Putting a label on a club like Fortuna Köln is not easy. For some it is a typical “Stadtteilverein”, for others it is a “Traditionsverein” to cherish while still others find Fortuna “pure cult”. Perhaps the club from the Cologne Südstadt is best summarized as a combination of the three. The fact that Fortuna is also outside the country’s own borders a known name is beyond dispute, even though the red-and-whites have disappeared from the professional football divisions since 2000.
Although the club was neither sporting nor financially successful in the past decade, Fortuna continues to be proud of their eternal ranking of the 2nd Bundesliga. For twenty-six years Fortuna Köln played on the second highest level. A record that was only broken by Alemannia Aachen and Greuther Fürth.
Its heyday Fortuna celebrated under the reign of the legendary President Jean Löring. The man is still immensely popular even three years after his death, a fact which is proven by the name of one of the four remaining supporters clubs: “Schäng Gäng”. “Schäng” is Plattkölsch for “Jean”. There are plenty of Fortuna related anecdotes about him. One of the most well-known legends is that the ex-president, who was a trained electrician, would have remedied a blackout during a home match by holding two power cables against each other during the remainder of the match. A story which, according to witnesses, was exaggerated and in the course of the years has began to lead its own life. In another game, he invited all fans to take a seat on the covered stands during a fierce thunderstorm. This humanitarian action ensured a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium. The connection is difficult to prove, but the fact remains that the Cologne players steamrolled over their opponents in a spectacle-rich match that afternoon. That “Schäng” also had his lesser sides is shown by the stadium ban he once received after an argument with a linesman got out of hand. Löring would not have been Löring if he would not have circumvented this sanction by dressing up as Santa Claus and showing up between the Fortuna fans in the standing section.
That SC Fortuna Köln likes to be called a “Traditionsverein” is striking as Fortuna is in essence a postwar association. The club was formed in 1948 from a merger between Bayenthaler SV, Sparkassen-Verein 1927 Köln and SV Victoria 1911 Köln. The club colours, as with their larger brother 1. FC Köln, became the Red and White City colours. The club spent, as said, twenty-six years of her existence in the Purgatory of the 2nd Bundesliga from which she relegated in 2000. Fortuna managed even one season at the top level, a season to which the Rhine boys had a wry aftertaste. Fortuna ended the season 1973-74 with the same points total as Wuppertaler SV but unfortunately for Cologne the Wuppertalers had a better goal balance.
The most beautiful piece of football history was undoubtedly written in the season 1982-83. In that season the Fortuna treasurer could, for the first and only time in club history, hang the “sold out” sign on the gates of the Südstadion. In an insane semi-final for the German Cup, Fortuna Köln crushed the renowned Borussia Dortmund. 14,500 spectators witnessed the home club beat the Borussen 5-0.
As a reward the club from Köln-Zollstock made its first, and only, appearance in the Cup final. A final to be played against the much more popular 1. FC Köln in… yes, Cologne. The somewhat disappointing final however was not won by Fortuna. Pierre Littbarski scored the only goal of the game. That final was one of only ten official games between the two clubs from the Domcity. The double meeting in the 1998-99 season was the last highlight in the club history. Fortuna won both encounters: 3-0 and 2-4.
The mix of a flamboyant president-patron, ambitious purchases and disappointing attendance numbers is often lethal. Clubs that attract expensive players like Hans Krankl, Dirk Lottner, Bern Schuster, Tony Woodcock or Toni Schumacher for only a handful of spectators usually dig their own grave and on the banks of the Rhine that proved no different. In general people point to the ex-goalkeeper of the Mannschaft and former legend of 1. FC Köln, Harald “Toni” Schumacher, as the main reason for Fortuna’s downfall. In the late ’90’s, Schumacher, together with PR-man Markus Bockelkamp, proposed an ambitious masterplan to take the club to the Bundesliga. It turned out somewhat differently. Instead of the expected promotion it all went steeply downhill. In 2000, Fortuna disappeared from the paid football pyramid after which the club went into liquidation an incredible three times. The proud SC Fortuna Köln dropped all the way to the Verbandsliga Mittelrhein, level 6 of German football.
