Koln fans remind Arsenal that football was never meant to be a middle-class plaything
Rather than being berated, FC Koln fans should be celebrated for reminding us that football will never be the sole preserve of the rich, writes Desmond Kane.
The smell of Cologne will linger around the Emirates Stadium for some time to come, but having stunk out the Champions League in recent seasons perhaps that is no bad thing. Koln's perfumed first match in 25 years in European football was mirrored by Arsenal’s first in the Europa League since 2000. Let’s all meet up in the year 2017.
Arsenal hosting Koln in the opening match of the Europa League group stage was not to be sniffed at, football's rich list equivalent of Tom Ford meeting Blue Stratos.
But don’t try telling Koln that their return to European football was anything other than the sweet smell of success, an utter triumph, as diehards from Germany’s fourth-biggest city made a first trip overseas to see their side since a 3-0 flogging by Celtic in the UEFA Cup first round in 1992.
Good to upholster that record even if the 3-1 defeat in London will be remembered more for bouncing supporters bringing a bit of much-missed community spirit to the Emirates.
The Europa League remains a source of genuine pride in parts of the Bundesliga the Champions League can no longer touch.
Refreshing enough for a hardly bunch of parched Koln punters to spend all day drinking and marching through London with more purpose than Carsten Jancker in his prime before fraternising with a spot of overcrowding around Holloway Road tube station. It brought back old school scenes, some naughty, some nice. Rowdy yet rousing, but generally nothing worse than what Arsenal will expect when they visit Chelsea on Sunday.
Who would have thought that after a week in which their monied rivals Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham were hobnobbing with the elite, it would be Arsenal who would discover true meaning to life in the lesser competition. Not quite football's Nirvana, but never mind.
Around 20,000 fans of the Bundesliga club apparently washed up at a 60,000-capacity ground built for such vociferous occasions, but not used to hosting them. Even in the Premier League where money is no object, they can't buy an atmosphere.
The kick-off was delayed for an hour as raw footage and tales emerged of Koln fans trying to get access to the home end by pulling down barriers before letting off flares and clashing with stewards inside the ground. Another fan of the club titled 'The Billy Goats' apparently locked horns earlier with another bloke on Oxford Street, but such things happen on Black Friday.
The feeling of Arsenal fans being underwhelmed by such an occasion was mirrored only by the club being overwhelmed by Germans. Enough to send some running for cover.
Cologne storm the Emirates Arena. Getty Images
There is nothing wrong with exuberance, and some of the claims made against the travelling hordes from Koln do not stack up. Not by video footage. Nor by eyewitness accounts.
UEFA has hit Koln with four charges relating to crowd disturbances, acts of damage, setting off fireworks and throwing of objects.
Yet after all these goings on, only five arrests were made. It was hardly England fans enjoying a meet-and-greet with their Russian brethren in Marseille. Or Rangers in Manchester.
The Police statement said it was much ado about thing.
"No reports of any significant incidents. Five people have been arrested on suspicion of public order offences. The game has now concluded and the majority of supporters have left the stadium and the surrounding area."
Cologne fans enjoy their day out.Eurosport
The account also startlingly revealed a bloke had invoked the spirit of the Fonz by managing to casually infiltrate a section of the ground enjoyed by the Bollinger brigade with this brilliant piece of revelatory prose.
"I saw one man wearing a leather jacket emblazoned with 'Cologne f------ rocks' on the back casually queueing up for Club Level - the ring of highly expensive, largely corporate seats around the centre of the stadium - before scanning his ticket and being allowed into the stadium."
The Premier League has become so gentrified, middle class and mollycoddled that they have forgotten what football represents. Their sense of rebellion is best viewed when big Robbie holds court on Arsenal FanTV. Plenty of Arsenal's traditional support can't afford season tickets so tourists take their places.
There are stories of some Arsenal fans being unhappy about the lack of segregation at the ground and feeling unsafe about having to move from the Clock End to the opposite side of the ground where home fans where outnumbered by empty seats. This is not the old Clock End at Highbury. Just an end with a clock at the top to nod to the good old days when such evenings mattered.
It was patently obvious Arsenal fans have no interest despite being butchered by Bayern Munich 10-2 over two legs in March. Why not just hand over the ground to Koln, who were vital to the occasion in filling various tiers. According to Koln's hijacked Wikipedia page this morning, the Emirates is their new home from home.
This is one of Germany's biggest concerns back on the big stage having suffered relegation several times over the past two decades, and nothing would halt their match. Not even some home fans being left horrified as riot police waltzed around the edge of the fray with guard dogs, who weren't around when Arsene Wenger last managed in this tournament.
Football is the people’s game, and is owned by the people. Koln merely remind us that football is about more than TV contracts worth billons, middle class fans with plenty of disposable income and financial doping. It is about supporters who view their club as more important than anything else, whether at home or abroad.
Arsenal fans should probably be happy that there is not only life in the Europa League, but that 20,000 people from Germany are interested in turning up to a ground that often feels like it is hosting a croquet match.
Football needs the passion, colour and theatre of Koln fans. Sadly, Arsenal’s working class core has been has been abandoned with the new breed of fan brainwashed by the ubiquitous Premier League, and the misplaced sense of entitlement that comes with it.
Despite some general high jinks, and minor acts of violence should never be condoned or lionised, Koln generally departed London with their reputation enhanced.
Here's to proper fans. And big boisterous days out. Here's to the bloke wearing a leather jacket in the corporate seats. Cologne f******g rock.