The 2015 Karneval Jersey: So Ugly, that it’s Beautiful!

First reaction: “Eyesore!”

My first view was this image. It’s a LOT to take in!

Actually, my first thought upon seeing this season’s Karneval jersey was, “This is exactly the sort of thing for which the term ‘eyesore’ was coined! It’s painful to look at it!” Even with jersey sponsorships, club crests, equipment outfitter logos, and whatever design elements are concocted, football jerseys are relatively simple and tend to feature large fields of mostly uninterrupted color.

No need for me to detail just how many ways the jersey unveiled Thursday breaks with convention. Just LOOK at it!

We may someday examine the value of having presented something to the world that immediately became a discussion piece that got people talking about 1. FC Köln for a few minutes, even if it was about a bit of clothing, rather than for football reasons. Even though I am naturally very concerned about the wider marketing reach of our club into new markets (especially as I attempt to force myself into having a role in that), I’m not too interested in the “any publicity is good publicity” element of this jersey.

My guess is that anyone with no connection to or interest in the Bundesliga might see the jersey, have a chuckle at its sheer awfulness, maybe share the pic with friends via social media, and forget it soon thereafter.

People who have a rooting interest in the league are likely to react with either a shaking of the head and a “Typical Köln. Forever just a Karneval club!” or some form of a mean-spirited LOL and some select curse words to describe the jersey and how it is emblematic of the similarly curse-word club.

Within the borders of Planet Effzeh, though, it’s largely been genuine proclamations of the design being “embarrassing” or a condemnation laughed off with a silver lining along the lines of “opponents will be so shocked by the ugliness of it, they won’t be able to play against us!” The #effzeh hashtag on Twitter was dominated all day by attempts at constructing the funniest put-down of the jersey.

There are a few people who are embracing the jersey, but they’re vastly outnumbered so far. For many, “love your club” apparently ends somewhere before accepting an outlandishly loud attempt at a themed jersey.

The 2013 Karneval Jersey, the first in a new tradition.

The 2013 Karneval jersey launched a new tradition.

Yet, as I intimate in the title, I am among that minority who is embracing this uniform of the “Red ‘Funken’ of Müngersdorf.”

Sidebar: “Funken” refers to those folks who participate in Karneval regaled in those uniforms that seem like they may based on those of military guardsmen of long ago. I don’t know of a good translation for it, but . . . think of “guard” as in “color guard” and you’re getting an idea of how the word is leveraged.

Karneval is an incredibly big deal in Köln. In so many ways, Köln is Karneval, and Karneval is Köln. This is the third-consecutive season we’ve had a special jersey designed to be used for matches near the start of the Karneval season on November 11. This season, the closest match to that date will take place at Bayer Leverkusen, which precedes an international break. Hence, the red-dominant design.

The phrase Karnevalsverein is something fans of other clubs like to lob our way as an insult. That is, “You’re not as much a football club, as you are a Karneval concern.” Because the people of Köln are who they are, they were quick to embrace the notion. “Damned right we’re a Karneval club!”

I’ve personally quite enjoyed seeing the club itself more-actively embrace its connection to the city, its

The 2014 edition showed further integration of traditional Karneval looks.

The 2014 edition showed further integration of traditional Karneval looks.

people, and the Karneval. In fact, as the business elements of professional football continually threaten to greatly alter the way genuine “clubs” exist in the top-levels of German football, I find that it refreshes my sports soul.

Right now, all the teams of the National Football League are integrating pink accessories into their game-day uniforms because the league has mandated all its franchises will do so in conjunction with a deal made with a corporate charity that fights breast cancer. When a team wants to change design elements of their uniforms, they have to get permission and approval from the league. Realistically, the only real connection between a typical US sports team and its home city is that they play their home games there and have the city’s name as part of the franchise name. As much as I feel connected to all the Detroit teams I’ve cheered since I was a kid while despising all those who were not Detroit, they aren’t really very different from the other franchises in their leagues. There’s a homogenization of US sports teams that I never noticed until I recognized stark differences between Bundesliga clubs.

It's different, yet somehow very much the same. You want that?!

It’s different, yet somehow very much the same. You want that?!

Maybe it’s also because my first time ever in Köln was when some friends woke me up on 11.11.1993 and insisted I get ready to catch a train south from Wuppertal. Among the things of which I’d been ignorant when arriving in Germany was Karneval, so I had no clue what was happening. It was a blur of a day, but I remember how the people of Köln seemed so welcoming, friendly, and generous of spirit, even as I probably displayed many elements of the stereotypical “ugly American.” I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I’m fairly sure that it was on that day the seed of my future 1. FC Köln fandom was planted.

All of it adds up to me having a special feeling toward the Karneval jersey. For me, the aesthetic quality of the design is contrary to the point. The cynic will point out that it’s largely marketing, especially noting how expensive the price tag on them in the FC Fan Shop. I’ll acknowledge that element necessarily exists, but I still prefer to focus on the element of this jersey that is symbolic of the close connection between this football club and the people of Köln.

This might seem an odd view from a complete outsider. I am very much not a “people of Köln.” For some reason, though, my connection to this football club has gone well beyond weekly 90-minute match viewings. I listen to Kölsch music regularly, have learned some of the Kölsch dialect, and celebrate a bit of the Karneval even from such a great distance. When I think of it, it’s absurd.

But that’s the beauty of it, too. I am somehow newly experiencing a child’s discovery of a favorite sports team all over again, while armed with the ability of an adult (in the internet age) to engage in it. I have to tell you, it’s pretty wonderful!

So, okay, they aren’t the most-stylish football jerseys ever designed. I’d say it’s easy enough to not buy one to wear with skinny jeans and stylish sneakers to hang out in cool bars or whatever it is you do when you’re a football fan with a fashion sense. It is just a jersey that’s going to be worn just the once, much as you probably don’t wear your Karneval outfit to work on a regular basis. If you can survive multiple trips to the second division, your embarrassment over a shirt will fade in due time.

But I’d wear it proudly, ready to bore anyone and everyone with an explanation of the entire backstory when asked. Considering I get asked about my effzeh gear on a semi-regular basis, I’d think the outlandishness of this one would inspire an increase in queries. I do love opportunities to talk about my club.

But even before I could wear it around Seattle, trying to bait locals into asking “What the hell are you wearing?!”, I’d be putting it on the morning of November 11, completing the ensemble with my red clown nose, ready to sing along loudly to “Du Bes die Stadt” in my midwestern-American-tinged half-assed attempts at Kölsch dialekt at 11:11 a.m. in a symbolic nod toward my brothers and sisters nine time zones to the east, many of whom will already be deep into a Kölsch-fuelled party.

Kölle Alaaf!


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