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Cologne's passionate support give English fans a taste of own medicine

Mark Ogden discusses whether British clubs would receive similar coverage had their fans behaved the same as Cologne's fans during the Europa League match against Arsenal.

The biggest surprise about the fact so many Cologne supporters attempted to get inside the Emirates for the Europa League tie against Arsenal on Thursday night is how much of a surprise it was.

Cologne's travelling fan invasion had been well flagged-up in the days and weeks before the fixture. Having failed to qualify for European football for a quarter of a century, the return to that stage for one of Germany's best-supported clubs carried huge significance for their supporters and reports of up to 20,000 Cologne fans planning to head to London had been widespread in the build-up to the game.

There may have been scepticism in London about the possible numbers; a sense that, while 20,000 seemed a big number, only a handful more than the 3,000 fans with tickets would actually make the journey from Germany to England.

After all, there is a misconception within the game in England that the only supporters who travel in such large numbers are those of English clubs.

But in Sweden last May, Ajax supporters outnumbered their Manchester United counterparts in Stockholm for the Europa League final. Turning out for a major final is to be expected, but having so many fans travel to a simple Europa League group game is something different altogether.

Yet considering Cologne were facing one of England's biggest clubs, a Champions League regular, in a major city such as London, perhaps this was always going to be a game that attracted unprecedented numbers of travelling fans.

Would English fans have been given a harder time if they had done what Cologne's did?

There is divided opinion on the Cologne following and the scenes which led to the game being delayed for an hour due to unticketed fans attempting to storm the turnstiles, before those who did manage to get one took their place in home areas with tickets purchased from outside the official channels.

Some believe that Cologne fans generated a carnival atmosphere, of passionate support and colour, while others have condemned the behaviour of a minority, who ensured UEFA charges against their club for crowd disturbances, the setting off of fireworks, throwing objects and acts of damage.

Would fans of English clubs have been given the benefit of the doubt had this happened on an away day in Germany, Italy or Spain? What would the reaction have been if fans from an English club had launched a firework onto the pitch, as a Spartak Moscow supporter did in Maribor this week, which almost struck the referee?

Perhaps the Cologne invasion simply gave the English public a glimpse into what it is like when an English team travels abroad, however. Like when Leicester City fans were involved in disturbances in Madrid ahead of last season's Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico, maybe?

Or whenever thousands of ticketless supporters travel abroad and take over a local square, draping their St George's Cross flags over everything in sight.

Lessons can be learned, though, from the scenes at Arsenal. Next time, nobody in England should be caught by surprise.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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