About that “About” Post I’d Been Meaning to Write…

In the wake of my Aue post, I noticed some folk had been clicking on the “About” post.

Turns out I had no sort of an “About” in the “About” post. Should likely fix that.

About me and my blog?

Okay.

I grew up a big sports fan in a small, midwestern town. My high school’s only soccer team was for girls, so I grew up thinking it was a girls sport.

Shortly after arriving in Wuppertal, Germany as part of a one-year student exchange program in 1993, I learned that not only did men play the sport, but it was the world’s most-popular sport.

I will not now digress into a diatribe against the American public education system and the insular nature of how Americans (at least where I grew up) see the world and history beyond having stated just that there.

In February of 1994, my friend Halid managed to get me to agree to attend a Borussia Dortmund versus Bayer Leverkusen match, which ended 1:0 (thanks to a Stephane Chapuisat goal).

It would be only fair to admit that, at that point, I was not 100% sold on the idea of a game having just the one score as a common occurrence, but I could not deny the power of the large and enthusiastic crowd for it. Plus, there was something appealing to the fact the game seemed to be constantly flowing.

I also loved that there was no clock in the stadium, even though it completely challenged my sense of how sports work.  Halves are about 45 minutes long plus whatever time the officials deem proper to off-set some of the delays during play due to injuries and the faking of injuries? And that clock is kept by the watch on the referees wrist?

Plus, I believe the system of promotion and relegation is one of the best things in sports we just do not have here in the US. I wouldn’t think it’d work for the NFL, but for NCAA football and even basketball? It would definitely make for some interesting scenarios.

Also challenging for a sports fan trained in this country was the idea that the champion of the league was the team with the best overall performance for the season. No playoffs?! No Super Bowl?

Admittedly, that’s still a bit of a failing for me. Though I wouldn’t wish for it to change really, there is nothing in a typical year of football in Europe that rises to the level of the Super Bowl, excitement-wise.  Even though it allows a team (like the New York Giants of last year) who was not necessarily the best over the 16 game schedule to end up as champions, the appeal of the NFL playoffs, for me, is undeniable.  The climax of a final head-to-head match for all the marbles is  the ideal end to a season-long story arch, even if it doesn’t actually make as much sense as rewarding the best team from start to finish.

All things aside, I was at least intrigued, if not completely sold into becoming a true fan.

Soon, I was keeping an eye on the Bundesliga via whatever wrap-up show we’d watch in the dormitory community area on the weekends, even though I was still completely baffled by the various tournaments running concurrently with the regular season.

When Halid’s beloved Bayern Münich came to Wattenscheid, I again tagged along with him and sat among some fairly besoffene Bayern fans who seemed completely flummoxed by the presense of an American at a Bundesliga game.

Though, admittedly, I could barely understand a word anyone was saying between the bier and dialect. Hochdeutsch and Bayerisch were, for me, almost two completely separate languages. I was barely managing with German in my little university-based microcosm! For all I know, they were surprised at how few Americans there were in the visiting stands that day.

My time in Germany also included a stint managing and playing with the Ennepetal Raccoons, a baseball team a reasonable train ride from Wuppertal. Among the things I learned through that experience were that I had no business, maturity-wise, coaching any sort of baseball team and that my working-class adult teammates were steadfastly fans of Schalke 04.

To top all of it off, I took in my first World Cup, watching every game of the tournament but one among students of many nations housed in the Studentenwohnheim on Max-Horkheimer-Straße. Again, the fan passion was amazing and hard to deny. I was into it.

Though, I remember wearing a stars-and-stripes rugby shirt on the July 4 Brazil knocked the US from the tournament and, at a party that evening, having a middle-eastern guy I’d never seen before come up to me and dispassionately tell me he was happy my team lost that day.

Thanks to the many holes in my education, I know I had no idea what that was about at the time, but my demeanor remains unchanged, so I pretty much laughed it off and continued to have a good time. Jingoism never has been, nor would I expect it ever to be, a strong suit of mine.

Ultimately, though, I returned to the US where soccer remained more a curiosity than anything, despite the successful hosting of the world’s largest sporting event. By the time MLS began play in 1996, I’d mostly forgotten the fun of the Bundesliga and World Cup. I was still interested, but more on a part-time novelty basis.

