Paul Whitaker continues his jaunt around the Netherlands with a trip to Utrecht.
I am not quite sure why more tourists don’t visit Utrecht. Perhaps its because there is no airport for Netherland’s fourth largest city or that when you are on a train passing through Utrecht Central Station, you only seem to be confronted by an ugly shopping complex inside and busy dual carriageways outside. Yet if you get off the train, leave Central Station and follow the ‘Centrum’ signs for about 5 minutes, you will discover Utrecht’s beautiful old centre. A series of narrow canals, cobbled streets and fine old buildings all surrounding the imposing Cathedral or Domkerk. Its bell tower (Domtoren) is the tallest in Netherlands and on a good day from the top, you can see both Rotterdam and Amsterdam. About mile to the south east you will always be able to see the Stadion Galgenwaard, home to the city’s only football club, FC Utrecht and the reason for my visit. ‘Utreg’ which apparently is the pronunciation of Utrecht in the local dialect, were hosting NAC Breda in an end of 2011/12 season Eredivisie fixture.
There are direct trains from both Amsterdam Central Station and Schiphol Airport to Utrecht, departing every 15 minutes and the journey lasts 30 minutes (2nd class adult same-day return or dagretour is €14). The VVV tourist office (Domplein 9) is located right next to the cathedral tower and about 300 metres to the south you will also find Utrecht’s best area for food and drink, the Oude Gracht. This is the main canal in Utrecht and perhaps unique to Netherlands this canal is set some 20ft below street level. Cellars and extended basements that were originally built to join the grand houses along both sides to the canal below, have since been converted into shops, restaurants , bars and cafes. For bier lovers, try the Kafe Belge (Oude Gracht 196). Check out this excellent guide to Utrecht bars for more bars. You can also make your choice of which cellar restaurants, bars, shops etc. during an hour long boat ride along Oude Gracht and the rest of Utrecht.
It’s about 30 minute walk from Central Station to the Galgenwaard. There are free shuttle buses outside Central Station. As I did not have my match ticket yet, I jumped on no. 12 bus (Regio Utrecht) and purchased €2 winklekaart ticket. You can also use nos. 13, 41 , 43 and 241 for the 15 minute journey to the stadium.
I was surprised to learn that FC Utrecht were a relatively new football club, founded in 1970 as a result of a merger between 3 local clubs. DOS, who won the championship in 1958, Elinkwijk and finally Velox, dutch amateur champions. Although FC Utrecht has never won the Eredivisie, they have won the Dutch cup (KNVB) in 1985, 2003 and 2004.FC Utrecht like Ajax , Feyenoord and PSV have also never been relegated from Eredivisie.
Utrecht have a number of former players you will have heard off back in Britain including Dick Advocaat (Rangers manager), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Michael Mols (Rangers) and Jan Wouters. Ingerland supporters may recognise Wouters as the dutch player who fractured Paul Gascoigne’s cheekbone during the 1993 World Cup qualifier at Wembley.
The 25000 capacity Stadion Galenwaard is an impressive modern all seater. Although a fairly simply design of four separate stands with partially open corners that look like they house offices. All four stands are big, tall and very close to the pitch. Simon Inglis nicely summed Utrecht’s stadium design in his brilliant ‘The Football Grounds of Europe’ commenting, “ the closeness of stand to pitch and steepness of stands provided, as one publicity brochure put it, ‘une ambience toute britannique’”.
The North Side/ Noordzijde is the Main stand with its offices and rooms. Outside the main entrance you will find both ticket office (on its left side) and fan shop (on its right side). There is also a small fanshop in Hoog Catharijne, that ugly shopping complex back at Utrecht Central station. At the fan shop and from vendors around/inside the Glagenwaard you can pick up “FC Today Wedstrijd Magazine”. Just €2 for a 68 page glossy programme.
Next up is the 5,500 capacity stand, Bunnik-side and home to FC Utrecht’s most passionate supporters, also called the Bunnikside. Utrecht did experience some of the worst incidents of hooliganism ever seen in dutch football. Simon Inglis reported that at the last match at the old Galgenwaard , “v PSV on 20 April 1981, Utrecht fans pre-empted the work of demolition crews by mangling an entire metal framework of seating”. This and other incidents led to the unwanted accolade of a visit from professional West Ham fan, funny walking, wide boy Danny Dyer in ‘International Football Factories’. For the football neutral, problems at previous Den Haag and Ajax fixtures means there are currently no away supporters or even the chance for tourist to buy tickets for these matches. Which is a pity, as Ajax in particular are Utrecht’s biggest rivals and their fixtures are responsible for best atmospheres at Galgenwaard. You can check out the Bunnikside choreography photos on www.bunnikside.nl . Today, the bars where supporters can walk straight out onto the Bunnikside stand, vibrate to dutch techno music so I carry on round to South Tribune/Z uidijde.
After a lengthy queue, strict security search, I was up the high steps and amongst the masses of Utrecht supporters at refreshment bars inside this huge stand. You will need to swap euros for tokens here, so as I ever went straight to my seat. After a spectacular display from the Bunnikside the match kicked off. Frank Demouge put Utrecht ahead in the ninth minute, with a close range shot. The Utrecht supporters celebrations were one of the best I have heard in Netherlands, with the 19000 crowd making full use of Galegnwaard acoustics. I was puzzled as to why the stadium announcer greeted every subsequent Utrecht attack on NAC Breda goal, by playing an “Air-raid siren” over the speakers. I would have thought the Utrecht supporters were making enough noise of their own. Perhaps it was a tradition at Utrecht matches?.
Anyway the tannoy announcer’s ‘magic siren’ did not work that evening as just as the match appeared to be heading for a home win, NAC’s Robbert Schilder equalised with 18 minutes left. A cross into Schalk in the Utrecht penalty box found its way to Schilder, who beat Utrecht’s Van Dijk with a nice shot. The small pocket of NAC supporters who had travelled up from Noord-Brabant, jumped amongst the swathe of empty seats in the away section. NAC Breda then scored twice in the closing seconds to defeat FC Utrecht 1-3 and all but guarantee their Eredivisie safety. First, Alax Schalk netted in the 89th minute. Collecting a quick free kick, he beat two Utrecht players before scoring from 20 yards out. The South Side quickly began to empty around me when NAC’s Jeffrey Sarpong scored from the edge of the area seconds before the final whistle.
Name: Football Club Utrecht
Address: Herculesplein 241 , 3584 AA Utrecht. Netherlands
Supporters websites: www.bunnikside.nl and www.fcufans.nl
Getting a ticket: As at most other Eredivisie clubs, you will not need to apply for a club members card when attending ‘low risk’ FC Utrecht fixtures. You currently cannot buy tickets for ADO Den Haag or Ajax fixtures, but this may change once Den Haag and Ajax supporters are allowed back into Galgenwaard. Tickets go on sale about three weeks before match starts. Try and pick a seat in South Side/Zuidzijde (Blue section) preferably R , S or T.. As you can see from photos, you get great views of the match and both sets of supporters. A ticket here cost me €24. Simply email the club a few weeks prior to the fixture you are interested in attending. The club will then arrange for you to collect the ticket . The ticket office is next to main entrance of the Northside/Noordzijde. As always, bring a passport or other ID. Please arrive in plenty of time, as there were lengthy queues at the turnstiles due to security checks. You can find out more about ticket details on the club’s English language website .
Thanks to Michel Meerveld at FC Utrecht. Also to Frans van den Berg at www.footballfans.eu , Hubert Buter , Freek van der Kerkhof and Danny Last.