Paul Whitaker, our man in the Netherlands, takes us on a journey to Rotterdam to see the city’s second team, Sparta.
This was to be my second visit to Rotterdam and had planned to see more of the largest city in Zuid Holland and its football scene. Unlike Amsterdam, Rotterdam’s skyline appeared to expanding and changing and it was also home to three professional football clubs: Feyenoord (whom I had seen on my first visit), Sparta Rotterdam and Excelsior. So, the itinery was to include a pre-match peek around part of the world’s largest port, before watching the Eerste (Dutch 2nd division) derby fixture between Sparta Rotterdam and Excelsior.
From Amsterdam Centraal Station, there are trains every 15 minutes to Rotterdam Centraal Station. Journey times are about 40 minutes and 2nd class day returns are approximately €28. On arrival at Rotterdam CS, walk about 10 minutes south east to the main VVV office (Coolsingel 5, Fri 9am-9pm) and pick up a 1 day OV-chipkaart (€7) to use on Rotterdam’s metro and tram system. Then continue down to the south end of Leuvehaven and under the Erasmus Bridge you catch one of the regular Spido cruises (www.spido.nl), for a tour of Rotterdam’s vast expanse of waterways and port. The Harbour tour cost about €10 and lasts an hour. Also check out the amazing series of cube shaped houses or kubuswoningen , near Blaak metro stop. You can even go inside one of these ‘upside down’ houses for €2.50.
Do not even think about jumping on the train to Amsterdam for a good night out, as Rotterdam has plenty to offer. I still highly recommend the Bazar (Witte de Withstraat 16), which is an excellent cafe-restaurant , serving North African and Middle East food. Stay on Witte de Withstraat afterwards and there are a number of bars, ranging from pretentious arty-farty cafe bars cum galleries, to traditional dutch pubs whose walls and decor ooze history. Nearest metro stop is Eendrachtsplein. The Sparta Rotterdam supporters bar in Rotterdam is Cafe Verburgh (Oude Binnenweg 106-A).
Sparta’s stadium ‘Het Kasteel’ (The Castle) is located in Spangen, a couple of miles to the west of Rotterdam CS. From here you can pick up Tram 8 (direction Spangen) and you can hop off right in front of the stadium at Spartastraat. The journey takes about half an hour, so I chose quicker option of taking Metro via Beurs station to Marconplein station on lines A,B and C. Het Kasteel is a 5-10 minute in north east direction (via P C Hooftplein).
I am glad I chose this route as the first impression you get of the Holland’s oldest football stadium is the grandiose facade to Kastel tribune. The castle pavilion design was apparently inspired by a castle that originally stood here and today is the only remaining part of the original stadium that was opened in 1916. Sparta redeveloped Het Kasteel in 1999, with the castle pavilion as centre piece (A pity the English FA could not have followed their lead and somehow kept the old twin towers at wemberlee). The rest of Het Kasteel was replaced by four all seating stands, with the pitch being turned some 90 degrees. The castle pavilion then went from being at one end, to the centre of the Kastel tribune today. The current capacity is 11,000 seats.
Sparta Rotterdam is the oldest professional club in Holland, celebrating 125 years this season. Sparta was one of the most successful clubs during the early 20th century, picking up six league titles (1909, 1911-13 , 1915 and 1959) and three KNVB cups (1958 , 1962 and 1966). Since then, football fortunes went south of the river Maas and Feyenoord have dominated Rotterdam’s football scene. Sparta managed to hang on to their place in Eredivisie until relegation in 2002. They returned to top flight between 2005-10, but since then have been playing Friday night football in Eerste Divisie.
To the left of Kasteel tribune, you will find the fanshop to get your Sparta souvenirs and 36 page match day programme , “Pro Sparta” ( €0.90). Right next door is the ticket/information desk, where you can buy your match tickets. The Sparta supporters home can be found on Hoofdtribune side of the stadium, next entrance B. You do not need to worry about buying club cards/tokens, as euros are accepted both here and inside the stadium.
My €18.50 seat was in section 19 of Kasteel tribune, next to Sparta’s home end, the Denis Neville tribune. A large St George flag, complete with Union Jack insert and ‘SYC’, indicated the presence of Sparta Youth Crew. The more boisterous element to Sparta’s support, appeared to be sporting their best burberry for the visit of local rivals Excelsior. I understand the visits of Feyenoord and Ajax are also the most keenly anticipated fixtures at Het Kasteel. Sparta supporters apparently have a friendship with NAC Breda supporters, perhaps formed with their mutual disliking of Feyenoord. The best website for Sparta supporters photos and chat (in dutch) is “In the Winning Mood” (www.itwm.nl).
The city derby kicked off with Sparta pushing to secure third place in Ereste Divisie play-off spot. Excelsior were hoping to secure local bragging rights from an otherwise forgettable season. Excelsior dominated the opening stage of the match and were duly rewarded with a goal by Mick van Buren in the 16th minute. The second half was better for Sparta and their supporters around me, when on 63rd minute, the Morrocan Iliass Bel Hassani scored with a powerful 25 yard free kick. The match ended 1-1 and I left Rotterdam, trying to understand the permutations of the promotion/relegation play-offs that would involve 8 Ereste Divise clubs (including Sparta) and 2 Eredivisie clubs. I arrived back in Amsterdam, still none the wiser.
Getting a ticket
Ereste Divisie match tickets go on sale about 2/3 weeks before. Tickets cost around €15 for seat in the ends. The Denis Neville Tribune is the home end and Bok de Korver Tribune contains the away section. Sparta matches do not sell out (there were only 6950 for visit of Excelsior), so simply email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. More tickets and club history can be found on the English language section of their website. Tickets can be collected or bought at the fanshop (next to entrance D) from 2 hours before kick-off. Please note their online ticket shop is only for people who have a Dutch bank account and live in The Netherlands. For more information about tickets or anything else related to Sparta, please contact email@example.com or dial 0031-(0)10-8909210.
Thanks to Olaf Hoppzak at Sparta for organising the ticket.