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By ESPN Staff

Curse of the rabbit's foot

I admit it's not very likely, but there is at least an outside chance these lines will be read by somebody who supports Arminia Bielefeld.

And if that's the case, I'd like to express my sincerest apologies to you, whoever you may be. My last words of wisdom dealt with the achievements of your coach Ernst Middendorp, and according to the unwritten laws governing column writing, this automatically jinxed the man and his team.

Of course I wasn't really to blame. Hey, I have to write about something, right, and it's not my fault if this tends to curse my subject. Still, I did feel pangs of remorse when I saw Bielefeld getting hammered 8-1 in Bremen, which explains why I have kept shtum for the past weeks.

I spent some time contemplating the option to write about someone or something completely immune to curses of any kind (such as Bayern Munich) or something that by definition doesn't worry about jinxes (such as statistics). Then it hit me. Why not write a column about people, if that's what they are, you WANT to put a curse on?

And who would that be? Easy. Mascots.

God, I hate mascots. In any sport, in any country. I'm willing to make an exception for the Phillie Phanatic, just because he's so thoroughly over the top and not even any recognizable being.

Okay, I'm also willing to make one exception for a German football mascot, and that's of course Cologne's billy-goat Hennes. The reason is that he is a real animal and has got a real story. In 1950, the club were having their annual carnival party in a hall that had been built by the English circus owner Harry Williams and used to host circus shows. Williams' wife, the German Carola Althoff, was present for the party and jokingly gave Cologne's board of directors a gift - a live billy-goat.

Now, they all had a few pints that night and finally decided to baptise the goat with beer and christen him 'Hennes', after Cologne's then-coach Hennes Weisweiler. Legend has it the goat celebrated by peeing on Weisweiler's shirt, but obviously no-one felt offended - because the animal's been there ever since.

Not the same goat, of course. As we speak, Cologne are ruled by Hennes VII (one of his predecessors, Hennes III, died of poisoning - the murderer is still on the run). And 'ruled' is not an exaggeration. Within a year of Carola Althoff's gesture, the billy- goat had lent his name to the club magazine and as early as 1953, club president Franz Kremer decreed the image of the goat would become part of the official badge. At first the animal was about as big as the other main element of the badge - the Cologne cathedral. But over the years, Hennes became more and more important and soon he towered over the cathedral.

Yes, that's silly. But, like I said, at least there is a tale to be told and memories to be brought up when you see Hennes VII standing at the sidelines, usually not watching the game.

But what about the rest? Last February, Werder Bremen asked school kids to come up with an idea for a mascot, because 'the majority of Bundesliga clubs are supported by a lucky charm'. Does that mean if everybody is making an ass of himself you have to follow suit? (I apologise in case an ass is already some club's mascot. Don't say it can't be. Bielefeld have a cow, Karlsruhe have a wild boar, Aachen have a Colorado beetle. Yes, a beetle.)

Anyway, it's not as if Bremen have never tried to find a mascot before. There was a goat (yes) which they named Pico, to honour Arnold 'Pico' Schütz, a legendary player from the 50s and 60s. Then Werder introduced a seagull called, well, 'Werdi'. (I don't know whether this was for a lack of imagination or because there is a secret link between Werder Bremen and the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi.) But neither Pico nor Werdi ever won acceptance - the club themselves admit that the gull 'couldn't land among the fans'. So why not leave it at that?

There is, for instance, a good reason why St. Pauli do not have a mascot. The club know very well that next to everything about them - their image, their aura, their popularity - is because of their unique support. And supporters hate mascots. Unless they, meaning the supporters, are twelve years old or younger. And even most twelve-year-olds I know are embarrassed by mascots.

For many a moon I kind of prided myself on the fact that my club (Borussia Dortmund) does not have a mascot. Then, in 2005, they played a nasty trick on us.

They introduced a fat bee, which was later christened 'Emma'. The name was meant to honour former player Lothar Emmerich, who died in 2003. I have met Emmerich a few times, and I suspect he is up there right now, lighting a cigarette, shaking his head and muttering: 'There was sure as hell no idiot in a stupid bee costume standing at the sidelines back when I was playing.'

The trick about the bee was that they told us it was just for the newly-formed Kids Club. It would merely go to schools and hospitals and the like and meet kids and make them happy by doing ... whatever giant fake bees do. But that, cunningly, was only the beginning. Now the bee pops up more and more often. It even ran onto the pitch before the Bayern game to wave at people. I have a hunch the club are trying to slip this monstrosity by us.

I don't even know why we have a bee. Yes, they are black and yellow, just like our shirts. But we don't have any animal, let alone a bee, in our club badge. And we don't even have a nickname. It's not as if people call us or our players the Bees. We are not Duisburg, who are called the Zebras, where the fans sing about 'blue and white zebra stripes' and have accordingly learnt to live with a zebra at the sidelines. (You don't have to tell me that a zebra's stripes are not blue and white. I know that.)

Where will it all lead? Bear in mind that Hartlepool United's mascot H'Angus the Monkey was elected mayor of the town. (I'm not kidding, you can look it up.) Makes you wonder. Then again, I'd vote for Emma the Bee to become mayor of Dortmund if that guarantees she will stay away from the football ground.


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