In the spring of 2008, after eight years of misery, Fortuna gained promotion to the NRW-Liga, after which some loyal supporters tried a, for Germany, unique concept. With “Meinfussballclub.de”, promoters Dirk Daniel Stoeveken and filmmaker Sönke Wortmann were hoping to find sponsors on the Internet. 30,000 people could, for 39.95 euros a year, be called “co-trainer”.
The principle of “meinfussbalclub.de” is as genius as it is simple: from each donation the club takes 30 euros which results in an annual total of 900,000 euros. In return the paying fans get 49% of the power, the maximum percentage allowed by the DFB. The initiators found their inspiration at Ebbsfleet United, one of the 21 English clubs that, over the past decades, had been able to keep their heads above water by similar supporters initiatives. If the proposed number of 30,000 co-trainers was not achieved within the year, the initiative would be stopped.
When I read about the initiative last summer, I was immediately interested. As number 7048 I can, since the end of July, decide on “important” items as like “will there be a webcam on the training field?”, “in what kit do we play on Sunday?” and “What do we sell in the Fanshop?”. That I, as a 1. FC Köln fan, support this project is less strange than it sounds. Both clubs from Cologne have always co-existed well on and off the pitch and Fortuna can count on a lot of support and sympathy among FC-fans. Fortuna President Klaus Ulonska himself is an FC supporter! You can hardly imagine this kind of football love in Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool…
Because I, as a co-trainer, receive two free tickets every season we defy the bad weather and we drive, without the mandatory “Umwelt-sticker”, towards Köln Süd. We groundhoppers live for danger.
Luckily the GPS helps us find the stadium as we see no floodlights or large groups of fans to guide our way. We park right in front of the stadium but fear that we may have misread the date on our tickets when we find a playing field shrouded in darkness. However, some of the passing supporters reassure us and point the way to the “Secretariat” building where our tickets are waiting for us. When we leave the secretariat we are personally welcomed by a balding man who – as we learn later – turns out to be the President. From a customer perspective it is a welcome that makes an impression. Would Franz Beckenbauer in Munich also welcome every fan personally? We will see the president again later in the evening when he goes around the tribune with a coin-shaped football collection box with the inscription “Zukunft Fortuna”. Or how church rituals have also found their way into the German amateur football leagues.
How things can change. Where the former football stadiums of Munich, Hamburg, Gelsenkirchen, Frankfurt and Hannover were despised because of their athletics tracks and largely uncovered grandstands, dated stadiums like the Südstadion in Cologneare a true relief for groundhoppers and football nostalgics like ourselves. The stadium in Zollstock, which has been on many a demolishers list, has four classic light masts, features only one covered stand with seats, has a track and is equipped with a typical 80’s scoreboard with an analog clock. I Love it! The official name of the stadium reads “Bezirkssportanlage Köln-Süd” but in Cologne and far beyond, it is only known as the “Südstadion”. The plans for this football-and athletics complex lain started in 1969 but it took from 1971 to 1978 before the Stadium, that was constructed in a pit, was finished. The original capacity of 15,000 places was generously measured for Fortuna because with the exception of the legendary Cup match against Borussia Dortmund, the stadium was never sold out. Even worse, several times in the past the visiting fans outnumbered the home fans in the southern city. In 1978, the number of places in the stadium was further reduced to 12,000. Today only the covered seating stand with 1,860 places is accessible.
The opponent tonight is FC Gütersloh 2000. Like Fortuna Köln, the boys from Gütersloh ended up in heavy weather in the late ’90s. The green-white-blue merger club from East Westphalia stretched itself beyond its limits in the mid-years 90 when they wanted to be in 2nd Bundesliga title race at any cost. Gütersloh jumped high (a 5th place in the 2nd Bundesliga in 1995), fell low and went into liquidation. In the year 2000 the club made a new start under the name “FC Gütersloh 2000”. Luckily Gütersloh can still count on loyal supporters and quite a few of them traveled to Cologne today. Decked with scarves, banners and flags they sit in a plexiglas-separated box on the far left of the grandstand.
