Cologne will be back in the Bundesliga for the 2019/2020 season after a one-year absence, having secured their fourth Bundesliga 2 crown with a 4-0 win against Greuther Fürth on Monday night.
The result gives the Billy Goats an unassailable eight-point lead over second-placed Paderborn with just two games to go. This is the sixth time they have won promotion from the second tier since 1999/2000, and the fourth time as champions.
Cologne finished bottom of the Bundesliga in 2017/18 with just 22 points from 34 outings, but they quickly set about bouncing back under former Holstein Kiel coach Markus Anfang, who narrowly missed out on promotion with the Storks after defeat to Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga's relegation play-off last year.
With star striker Simon Terodde in devastating form, the Billy Goats won six of their first eight games to climb to the top of the division. Having already finished as Bundesliga 2's top scorer in 2015/16 and 2016/17, Terodde netted a whopping 12 times in August and September, notching up braces against St. Pauli, Paderborn, Ingolstadt and Arminia Bielefeld, plus a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Erzgebirge Aue for good measure.
Watch: The best goals of Cologne's 2018/19 title-winning campaign!
After a minor wobble in the autumn – defeats to MSV Duisburg and Hamburg, draws with Kiel and Heidenheim – Cologne came roaring back in mid-November, crushing Dynamo Dresden 8-1 in one of the biggest wins in their 71-year history. Terodde had another hat-trick and Jhon Cordoba and Jonas Hector both struck twice as Anfang's men ran riot at the RheinEnergieStadion.
That remarkable performance sparked a run of five consecutive league wins, yet it was not until the back end of February that Cologne snatched top spot away from Hamburg, thanks to a 3-1 win over Sandhausen. Another run of six straight victories – including a 5-1 dismissal of Bielefeld and a 4-0 thrashing of Anfang's old club Kiel – left the Billy Goats with a commanding seven-point lead over HSV, and boasting a vastly superior goal difference.
The sheen came off slightly in a tough month of April, which saw Cologne pick up just two points from four outings. Defeats to Dresden and Darmstadt even spelt the end of Anfang's tenure – exactly 300 days after he was appointed – with the club determined not to jeopardise their hopes of returning to the elite. Popular reserves coach Andre Pawlak was appointed in a caretaker capacity until the end of the campaign, and along with assistant Manfred Schmid he has managed to get the Billy Goats over the line.
One of the original members of the Bundesliga in 1963/64 – and even its inaugural champions that season – Cologne are therefore returning to their rightful place as one of Germany's 18 best football teams. After yo-yoing between the first and second divisions for the past 20 years, the challenge this time around will be to ensure that the club stays put.
Terodde, on course for his third Torschützenkönig title in Bundesliga 2, will be determined to impress in the top flight after notching 28 in the second tier this term, while 20-goal Cordoba - who scored a hat-trick against Fürth to seal promotion - appears to have found the consistency that was missing in his Mainz days, when he failed to get beyond five strikes in successive Bundesliga seasons.
And how about Anthony Modeste, who has returned to Cologne with a bang after his spell in China, contributing five goals in just 345 minutes on the pitch? The Frenchman knows a thing or two about terrorising Bundesliga defences, having pushed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski all the way for the top scorer's cannon in 2016/17; his 25 goals helped the Billy Goats to a superb fifth place and a spot in the UEFA Europa League.
Renowned as some of the most passionate fans in Germany, the Cologne faithful will be hoping for more of the same in 2019/2020. Once they recover from the Kölsch-fuelled title celebrations, that is.