Koln provide ideal Premier League example as fan gathering fears threaten Project Restart

Koln provide ideal Premier League example as fan gathering fears threaten Project Restart

A successful return to top-flight football in Germany continued to raise hopes that the Premier League may be able to resume on a home-and-away basis on Sunday, with FC Koln’s exciting 2-2 draw with Mainz one of several examples that football can safely return.

If the British authorities were looking for an immediate sign that football fans still cannot be trusted to stay away from games they have no tickets for, Koln were likely to provide it.

Memories are still sore within the Metropolitan Police in particular of the night in September 2017 when 20,000 Germans moved in on London and Emirates for a Europa League clash with Arsenal for which only 3,000 away tickets had been issued.

Kick-off was delayed for an hour after fights with police and stewards broke out.

Forget social distancing, there was physical crushing around the stadium and chaos at all the nearby underground stations.

Despite warnings to stay away, fans had come to be part of the German club’s first return to European competition after an absence of 25 years but this time the usually boisterous home support was happy to stay at home.

Admittedly, the game against Mainz held less historic appeal, coming just 67 days since Koln last played in the Bundesliga.

After losing 11 of their first 15 fixtures, a complete turnaround under new manager under Markus Gisdol saw them climb to mid-table on the back of eight wins out of 11.

The scent of more European away-days was in the air before the pandemic struck – literally, in the case of the Billy Goats.

Despite it being more than 14 days since they tested positive, the three Koln players in question were left out of the line-up despite reportedly remaining symptom-free.

In their absence, and that of the fans, there was a near-three minute VAR decision in the opening five minutes before Mark Uth gave Cologne the lead from the spot.

At least there was no atmosphere for the ridiculously delayed decision to kill.

The contest looked to be over within 53 minutes when Florian Kainz scored with a far-post header.

But Liverpool loanee Taiwo Awoniyi, scoring his first ever Bundesliga goal eight minutes later pulled one back for Mainz, and an individual Pierre Kunde effort pulled the relegation-threatened side back level.

It was two points dropped for Koln rather than one earned, so it was no surprise that when the final whistle did blow, the parkland around the RheinEnergieStadion, four miles west of the city centre, remained empty.

There had been little over the 90 minutes to get the fans off their couches, even, in fairness.

But with the rest of the Bundesliga fans also playing their part, the opening weekend of the return to football on a home-and-away basis has to be considered an encouraging success.

Published at Sun, 17 May 2020 16:17:00 +0000