If you’re in it for large bar counters, an extensive snack menu and mega fanshops the NRW League is not the place to be. Two small beer stands of “Gaff Kölsch” are the only places to get drinks. Because I just got back from a pub crawl I choose the über-German Sinalco Cola. Only one variety of– otherwise excellent-“Stadionwurst” is offered for sale at the only sausage stall. We will queue here before the match started as well as during half time. Fan articles are conjured from a cardboard box and some backpacks. They are displayed on a bench behind the grandstand. Long live Simplicity! The only thing on the Bundesliga level are the sanitary installations. It seems as if each of the present 720 fans can choose their own personal toilet.
A small notion of excitement fills me when I see a supporter in an old Fortuna-shirt with the name “Antwerpen”! I knew that Marco Antwerpen as a player had played at Preußen Münster but I was not aware of his two stints at Fortuna Köln. I try to photograph the fan without him noticing but it seems as if his subconscious wanted to protect him from a place on our website. I finally just give up.
We find a place on one of the shiny red new seats on the 10 rows high grandstand. To the left of us is the Fortuna-kop. These boys prove with their fiery encouragements, flags and chants that football can also be a feast at a lower level. Rarely have we seen such loud and positive supporters. It feels like there’s more than 7,000 instead of 700 of them! When they yell “Aufmachen! Aufmachen! ” we can’t help but frown. We thought that every reference to the war was taboo?! We also see some very remarkable figures on the stand tonight. Maybe Fortuna is indeed a “Kultverein”?
The match starts rather slowly with both clubs not taking any risks. Fortuna, who as a newly-promoted side have settled in well, start as the favourite. The home club has not lost this season, but finds it also difficult to win games, hence the rather modest classification. Gütersloh only has three teams behind them in the rankings and it promises to be a season full of relegation concerns.
After the study round, it becomes clear that the Fortunen have entered the battle with offensive intentions. After 10′ a strong playing Blankenheim opens the score for the home team. It’s the beginning of a good half hour of attractive football. The 24-year-old insurance agent Daniel Blankenheim is the absolute standout today and before half time he will add two more goals to the scoreboard. One with a penalty and the other one after a beautifully executed attack. Blankenheim joined in 2007 together with 2 defenders and goalkeeper Blech from SF Troisdorf and had a large share in the promotion to the NRW League last season. It will be difficult for Fortuna Köln to keep this semi-professional. In South Cologne, full-time pros are an exception. Only the foreigners Mimbala and Bably have a full time contract.
The second half is a disappointment. From the basket of opportunities, Fortuna converts only one. After the number 10 of Güterloh has been allowed to hit the showers early, a result of his continuous complaining, Dahmani, another one of the former SF Troisdorf players scores the fourth goal. For the Stadium DJ the opportunity to start the disc with Fortuna-songs for the fourth time. After every goal another song is blared through the loudspeakers. A carnival city like Cologne has no lack of party songs.
The well deserved 4-0 victory is celebrated exuberantly, both on the field, on the stands and outside the stadium. A group of about twenty has watched the entire game from the street behind the goal. It’s a common disadvantage of a stadium that lies below street level. Complete with scarves and flags, these non-paying fans will also be greeted by their heroes after the game. The players are still making their victory lap when the stadium lights are already extinguished. The time of inconsiderate spending seems to be over in Köln-Zollstock. In the semi-darkness, the players find their way towards the players’ tunnel. We are a bit disappointed because we would have liked to take some additional pictures of this stadium from bygone times but it is too dark for our small cameras.
“25 Dinge über Fortuna Köln”. in 11 Freunde, Nr. 70, September 2007.
“Die ungeliebte Bezirkssportanlage”. in Das grosse Buch der deutschen Fussball-Stadien. Werner Skrentny (HRSG.), Verlag die Werkstatt
“Schängs Erben”. Theweleit Daniel, in 11 Freunde, Nr. 78, Mai 2008.
“Teams, die unbedingt auch ins Sonderheft gemusst hätten”. In 11 Freunde, Nr. 82, September 2008.