What makes Arsenal's opponents Köln special?

Thrilled to be back in Europe after a 20-year absence, Köln visit Arsenal for their UEFA Europa League Group H opener; UEFA.com discovers what makes the Goats tick.

Jonas Hector could be one to watch for Arsenal on Thursday
Jonas Hector could be one to watch for Arsenal on Thursday ©Getty Images

Founded: 1948
Nickname: Die Geißböcke (The Goats)

UEFA club competition honours
• none

Domestic honours (most recent title in brackets)
League titles: 3 (1978)
Domestic cup: 4 (1983)

• They are very much looking forward to facing Arsenal. Goalkeeper Timo Horn said: "For us players, coming up against Arsenal in a competitive fixture is the greatest opportunity." Fans agree: there were 20,000 applications for the 2,000 away seats allocated at Arsenal Stadium for Thursday's game, though it is fair to say that Köln supporters are excited about all their trips this season – 13,000 have apparently shown interest in travelling to Serbia for their matchday six game at Crvena zvezda.

• European football has become something of an obsession in Cologne. Having made their debut in the 1962/63 European Cup, Köln regularly appeared in UEFA competitions until the trail went cold in 1997, when they reached the UEFA Intertoto Cup semi-finals. Since then, every decent run of results prompted widespread predictions of an imminent return to Europe – which all proved to be wrong until a fifth-place finish last season finally brought them back after a 20-year absence.

Hennes VIII: number of wives - unknown
Hennes VIII: number of wives - unknown©AFP

• The face of Köln may be Hennes the goat, who attends all home games. Named in honour of the club's one-time star midfielder and coach Hennes Weisweiler (who coached Barcelona in the 1970s), the original Hennes was a 1950 gift from a local circus owner. Hennes VIII has been the club's go-to goat since 2008.

• Köln have a sense of fun. The city of Cologne is famous for its local carnival, and the club take an active part in the festivities, starting with fancy-dress training on 11 November – the day that the carnival (which takes place in the weeks before Ash Wednesday) is first announced. Last season's celebrations included plenty of superhero outfits and a mock UEFA Champions League winners ceremony.

Peter Stöger with the fans' favourite red-and-white pair
Peter Stöger with the fans' favourite red-and-white pair©Getty Images

• Coach Peter Stöger's glasses have become a cause celebre at the club. The Austrian's changes of spectacles are tracked closely by fans, with a red-and-white pair apparently his favourites – the colours of Köln as well as his national team. Stöger, hired in June 2013, was acclaimed by the German Academy for Football for quote of the 2015/16 season when he explained how he disputed a goal in a match against Hannover which was allowed even though the ball appeared to have been handled: "I offered the ref my glasses, but he didn't see them."

• Köln players like the odd bit of acting. A viral video from 2016 encouraged the playing staff to use their imaginations as they reviewed the season, Stöger doing his piece in the guise of a kiosk owner, while midfield dynamo Matthias Lehmann pretended to be a groundsman.

• Their form this season hasn't given fans or players many smiles; they have lost all three of their Bundesliga fixtures so far, though Stöger hopes their upcoming UEFA Europa League challenge will inspire Köln to raise their game. "Arsenal are a skilful side with tremendous pace. This match is a reward for our good performances last season, but also a chance to bring some positives to our situation in the Bundesliga."

• They are a no-nonsense team at their best. A team without stars – especially since last season's 25-goal striker Anthony Modeste left the club for China – Köln's great strengths are their team mentality and resilience in defence. Look out for them on the break: left-back Jonas Hector is perhaps their star player, while Lehmann (no relation to former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens) provides vision and experience in midfield.