Well, also because it’s just fun to be on the other side of the knuckle-dragging types who love to just dismiss things out-of-hand, which is typical of a LOT of American sports fans. I may have some bit of contrarian in my nature, too.

The fact was, however, that following any sort of soccer/football in America, at that time, was a non-starter. It was the early days of the internet and any available news outlets had little to no interest in even the local league, much less what was happening overseas.

So…it faded away, along with my German speaking and comprehension skills.

Then, one day, a few years ago, I stumble onto GolTV through my DirectTV subscription and see they are showing a Bundesliga game. More than I was interested in the actual game, I was instantly reminded of my year in Germany, which is always a good feeling for me.

Slowly, I was sucked in.

Actually, it wasn’t even all that slowly. I really just dived back in. I was quickly setting the DVR to record anything and everything Bundesliga.

Even dorkier, I was watching Champions- and Europa-Legue highlight shows and then researching the geography of teams with names that were new to me.

It was Europhilia run amok. I’ve been long wanting for a magical door to open that would move me and my family to Europe with jobs providing for a good quality of life and enough money to use our vacation time to see the continent in full. This was definitely not THAT, but I was happy to go with it.

Plus, I was actually learning stuff. Turns out the climate of northern Iceland is hardly as cold as you might think!

What I didn’t have for a while, however, was a team.

Growing up in Michigan, I inherited teams in each of the major sports. Also from growing up in Michigan, you’re saddled with an idea of fierce loyalty that extends to your sports teams in good times (Detroit Red Wings the last 20-some years) and bad (the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions for big, long stretches until fairly recently.

Now, as you’re on a site called “American Geissbock,” you know how the story goes from here, unless you’re reading this as a favor to me or completely oblivious to the Bundesliga in general.

Are you not wondering how I didn’t throw in with the BVB, especially as my return to Bundesliga football coincided with their having two of the best seasons any German team has ever experienced? They were the hosts and victors in the first soccer game I ever saw! Seems like a gimme, oder?

Probably you can imagine that, as a Detroit guy, I was probably not interested in Bayern, as they have the big money/buy everything model we Detroit sports fan love to hate about teams like the New York Yankees (even if that’s what other hockey fans hate about the Red Wings), but would it be horrible to join up with Bayern? Few people here in Seattle would think I was just getting on the party wagon with no real reason to worry about failure.

Hell, even Schalke has the appeal of having been the team of my teammates, and what’s stronger than the bond between teammates? They were, like Dortmund, local to the area in which I studied. They are consistently good, too.

Inexplicably, none of the above.

Though I otherwise look at them like the villains most Bundesliga fans so, I admittedly will for Bayern München in European competitions.

I’ve tried on the Schalke and Dortmund fan capes, but didn’t find either of them giving me the feel. Admittedly, I think it simply felt too phony to just jump on the fun wagon the BVB had become, even though I do like to watch them and think coach Jürgen Klopp is among the most-fascinating personages in all of sports. When I’d watch the occasional Schalke game, I’d find myself admiring a good number of their players, but just didn’t feel any pull toward them.

But then…what happened.

I was randomly watching a match one early morning in the 2010-11 season live from the start. In fact, my son, who was not quite one year old at the time, was awake and crying and would not go back to sleep, so I, dutiful Dad I like to pretend to be, snuck him from his crib and into the living room to feed him a bottle while stared zombie-like at the television.

What I remember most, despite my sleep-deprived haze:

The Hymne: You either get it or don’t. If you heard the song on its own and out of context, it would just sound like a daft, old-style song. But to hear it at an Effzeh home match with the crowd singing with (in HD!)…it was striking. I don’t remember ever catching a game to that point where the broadcast seemed to make a point to join early enough to catch such a tradition. This made me take notice. I could link to any of a number 0f videos, but I’ll let you find them if you’re intrigued enough to check it out.

Pedro Geromel: I don’t remember the opponent, but I do remember the “Master of the Air” was a source of never-ending resistance for them. He was all sorts of gangly limbs and long hair heading balls away from danger all morning (my time, of course) long. For someone with as little actual experience of the game to inform who’s doing what correctly and not, it seemed obvious to me that Geromel was a factor in how the game was going.

