‘He was a goat but we loved him’: Cologne fans' tribute to Hennes VIII | Arne Steinberg

In all the depressing talk about a European Super League and the deplorable reform of the Champions League last week, there were more sad news for football fans around the world and especially for those in Cologne. Hennes VIII, the billy goat who served as club mascot from 2008-2019, was put down because of health reasons. He retired two years ago because of arthrosis and was replaced by Hennes IX.

It is perhaps difficult for people to understand what Hennes meant to FC Cologne fans but after the troubling attempts to distort football further by the big clubs this month more than ever he represents something that is increasingly missing: something supporters can relate to and feel proud about.

Cologne is not your average German city and neither is FC Cologne your average team. In 1950, a local circus gave the new club their first billy goat as a present. Hennes Weisweiler, who went on to become a club legend, was player-manager at the time and there was no surprise the first goat was given the name Hennes. Since then the club and their goat have been inseparable.

In the 1960s Hennes I even travelled to away games on the team bus but nowadays the mascot lives at the Cologne zoo and does not travel as much.

Hennes VIII was extremely popular. Families often came to see him more than the elephants or the lions at the zoo. Every fortnight Hennes VIII would watch the home games from his position near the touchline. Hennes IX is not able to carry out his duties at the moment because of the pandemic.

Hennes VIII took over as club mascot, at the age of one, in 2008. He went through tough and joyful times with the notoriously chaotic club. There were relegations from Bundesliga in 2012 and 2018 but also two promotions in 2014 and 2019. As Cologne qualified for European football for the first time in 25 years, Hennes VIII welcomed Arsenal, BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade to his second home in Müngersdorf.

“Hennes VIII was a special goat in many ways,” the Cologne vice-president, Eckhard Sauren, said last week. And indeed, he was special. Cologne fans will never forget how he managed to escape during half-time in a second-division game against VfR Aalen in 2014. As the supporters cheered, Hennes was able to avoid being captured and caused chaos on the pitch. When he was finally caught, the fans reacted with lots of boos. To this day Cologne fans argue his running was more agile and dynamic than most of the players that day.

Anthony Ujah celebrates by grabbing Hennes VIII by the horns.
Anthony Ujah celebrates by grabbing Hennes VIII by the horns. Photograph: Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

He was involved in controversy in 2015 after the forward Anthony Ujah grabbed him by the horns while celebrating a goal against Eintracht Frankfurt, which led to criticism from animal welfare groups.

For us as fans having a real-life mascot, rather than a person in a costume, is unique and a real asset to the club. Hennes VIII was a local celebrity, his entrance into the stadium a much-loved tradition.

In a football world where marketing and the maximisation of profit are the most important driving factors, an ordinary and smelly billy goat is always a most welcome change. Hennes VIII took us to Europe and we will always remember him. He may have been a goat, but we loved him.

Arne Steinberg is a sports journalist based in Cologne.

source: theguardian.com