Arsenal Away Day: The Real Diary of a Cologne Supporter

Dean JonesFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportSeptember 15, 2017

Cologne Fans
Cologne FansB/R

It has been branded a "night of shame" by sections of the English media, but for Cologne supporters in London on Thursday, it was simply a celebration of the football club they love.

The team's Europa League fixture against Arsenal marked their first match in European football for 25 years. It was the game every fan wanted to be at, and since the draw was made on August 25, talk around the city has been buzzing around how they would get there and how they could get in.

Roland Flessner, 34, has been a supporter for the past 15 years and barely misses a home match. He travelled from Germany to watch his side at the Emirates Stadium. He had a ticket in the Arsenal section of the ground and spoke with Bleacher Report to give an insight into the day's events through the eyes of a man who wanted to witness his side take on one of Europe's biggest teams.

        

4 a.m.

"We had been waiting for this day for months, so the early start did not seem like much of a big deal. At Cologne, we had become more familiar with relegation than big European fixtures, so it was great that we were at a stage where we had a moment to embrace and enjoy. For some, it was the first chance to ever see our team play in Europe.

"It was still dark as we headed to the airport, but there is nothing else I would rather have been doing. It had been 25 years since the team had a match like this. We all felt like we needed to be in London with our team."

      

Birmingham Airport: A long way from London
Birmingham Airport: A long way from LondonDavid Goddard/Getty Images

8 a.m.

"Our flight arrived at Birmingham Airport. Yes, we knew it was not near the stadium! But it was our cheapest way of getting there. As planned we then got a train down to London.

"We knew that a lot of fans had planned to travel to England for this match, but it was not until we arrived in London that we began to realise just how many had actually made the trip."

          

10:30 a.m.

"We have friends in London so had a plan for the day, but for many supporters, it was a case of figuring out where would be the best place to enjoy the buildup. We noticed very quickly that there were a lot of Cologne fans around, and I have to say it all felt very positive and calm.

"I know people who travelled without a ticket and just hoped they could find one outside on the day. Of course, that is not ideal, and we all know it should not happen. But we also know that it is nearly always possible, so it is not a surprise that some people decided to do that.

"Like many others we decided to get some food and then find somewhere to have a beer."

       

Noon

"It began to sink in what a huge moment this was. Honestly, there were moments when none of us thought we'd be playing a team like Arsenal ever again.

"We decided to head to Camden as our starting point for the day and start having some fun."

Roland Flessner

         

3:30 p.m.

"We enjoyed our early afternoon and headed down to be closer to the ground so that our English friends could join us after they finished work. They are Arsenal fans who live in London, and the plan had always been to enjoy the day together. We never thought there would be an occasion like this when our two teams would meet!

"The beers began to flow, and spirits were high. We dropped our bags off and then got an Uber to Highbury Fields, where thousands of fellow fans had decided to base themselves."

5 p.m.

"Videos had started to surface on social media of our supporters marching through central London, and our friends were telling us about it and how wild they thought this was. I am not sure English people knew how much we care about our football team!

"There was a time when certain sections of Cologne supporters had a reputation for violence, but in the past four or five years, that has changed. It was not on my mind at all.

"Arsenal fans were mingling with us in the park, and our English friends were really enjoying the occasion. Their only problem was that it had become so difficult to buy beer—all the local stores were sold out!"

       

6 p.m.

Roland Flessner

"In Germany, it is not uncommon for fans to march at games. Usually, you would do it against a local rival or at the last game of the season, and it would be organised by club ultras.

"Before the match, we marched from Highbury Fields down towards the stadium, and it was something I have never experienced with so many people at an away game. There were thousands of us, and even some Arsenal fans walked with us.

"Again, it was peaceful. We chanted about our team but it was not with any intention to intimidate. That was certainly not how I viewed it, anyway. I guess if you are not familiar with the sight it may seem different."

          

6:30 p.m.

"I wanted to be at the ground early, particularly as our tickets were in an Arsenal section. Our friends had told us we could not wear our Cologne clothes, so we were well-prepared and just wore casual outfits.

