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Interview with the American Geißbock Randall “Hello Randall. Could you please tell something about yourself for us to get to know you a little?”

Randall: Sure. I’m a 42-year-old (as of tomorrow, anyway) father of one (to be two this fall) living in Seattle, Washington. Was born in raised in small-town Michigan before heading off to college at Central Michigan University (fire up, Chips!), which led to me becoming an exchange student in Wuppertal for one year. Since then, I’ve moved about the US working in the restaurant business, before moving out here with my Seattle-native girlfriend (now wife) and using my English degree and food/beverage background to jump into the .com world working as an editor for “I noticed your appearance on Twitter and also your quite new blog about the effzeh and I was pretty impressed by the story you told about you getting to know football and especially your way to become a fan of the previously famous FC Cologne. Could you, in a few words, wrap the story up?”

Randall: Essentially, when I arrived in Germany, I was pretty naive about the world outside of my small-town upbringing, where I had come to think of “soccer” as a sport played only by girls, as it was in Owosso, Michigan back then (I am happy to report they now have boys teams, too!). For me, it was only baseball, American football, hockey, and basketball. I had NO idea of actual football leagues, much less. A friend took me to a few games during my time over there (BVB:Leverkusen and Wattenscheid:FC Bayern), so I had the seed of interest, but the fruit died on the vine when I returned to the states where the sport had nearly no coverage at all in the early 90’s.

A few years ago, I discovered Bundesliga games being carried on my satellite service via GolTV, so I started watching them, not only for a sports interest but also as a way of reconnecting with my year’s study in Germany, which greatly changed the way I view the world in general. Despite my having seen four other teams play live and in person way back when, I didn’t feel any particular affinity for any of the teams when I’d watch the games and highlight shows at home.

Then, one Saturday morning during the 2010-11 campaign, my infant son awoke FAR too early, so I scooped him out of his crib and took him to the living room so his mother could sleep in. It was so early I was able to catch my first live broadcast of a game. I forget the opponent, but it was a home game for the EffZeh. The commentary paused while the Hymne was sung, and it really caught my attention. I found myself riveted by the fan Stimmung and the play of Geromel in particular, but also Poldi and Matuschyk. I hadn’t even really thought about the Billy Goats up until that point, but as I was enjoying the way they were playing the game, I remembered fondly my visits to Köln as a student and the people I met there. It was always my favorite city near Wuppertal for sightseeing, so, by the end of the game, I guess I just felt like I was turning into an EffZeh fan. “How difficult is it for you to follow the news and watch the games of Cologne in the US? Do you read many German articles or blogs?”

Randall: With the advent of the internet, it’s actually not difficult at all to follow what’s happening with the team and club. Admittedly, this is only my second season in which I’d describe myself as a dedidcated fan, so I’m still discovering a lot of sources of information, including My German is definitely improving as I try to read as much news as I can auf Deutsch, but it still is not natural enough for me to take in as much as is available.

I subscribed to FC-TV the day before the Braunschweig game. Hence, I can always watch the games in full and in good quality, even if it’s after the fact. As the games sometimes take place as early as 5 a.m. Seattle time, I am able to just not look at Twitter and Facebook and turn on the re-live of the game and watch without having the result spoiled for me. Though, I have to also say that I’ve not been good about waiting for that, instead finding less-than-legal streams of the games through other websites as they’re being played live. What can I say? I’m hooked! That sounds like you’re pretty well informed on the matches so far and been able to watch them full-length. Do you have any favorite player among the current squad? Who’s caught your attention the most, so far?

Randall: I admittedly was out of town camping with the family the weekend of the Sandhausen match and watched only the highlights, but have watched the other games in their entirety.

Mostly because I remember him so fondly from that first game I watched, I do have a fondness for Adam Matuschyk. To me, he seems to play with an aggressiveness and spirit I can identify with. Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily work out for the best, but I think he has the heart of a champion, which can help make up for deficiencies in experience or talent. I also really like Christian Clemens. I thought he established himself last season as a rising young talent. Hopefully, now that he’s returned from that injury, he can be the catalyst to get the offensive attack moving forward. He was not really a factor in Aue, but I’d attribute that to being away. I think we’ll see a better performance in his next start (hopefully at home against Cottbus).

