The club's nickname Die Geißböcke ("The Billy Goats") refers to the club's mascot, a male goat named Hennes after the veteran FC player and (later) manager Hennes Weisweiler. The first Hennes was donated by a circus entrepreneur as a Cologne carnival joke. Currently (since 24 July 2008) the eighth Hennes is the acting mascot. Another nickname, more common locally due to its ambiguity, is FC (often written as Effzeh), a common German abbreviation for football clubs. Characteristic for the dialect spoken around Cologne, this is pronounced "EF-tsay", in contrast to the high language pronunciation of the abbreviation where the emphasis is on the "C".
Kölner BC was formed on 6 June 1901 by a group of young men who were unhappy as part of the gymnastics club FC Borussia Köln and far more interested in football. BC was a competitive side in the Zehnerliga West in the years before World War I who took the Westdeutsche championship in 1912 and advanced to the preliminary rounds of the national finals. Their next best result was a losing appearance in the 1920 league final, where they lost a 1–3 to Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Historical logo of predecessor side SpVgg Sülz
Spielvereinigung 1907 Köln-Sülz was established in 1907 as Sülzer Sportverein and on 1 January 1919 merged with Fußball Club 1908 Hertha Sülz to form SpVgg. They won the Westdeutscher title in 1928 and they too went out in the early rounds of the national finals in their turn on that stage. They went on to play as a top flight club in the Gauliga Mittelrhein, one of sixteen premier level divisions established in 1933 in the re-organization of German football under the Third Reich. The side earned generally good results through the 1930s – including a divisional championship in 1939 – but then faltered in the early 1940s. After the 1941 season the Gauliga Mittlerhein was split into two new divisions: the Gauliga Köln-Aachen and the Gauliga Moselland, which included clubs from occupied Luxembourg. Sülz struggled until they were united with VfL Köln 1899 for the 1943–44 season to form the combined wartime side Kriegspielgemeinschaft VfL 99/Sülz 07 which promptly won the Gauliga Köln-Aachen title by a single point over SG Düren 99 in a close race. The club did not play the next campaign as war overtook the region.
After the union of these two predecessor sides, 1. FC Köln began play in the tough Oberliga West in the 1949–50 season and by 1954 had won their first divisional championship. That same year they lost the DFB-Pokal final 1–0 to VfB Stuttgart. Die Geißböcke won their second divisional championship in 1960 and appeared in the national final against Hamburger SV, where they went down to a 2–3 defeat. They went on to finish first in the Oberliga West in each of the next three seasons and again played their way to the national final in 1962 and 1963. They won the '62 match 4–0 over 1. FC Nürnberg resulting in entry to the 1962–63 European Cup where they were one of the favourites to win the trophy. In the first round Köln visited Dundee F.C. of Scotland and lost 1–8, and despite winning the second leg back in Germany by 4–0 they were out of the tournament. In the following year's national final they lost 1–3 to Borussia Dortmund.
In 1963, FC Köln was selected as one of the original sixteen teams to play in the Bundesliga, Germany's new professional football league. Köln continued their winning ways by becoming the first ever Bundesliga champion in the league's inaugural 1963–64 season. As German champions, Köln entered the 1964–65 European Cup where they met England's Liverpool at the quarter-final stage. After two 0–0 draws, a third game was played which was also a stalemate, this time 2–2. As the penalty shootout had not yet been introduced as the means of deciding a tie, Köln went out of the competition on the toss of a coin. Ironically enough there was the need for a second coin toss, because the first time the coin stuck vertically in the ground. The club also became the first Bundesliga side to field a Brazilian player when it signed Zézé for a then club record fee of DM 150,000. Domestically, Köln recorded a second-place finish in the 1964–65 Bundesliga season and won its first DFB-Pokal in 1967–68.
Köln had another losing DFB-Pokal final appearance in 1980, before winning the competition for a fourth time in 1983. In 1986, the club appeared in its first European final, losing 5–3 on aggregate to Real Madrid in the UEFA Cup Final. Two second place Bundesliga finishes, in 1988–89 and 1989–90, and another DFB-Pokal final loss in 1991, marked the end of a glorious thirty-year period for FC Köln.
In recent years, the club's performance has been mixed. The FC holds the dubious distinction of the worst goal drought in Bundesliga history: in 2002, the supporters had to wait 1034 excruciating minutes (equivalent to 11 and a half games) until Thomas Cichon found the back of the net again.
In the early years of the Bundesliga, 1. FC Köln was the most successful club in West Germany in terms of total points won. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, the club's performance fell, and in 1998, they were relegated for the first time. Since about 2000, the side has been a "yo-yo team", moving between the first and second divisions. They returned to the Bundesliga at the end of the 2004–05 season as 2. Bundesliga champions after having been relegated the season before. There was little optimism about their return to the top flight as they were picked by German football magazine kicker as one of the clubs most likely to be relegated.
In late 2006, former coach Christoph Daum was convinced to once again take the helm of the 2. Bundesliga club and succeeded in leading the club back to the 1. Bundesliga in 2008. After a successful Bundesliga campaign in 2008–09, Daum left Köln for his former club Fenerbahçe. Köln's former star-striker Lukas Podolski returned for the 2009–10 season.
After a poor run of form in the 2010–11 season, recording only one win from their opening nine Bundesliga fixtures, Köln replaced coach Zvonimir Soldo with Frank Schaefer. Schaefer, who was originally in charge of the under-23 team of Köln, decided after the season that he would rather spend more time with his family than be a coach in the Bundesliga. Former Norwegian international and recent F.C. Copenhagen coach, Ståle Solbakken, replaced him. After earning just eight points in the first 13 matches of the second half of the season, Frank Schaefer and former Köln player Dirk Lottner replaced Solbakken. However, the club was relegated at the end of the season, finishing in seventeenth place.
The team plays its home matches in the RheinEnergie Stadion, with a capacity of 50,000. The name comes from a contract with the local power supplier RheinEnergie AG that will last until 2018. However, most fans still call the stadium "Müngersdorfer Stadion", named after the suburb of Müngersdorf, where it is located.
Since July 2009 the club has had a women's football section. FFC Brauweiler Pulheim dissolved their club to join 1. FC Köln. The team is coached by Klaus Schmischke and plays in the 2. Bundesliga. In their first season in 2009–10, they managed a solid third place. They play in the Franz-Kremer-Stadion.