in Bundesliga history. The following years, however, would see the breakthrough of local boy Lukas Podolski. Known as “Prinz Poldi”, he would go on to score 86 goals in 181 appearances across two three-year spells for the club.

When Cologne returned to the top flight in 2014 having won Bundesliga 2 under Peter Stöger, there was a feeling the good times had returned as they finished a comfortable 12th. Under the Austrian, the Billy Goats would then finish ninth and fifth as they made a return to European football for the first time in a quarter of a century. However, things quickly turned sour (again) as the club endured its worst-ever Bundesliga campaign. They finished bottom, 11 points off safety, having waited 17 games for their first win of the season. As they often have done, Cologne then bounced back from that relegation with another promotion, winning Bundesliga 2, before surviving another drop only by winning the play-off in 2020/21.

Local boy Lukas Podolski is one of the modern-day legends at Cologne. - 2011 Getty Images

Honours

3x German champions (1962, 1964, 1978)
4x Bundesliga 2
(2000, 2005, 2014, 2019)
4x DFB Cup
(1968, 1977, 1978, 1983)

Coach

After Friedhelm Funkel returned to the club to save them following the dismissal of Markus Gisdol in April 2021, the Billy Goats have now turned to Steffen Baumgart for the new 2021/22 campaign. The 49-year-old joins after four mostly successful years with Paderborn and with the seemingly simple goal of avoiding any further relegation drama.

Coach Steffen Baumgart joins from Paderborn to begin a new era at Cologne. - imago images / Matthias Koch

Star man

The main man in Cologne is captain Jonas Hector. The 31-year-old has been with the club since 2010 and stuck with them through thick and thin. Starting out at a left-back and earning himself 43 Germany caps in the position, he’s now the player who makes them tick from central midfield. Injury limited him to only 19 appearances in 2020/21, with fans no doubt wondering how simpler the season could’ve gone if he’d been fit.

Watch: Three of Hector’s best Bundesliga goals

Last season

A relatively comfortable 14th-place finish on their Bundesliga return in 2019/20 will have given the Billy Goats decent hope going into another top-flight campaign, but it turned into another rough ride. It was nine games before they got their first win, although it was a big one away at Borussia Dortmund. A 2-1 derby win at Borussia Mönchengladbach was another highlight, but it was one of very few.

A gut-wrenching 3-2 loss at home to Mainz in April spelled the end of Gisdol with the club now in the automatic drop zone and Funkel was brought back nearly two decades after his last stint in charge. An upturn of 10 points from the final six games saw them pull off a dramatic final-day escape and into the play-off. There were twists and turns again there as they lost the first leg 1-0 at home to Holstein Kiel before turning things around (again) with a 5-1 rampage in the return fixture to retain their Bundesliga status.

Watch: Cologne claim play-off victory

The stadium

Currently known as the RheinEnergieStadion, the 49,698-capacity stadium in the west of the city was originally opened in 1923 but most recently underwent renovations in preparation for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. It hosted five games in that tournament, as well as three in the FIFA Confederations Cup the previous year. Recognisable by its four illuminated towers in the corners of the stadium, the ground is known for its vibrant atmosphere with the stands and fans very close to the pitch.

Cologne’s RheinEnergieStadion is a fine example of a classic football ground. - 2019 DFL

The city

Cologne is one of the largest cities in Germany and one of the country’s most colourful. Straddling the Rhine river, the city’s most famous landmark is its cathedral (Kölner Dom) that dwarfs all buildings around it. Directly opposite on the east bank is the trade fair (Koelnmesse) that is one of the biggest in Europe and is situated next to the building where Bundesliga Video Assistant Referees work.

The city was also the birthplace of the eponymous perfume, Eau de Cologne, in the 18th century, yet perhaps its most famous claim to fame is its carnival. Hundreds of thousands flock to the city to join the festivities, which can often see over a million people take to the streets to celebrate in fancy dress with parades and processions taking place in all neighbourhoods. It has earned Cologne a reputation as a fun-loving city and it’s not at all out of place to see people in fancy dress throughout the year.

Getting there

Cologne/Bonn Airport is a major hub for European low-cost flights, allowing easy transfers from long-haul routes into Europe. While there are no longer any direct connections to North America, Cologne is within an hour’s train ride of Dusseldorf and Frankfurt airports, of which there are frequent, direct services. These airports do provide intercontinental flights with a number of destinations in the USA on offer. Köln Hauptbahnhof and Köln Messe/Deutz are also two of Germany’s busiest train stations with frequent national and international services.

- DFL

Getting to the RheinEnergieStadion

The RheinEnergieStadion is located to the west of the city centre and can be reached using line 1 of the tram system and the nearest station is called RheinEnergieStadion. It is roughly 25 minutes away from Neumarkt in the centre heading towards Weiden West. As with all Bundesliga clubs, a ticket for the game includes the price of travel within the city to and from the match.

Buying tickets

Cologne matches are almost always sold out, but tickets can still be bought via the official club website HERE.

Watch on TV

If you can’t make it to the stadium, Bundesliga matches are broadcast around the world. ESPN provides coverage in the United States, while BT Sports are the exclusive broadcaster in the United Kingdom. In Germany, Sky Sports show the majority of matches, with DAZN hosting one match per week.

Buying the kit

You can get your own Cologne jersey from the official club shop HERE.

Stateside fan clubs

Cologne have a number of official fan clubs throughout the world, including four in the United States. Those can be found in Washington D.C., Chicago, Nashville and Carmel, Indiana. Click HERE for more details on those clubs.