I hate to say it, but nobody has really caught my attention in a positive way yet. I’m interested in seeing how well Timo Horn saddles the burden of being the keeper at such a tender age with such a big club. He’s looked steady, in my opinion, but whether he becomes the star he has the potential to become? That will be interesting. I also have a weird feeling about Daniel Royer, but I have no football intellect to really back it up. He looks promising to me, but that’s all I know.

Unfortunately, most of my early-season attention has gone toward Chong Tese. In just a few short games, I went from being excited about him as I was at the end of last season when he finally got some playing time to thinking he’s just a disaster. It’s not my nature to think poorly about players from my teams, so I don’t want to linger on it too much. I will just hope either he improves or Ishak emerges and takes the job away. From what you’ve seen, what does it lack the team of?”

Randall: It seems pretty obvious that the inability to score is the key component to the early season failures. To my eye, the team looks dominant in every aspect other than putting the ball into the back of the net and in having enough speed in the central defense to prevent quick counter-strikes. Stani’s squad is just a few breaks away from having at least 4 points, if not 6, so I think it’s a little early to panic. I do hope there is a sense of urgency within the team, however. It’s not enough to be the better team for 90 minutes; you have to outscore your opponent. That is one of the big differences between much American sport and football. Generally, in our favorite sports here, if you dominate the game, you almost always win (and NEVER tie!).

But, isn’t that also part of the poetry of it? Life isn’t always fair! And where on the table will the effzeh end up at the end of the season?”

Randall: I wrote a season preview of the club for Bundesliga Fanatic ( in which I predicted 63 points and third place. Again, I think it’s too early to be too negative, so I’m going to stick to my guns on that prediction, but I have to admit I have had some second thoughts!

Hopefully, once the goals start coming, they’ll seem to come more easily and we’ll all laugh about the early season panic.

Hopefully… Since you’re following the news around the club, did it come to your attention what is going on about the difficulties between the rivaling fan groups and the effect that has to the club? Given that you probably never experienced much of the European football rivalry yourself, how do you think about what is going on, from an American point of view? “

Randall: I have to admit, I am unaware of the conflicts between fan groups beyond the ugly scenes at the end of the last game last season, which made me very sad.

I can say that what little news used to get through to America about football back before the MLS made it a little more mainstream was whenever there was violence at a match. We’d definitely hear about that, and it definitely helped to give the game a negative reputation among many people here. To that end, I remember being a little concerned about going to my first game at Westfalenstadion, thinking there would be lots of fights and gangs of hooligans throwing glass bottles and such things.

Of course, there was absolutely nothing of the sort. Or, at least, nothing I saw.

I have since become more aware of fan groups and antagonism between rival teams’ fans, but it’s not of great interest to me. We have a soccer team here in Seattle in the MLS. There are several supporter groups surrounding the team, but it seems to me they are more interested in competing with one another to be thought of as the best of the supporter groups than they are in the actual matches. To me, it’s all a big distraction from what I love about the game, which is the game itself.

We also don’t have the geographical nearness you get in Europe. MLS added a team in Portland, Oregon last year, which made it the closest team to Seattle in the league, but it’s a good three hours to drive there. There has been a big marketing push to call the games between Seattle and Portland (and Vancouver, Canada) “derby” matches, but since “derby” is such an unfamilar word in American sports lingo, it feels obviously fake and forced. Plus, it’s difficult to sell the idea of a big time rivalry between two teams who have existed less than ten years total among the three of them! Don’t get me started on how American soccer fans go out of their way to try to imitate what they know of British football supporters! It’s a touchy issue for me.

Tradition and cameraderie is great, and I certainly don’t mind a little fun back-and-forth among rivals, but here in the States it’s mostly kept at a very fun and friendly level. I’m sure some would use that to say Americans are not as passionate about their sports as are football fans in other countries, and I might even agree with that, but I think it also speaks to a bit of perspective. I’ve never thought sports and rivalries were something worth actually fighting over. At the end of the day, we all have to go back to our lives and earn a living and love our families. We all have to wear underwear, regardless of who got the victory over the weekend. In these matters, we should learn to celebrate the fact we are privileged enough to have the luxury of time and money to spend following such frivolous activities as professional sports.

Except those Leverkuseners! I hate them!

Just kidding.