"When we got to the gates of the ground, we could not yet get in, so we waited. Word then started to spread that there was a problem, so they were not letting us inside.

"It was difficult to get any information, but we were standing there for an hour and a half and hearing rumours that the match may be cancelled, mainly by checking social media and people just talking to each other.

"There were so many people around the entrances that we had no choice but to wait it out. I had not seen any problems with violence, but I just hoped that some of our fans had not been stupid.

"If this match did not go ahead, it would have been a nightmare!"

Roland Flessner

        

8 p.m.

"By now, the match had been put back by one hour. Before getting to the ground, part of me had been worried about the fact I was a Cologne supporter with an Arsenal ticket and our friends had told us to make sure we kept a low profile.

"But when we got inside the ground, it became clear that lots of other fans had also got Arsenal tickets.

"I have to say it was very easy to get in. We had a security check on a bridge before getting near the stadium, but then at the gates all that happened was a very quick look inside any bags. Nobody seemed to check whether anyone was a Cologne fan—and it was pretty obvious anyway, as the people around me were all wearing club T-shirts and scarves!

"We did not need to trick anyone to get inside. In Bundesliga, we are checked more thoroughly for a regular game than we were at Arsenal."

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Police look on as Cologne fans ignite flares and celebrate a goal during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Chelsea FC and Qarabag FK at Stamford Bridge on September 12, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo b
Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images

          


9:05 p.m.

"We had expected to be outnumbered by Arsenal fans inside the stadium but as the game finally got underway, it was not the case at all. We were surrounded by fellow Cologne fans. The Arsenal supporters were looking around in bewilderment. They clearly could not believe what was going on.

"We were so happy to be inside the ground for this momentous occasion for our team as kick-off took place."

         

9:14 p.m.

"Goal! In the entire buildup to this game, we had been warned not to cheer if our team scored, and I understood the reasons for that so was willing to respect it. But that feeling had changed since we got to the ground because it felt safe to show which team we were supporting.

"It was a fantastic goal from Jhon Cordoba, and all of us celebrated by jumping around and cheering. The Arsenal fans were OK about it, although one of my friends said he was sat next to a very big Arsenal fan so decided not to get too carried away!"

         

10:50 p.m.

"We lost the game 3-1. When Arsenal got back in the game and started to take control, their fans enjoyed chanting 'Who are ya?' and giving us the finger. You just have to accept that!

"At Bundesliga matches, it is not a big issue to mix with fans of the other team. There will always be a stand you can not go in, but the main stand is often for fans from both teams, and it is not a big deal.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  FC Koeln fans ahead of the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and 1. FC Koeln at Emirates Stadium on September 14, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

"Honestly, the atmophere had been good in the section I had been in at the Emirates Stadium, but by the end of the game, all of the Arsenal fans had left—so it was pretty much just thousands of us Cologne supporters left.

"It is also normal in the Bundesliga to say goodbye to your team, so we stayed behind and chant, sing songs and wish our players well. Even when we lose, we wave the goodbye."

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  Riot police with dogs stand infront of the  FC Koeln fans ahead of the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and 1. FC Koeln at Emirates Stadium on September 14, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ric
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

         

11:10 p.m.

"As we streamed out of the stadium, there were not many Arsenal fans around. I saw some familiar faces. Some headed home, while others went to enjoy another drink."

        

The Next Day

"I have seen and heard what the English media have reported and how we have been portrayed, but I can only give my own account of the day.

"I did not see violence happening. If it did happen and there were cases where people were causing problems and running over the security into different areas of the ground, then that is inexcusable. I really hope that wasn't the case because it is bad, and I do not want people to think that is what our club stands for.

"Generally at Cologne games, you do not see problems. We have possibly the second-best atmosphere at home matches of any other German side, behind Borussia Dortmund. We are famous for it.

"For Arsenal fans who plan to come to Cologne, I would say that you should do so without fear of any problems.

"But don't expect to get tickets in the home sections of the ground. There is absolutely no way any of us would be willing to sell them!"