For the 59,000 fans jammed into the $20 million stadium here recently, it was not a favorable result. Ahead 1-0 for most of the game against the famed Bayern Munich club, a defensive lapse late in the match cost the home team a victory and yielded only a tie.
The contest was a disappointment to the Cologne fans. Professional soccer in Germany, as played by the 18 teams of the Bundesliga, the top league in Germany and one that many sports observers, including some of the people who watch the games on television in the U.S., may be, along with Britain's First Division league, the best in the world.
There are many individual club teams around the world that undoubtedly on any given day could outperform the German clubs. As the most recent World Cup in Argentinia showed, there are also a number of national teams that are playing better soccer these days. But there are very few professional soccer leagues that display such widespread talent, depth, balance and well-played purist soccer as one finds in the Bundesliga.
In general, games are tough and physical but without the more outrageous one finds in some other countries and without much of the theatrics that accompany plays in which a player is "injured" for a few seconds.
The Germans put a premium on conditioning and team play and are generally quite good at moving without the ball, which is the abilitiy of their offensive players to keep roaming about in midfield or in front of the opponent's net trying to get free for a quick pass and shot.
It was this ability, more than anything else, that was so noticeable last fall when the NASL champion New York Cosmos came to Germany to play Bayern Munich in an exhibition match. The American squad, which lost 7-1, looked positively flat-footed in comparison to its hosts.
The Saturday afternoon soccer spectaculars throughout West Germany that run from late August, when the Bund sliga season begins, to mid-May have become an indelible part of West German culture today. Record crowds totaling more than 8 million people attended the 306 league matches involving 34 home-and-home series between all the clubs. Unlike many U.S. professional teams in the National Football League, only about 10 percent of the seats are season tickets, so that direct fan involvement is widespread.
There are many soccer-crazy countries in the world outside the U.S. but soccer here may well have an added dimension simply because success on the playing field, and fan association with German stars of international reknown, have given post war West Germany something to crow about and feel proud of since two world wars wiped out much of whatever this country could safely identify with.
When a German squad won the World Cup for the first time on a rain-soaked field in Switzerland in 1954, it was part of the restoration in national pride after the war. Many observers here believe the 1974 World Cup victory of West Germany provided the more modern testimony to the quality of the Bundesliga.
Yet German soccer has reached a crucial turning point and at least some critics here beleive that success may spoil it.
The root of the problem is money. Too much of it, says Uwe Seeler, a former star performance on the German national team, has made today's players too blase, lacking the drive that produces international championships.
Seeler and others contrast the increasingly impressive performance against Germany of British club teams, whose players get about half of what most German stars are paid and who get leser bonus for reaching the finals of European Cup playoffs. The British players, critics here are now saying, are putting more effort into their game and taking more pride in their clubs.
The top Bundesliga stars now get more than $200,000 in salary a year, though the average player earns between $50,000 and $100,000 and the lowest ones about $20,000. Enormous additional sums are paid to players and clubs for advertising, such as allowing brand names to appear on unifrom shirts. This is another factor that has focused club attention on measures others than developing new young players, critics say.
Selling players from one club to another has also become a huge business, with Bayern Munich recently paying more than $1 million to Eintracht Braunschweig for the services of midfield star Paul Breitner.
Though the problem of money versus performance and spirit has been growing quietly for a few years, it was the defection last year of Bayern Munich superstar Franz Beckenbauer, known here as "Kaiser Franz" to the Cosmos, reportedly for some $3 million, that dealt a double blow to German soccer.
It both elevated the money aspect of soccer to a place in the German sports consciousness that it had never before occupied and it took away from Germany, for the first time, perhaps the most attractive superstar it ever had, precisely one of those people that stirs national pride here.
Though it would be wrong to over estimate the total effect of Beckenbauer's departure, Bayern Munich specifically and German football generally has declined since then. His leave-taking, combined with Germany's poor showing in this year's World Cup, have combined to produce a much needed reassessment of where the Bundesliga is heading.
The Bundesliga is still a relatively young league, formed only in 1963 and has shown its real strength only in the past eight years. Beckenbauer and the other superstars of German soccer are all in their thirties and all grew up in the Bundesliga. But there is no real farm system here and not much serious sttention to youth soccer. CAPTION: Picture, Franz Beckenbauer