Sort of… Have you heard about what happened to Kevin Pezzoni? Apparently he was threatened by some ‘fans’ (what they probably call themselves – I most certainly don’t) which finally got him to quit being professional footballer for the FC Cologne. Do you have something to share with us on that topic?

Randall: I’ve not read enough to know the specifics, but I know the general story and outcome.

“Fans” or even “supporters” would not be the right word for these people. I’m certain they think of themselves as the strongest type of fans, but it’s all the more sad for the lack of perspective in that regard. They create a story line that brings a negative perspective the the club and supporters, especially because it’s the sort of story that will travel beyond the normal boundaries of sports fans, as it is so sensational that people who do not follow sports will often take note and remember 1. FC Köln, if at all, as the team that rioted at the end of last season and chased off a player through threats of violence.

I’m sure they’ll congratulate themselves for getting Pezzoni out of the club, but the best thing they could do would be to either learn the true meaning of “supporter” or just go find something else to do with their time and energy. Fans have every right to their opinions on everything the club does both on and off the pitch, but crossing the line like what was done here degrades our name in the public eye and really breaks some rules about general decency and humanity. It’s apparently too easy to forget Kevin Pezzoni is a guy with family and friends who tries to do his best. Let Stani deal with him as a man. If you want to whistle at him from the stands, that’s your prerogative, but threatening his safety over a football game? That’s dumb. Grow up! There are also two new players in the roster: Anthony Ujah from Mainz and Sascha Bigalke from Unterhaching the recent Cup-enemy. Have you heard something about these players before and do you think that would be a good move?” 

Randall: I remember noticing Bigalke in the DFB match at Unterhaching and thinking he was exciting in that he was energetic and fast. Honestly, he reminded me of watching Shinji Kagawa at Dortmund in the way he tried to make himself an issue for the defense through pace and effort. Of course, it was just that one game, but he definitely stood out to me, so I was happy to hear he was coming to Köln.

The first time I ever heard Ujah’s name was shortly before kickoff Friday. It was my birthday, so I thought the club was gifting me two new offensive weapons and would wrap it up with a nice three-pointer! I will say that when I first started following football, I theorized that offensive players on Nigerian national squads were always productive, so I hope this ends up being the case with Ujah.

Financially, I think the club HAD to do something to improve the offense. Time will tell if these are the right players. It was very difficult to watch all the expensive pieces go out the door with nothing coming back to fill the voids left. The club has far too much support to justify claims of poverty, in my opinion, so I was going to be very upset if none of that money was invested in improving an offense that had plainly shown itself to be ineffective. I still want to see whether Ishak or Przybylko can develop into solid first-squad players, but not at the expense of overall team success. The club is big enough to support youth development while also pursuing the top of the table. Many teams would have to choose one or the other; I don’t think it should apply with the Effzeh. The money should be there, just use it wisely! “Last but not least, do you personally think, there should be something handled differently regarding the coverage about the effzeh? Maybe more coverage in English (I noticed that is available in English as well, at least most of the content regarding the first football squad)? Please feel free to name anything that comes to your mind.”

Randall: Here, in the USA, sports are marketed more through the league than through the individual clubs. I think the development of an English-language site for the club is a great move for promoting to fans in England, especially since those fans have much easier access to Bundesliga coverage than we do here and they are much more familiar with the club system than we are here. Until the Bundesliga has a lot more traction in the US, however, it’s a non-issue. Unfortunately, Bundesliga coverage is seeing a bit of a decline in the US right now. ESPN used to cover two to three matches a week through ESPN3 (online streaming of games), but seem to have dropped them completely, having shown none the first two weeks. GolTV has expanded their Bundesliga coverage to as many as four or five games a week, which is great, but they are carried by relatively few cable systems here in the US. In fact, the largest satellite TV company in the US is about to move that channel from their sports packages to a Spanish-language offering. The Bundesliga footprint was already too small. Making it yet smaller will make it impossible for even FC Bayern to have much of a profile among soccer-starved Americans.

All I can do is keep writing about it and talking about it and hope I can get more people excited about it. Seattle is about as big a supporter of the game as any city in the US, but most folks here just follow Sounders FC of the MLS and probably have a favorite English team and maybe a Spanish team (pretty much only Real Madrid or FC Barcelona, though). You get the feeling the Bundesliga is unconcerned with developing an American fan base, which is sad for people like me. Those of us who prefer the German leagues are very strong and vocal in our support!


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