Prinz Poldi: I didn’t know the back story at the time, but it was obvious to me that Lukas Podolski was a very strong fan favorite. It was also obvious, again despite a lack of soccer savvy on my part, he was the best player on the pitch. Unfortunately, it seemed he was also the only very capable offensive player for 1. FC Köln. This would turn out to be a problem, but not until after I’d fallen in love.

Adam Matuschyk: I didn’t know then that he was not quite on the level of the other two players, but I was completely drawn to the play of Matuscyk. Hence, I’m excited he’s still/back with the team (unlike Geromel and Podolski, obviously). He seemed to be possessed with an aggressiveness I don’t recognize in other players. Maybe he just seemed like an American football player making it work in the global game. I don’t know, but I had him pegged as a guy to watch.

The fans: Certainly, German fans are vocal, boisterous, and supportive of their teams, but as I got into the game, I felt myself being drawn in by the stimmung to actually pull for the home team. Up until then, I’d watch the games somewhat dispassionately. I’d often choose a side, but wasn’t really that invested in the actual outcome. By the time Köln had secured the three points from a victory, I was excited for them to have done so. Something had taken root.

Suddenly, it began to feel like I had a team.

Even though I’d been to Dortmund, Köln (along with Düsseldorf) was a city I’d visited a few times during my year in Germany, including during Karneval, which ended up being the biggest party I’ve ever attended.

During that experience, I met a lot of very friendly people who were only too happy to lie to me about how good my German was, while helping me see just how much Kölsch a college student could drink before noon.

I also really loved Köln for it’s sheer tourist-ability. The Kölner Dom is one of the most-impressive buildings in the world. The city itself is situated gorgeously along the Rhine River. I love the view of the city from across the river at night, particularly looking at the cathedral where the Hohenzollern bridge leads you right into the heart of the city.

It was all appeal, even if I’d never made it to the football stadium or even really was aware of the Effzeh until many a year removed from my last visit.

By the time the 2011-12 season was ready to kick-off, I had bought in completely. I was sold on Stale Solbakken as the coaching answer to the question of how the team was going to take the next step toward earning a position in Europe (Wow! Was I wrong on that or what?!) and figured Prinz Poldi would just find a way to carry the rest of the team forward.

By the time it was clear Solbakken was a poor fit and that Europe was a pipe dream and Poldi was busy denying a move to England, it was too late for a mulligan.

I was, and remain, IN.

Which has ultimately led to me trying to follow the trials and travails of 1. FC Köln from half-a-world and nine time zones away. Granted, the internet makes it infinitely easier than it would have been back in 1994, it does have it’s limitations and obstacles, which may, at times, make this blog a bit of a bit of nonsense.

As if that ever stopped me…

How’s that for an ‘About?’

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11 Comments on "About that “About” Post I’d Been Meaning to Write…"

  1. Great stuff, Randall !!!

  2. WOW!!!!!!!

    I can’t believe I read the whole text but I couldn’t resist.
    You are a fan. You can’t deny it.

    If you want to know about everything thats happening around the club an parallely improve your german (;-)) just visit our page. effzeh.com

    Greetings from several time zones and thousands of miles away,

    Lukas.

    • Appreciated.

      Due to Twitter, I just recently began to discover some of the various blogs out there. Good to have more resources for staying up with the club.

      Thanks!

  3. Martijn Reusken | August 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply

    Just read (and enjoyed!) your story. Keep up the good work, come on FC!

    Greetz form Arnheim, The Netherlands

  4. Come on effffzehhh

  5. William Hillmann | August 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply

    So glad that found this website, being from Germany but not knowing German , its been hard following fc koln . And since my dad has move back I kinda lost my insider. Plan on visiting in next few years and catching a home game

  6. Hey Randall,
    its always great to see people supporting our EFFZEH all over the world, specially since we haven’t been really succesfull during the last few dacades. It was interesting reading your article about how you became a fan of the best soccer club in the world. Take care and maybe you’ll have the chance to attend a match in Cologne one day and sing the hymn with us.

    Greeting from Cologne,

    Patrick

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