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The Cologne Paradox Part II

I guess I shouldn't be sending you away from this website hardly a sentence into the column, but that's between you and me and we don't have to tell the Soccernet people, okay?

Now, you might want to open another tab, go to YouTube and search for 'Genscher at the German Embassy in Prague 1989'. What you'll find is a famous clip of the Federal Republic's then-Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who informs the people who had fled the GDR by seeking refuge in this West German embassy that an agreement had been reached and that they would be allowed to leave Czechoslovakia for Bavaria.

Actually, Genscher never got as far as saying all that halfway audibly. He solemly announced: 'Dear fellow countrymen, we have come here to tell you that today your departure...' And then the rest got drowned out by yells and cheers.

Like I said, it's a very famous film, as this moment marked the beginning of the end of the GDR. And now you might want to open yet another tab and search YouTube for 'Christoph Daum Geißbockheim Köln 21.05.2008'.

You'll see two men leaving the Cologne clubhouse at six minutes past eleven pm on Wednesday, May 21. They are business manager Michael Meier (left) and coach Christoph Daum. The pictures will allow you to guess that there was a veritable crowd waiting in front of the building. Most of them weren't reporters but regular fans. As you will hear. Because the two men haven't taken more than two steps when a wavering, imploring voice intonates: 'Please stay!'

Then the Cologne press officer says: 'Thank you very much for your patience, thanks for waiting for so long. Christoph Daum will now start off by saying a few words.' Whereupon Daum begins: 'First the most important thing. We will continue working together.' And then he, like Genscher in 1989, is forced to stop because of all the cheers going up.

Of course I wasn't there that day, but people who have been told me that complete strangers were hugging each other, pretty much like the East German refugees in 1989 did upon hearing Genscher's first words. And I'm willing to believe it, considering how the people besieging the clubhouse start chanting Daum's name two minutes or so into the film.

And, also, considering these people are Cologne fans. Because, like I said two weeks ago, they are stark raving mad.

Actually, I have just noticed that I already said so back in November of 2006, when my workmate Maurice and other diehard fans literally lit candles to convince higher forces that Daum needed to be made Cologne's coach.

Anyway, the reason I've brought up the subject of Cologne and their support (again) was a reading I did shortly before Euro 2008. The event was held in the city which is why most of the writers and a large proportion of the others in attendance who'd been invited came from there too.

The whole thing kicked off with yours truly and a Schalke fan-cum-author exchanging verbal jabs - which left the crowd underwhelmed for a number of reasons. One was that people from Cologne can't quite figure out why anyone would choose to live in a city other than Cologne, speak in a dialect other than Kölsch (Colognian) or support any club but Cologne FC. Thus they treat anyone committing one or more of these follies with polite curiosity.

Another reason was that the single-minded devotion most Germans attribute to us Ruhr fans means very little in Cologne, as those guys and gals easily beat us in the gosh-get-a-life department. There was, for instance, a quiz that night during which the compère would show photos of some of Cologne's worst signings, asking the crowd to identify the players.

Understand that these were, for the most part, footballers who'd played only a handful of games or less for the club. But the people in attendance knew every player, knew when he had been signed and from which club he'd come. In one case, somebody stood up and also informed us at which game the photo was taken and what the scoreline had been at that moment.

But that was just for starters. It got more bizarre by the minute. There was a guy who seems to make a living writing fictitious fly-on-the-wall accounts of what happens in the Cologne boardroom. Judging from the crowd's reactions, I guess his pieces must have been pretty funny. I wouldn't know, though, as I couldn't understand his thick Cologne dialect.

Then there was someone who's written a children's book about, yes, Cologne FC. He read the text, written for kids, with manic fervour and the conviction of someone who knows he's saving future generations for Cologne.

And then the compère read selected highlights from an online live ticker, collected on May 21. That, you will recall, was the day Daum did his Genscher impression. You could be forgiven for thinking that the day was about whether or not Daum would sign for Cologne. But no. He'd already done that and was under contract until 2010. But two days earlier, a tabloid had speculated he might leave after the end of the season. And so the city held its collective breath and waited for a statement from the man they'd once dubbed 'the Messiah'.

A Cologne newspaper sent a reporter out to camp in front of Daum's house and he delivered the above-mentioned minute-by-minute live ticker. Here are some entries:

10.15am: Daum's wife Angelica steps outside and serves the journalists in wait snacks and coffee.

1.47pm: The drapes on the main entrance door to Daum's villa are being closed.

3.05pm: A white Volkswagen Golf drives up. It's the deliverer of a Cologne ad paper.

4.24pm: You can see a shadow through the door's frosted glass.

7.46pm: Former Cologne player Lukas Podolski calls our editor: 'Has there been a decision yet? This is really exciting.'

And so on, until 11pm and Daum's declaration. I kid you not.

I guess Colognians are just obsessive by nature. Because apart from this unhealthy Daum fixation, they also nurture a few other obsessions. With Lukas Podolski, for instance. In the summer of 2005, a Cologne barkeeper registered a limited company, the sole directive of which was to earn enough money to have Podolski stay at the Rhine.

The barkeeper quickly found 85 other shareholders and two months later the company handed over a five-figure sum to the club. But Poldi left anyway. (The same barkeeper, incidentally, transports supporters to away games in a bus that used to be a prison coach. The bus bears the inscription: 'FC. Loyalty. For Life.')

Which reminds me that the quiz I mentioned above also had to do with Podolski. For every correct answer, one Euro went towards Cologne FC so that the club can rescue Poldi from his Bavarian exile. Yes, they really believe Podolski would gladly forsake Champions League football for the relegation dogfight with Cologne! And you know what? I suspect they could be right. After all, an online account of the reading later said the evening had proved beyond doubt that 'Cologne FC is bigger than any European Championship'.


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