Willem, it was really something

“The rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down
oh the rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down

And everybody’s got to live their life
and God knows I’ve got to live mine
God knows I’ve got to live mine”

There’s not many places more depressing than a Dutch town centre at 10am on a Sunday morning.  That is unless it is also a National Holiday.  The excesses of the previous night’s hi-jinx were slowly wearing off, thanks to the cold rain as we wandered the streets of Eindhoven looking for somewhere, anywhere to get some breakfast.  We’d declined the €17 “all you could eat Continental” offering at the hotel,

Finally, we came up trumps.  The Restaurant De Volder was not only open, but the lovely waitresses were almost begging us to come into the warm, flashing their hot Dutch muffins at us.  We all remember the De Volder, right?  Well, perhaps not the restaurant itself, but its outside tables and chairs made a number of appearances across global media channels in June 2000 when England fans decided to use them to launch at the Dutch fans and police prior to the European Championship game against Portugal.  Dave was tempted to re-create the scene but we pointed out that he simply didn’t have enough Stone Island on to be taken credibly.

I can see a hand up at the back. Yes?  Ah, why were we in Eindhoven on a National Holiday I hear you ask.  Well, pull up a seat and let me explain.  Danny said it was what we had to do.  “Stu, do you know Holland has gone craft beer crazy?”  I assumed he had just discovered that Heineken also made Amstel, but no, he was right.  His book “Which countries have gone craft beer crazy” list The Netherlands as a new entry in the top five, pop-pickers.  So that was it, I was sold.  So too was Kenny Legg, hot-footing it from Berlin and a new addition to our gang, Dave who coming from Manchester, had grown up from a teet-filled with Boddingtons.

Oh, and there was the small matter of some football too.  The original plan involved seeing the holy trinity of Dutch football.  PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord.  But then pesky TV coverage got in the way and we had to make some difficult choices with conflicting priorities.  But there was still going to be beer, so it was all right.

16599055966_cfb0bb8745_zSaturday morning and Danny & I met our advance party, who had arrived 24 hours earlier and taken in the Eindhoven FC game, in a bar obviously.  Nothing unusual about that, nor was drinking 9% beer at 2pm.  Seemed a strange choice from Kenny and Dave.  Then we saw the attraction.  A steady stream of young ladies coming through the doors and making their way to “the back room”.  Our minds were racing, Kenny was already pulling on his “hot fireman’s outfit” (his words, not ours) and grabbing a bottle of baby oil.  Alas, the steamiest thing happening in the room was the teapot in the middle of the table.  Ladies who luck, Dutch style.

Our first destination for the weekend was Sittard, a 45 minute (2 can strategy) train ride away, home of Wim Hof or “Iceman” as he is known as, not because of his cool composure under pressure, or the fact he is a look-a-like from Top Gun.  But because he once walked to within 7km of the summit of Mount Everest wearing a small pair of shorts.  It is also the home of Francine Houben, creator of Mecano.  Sittard is a rocking place I can tell you.  Danny had done his research and our first pre-match warm-up location promised a craft beer list as long as your arm.  For sake of brevity, below is an edited conversation that took place between Danny and said landlord:-

“Do you have any of these beers?” Danny shows a list on his phone

“Yes”

“Which ones?”

“Which ones do you want to try?”

“Well, if I know which ones you have then I can let you have them”

Enter Stuart – “Danny, they have Maximus on draft.  That’s on the list”

“We don’t have any Maximus.  The beer pump is just for display”

Danny, sighing..“Do you have a beer list?”

“No….you really do not understand how craft beer works, do you?”

Enter Kenny with a beer list that was on every table “Can I have four Le Trapp Blonde’s?”

“Yes”

As we speak, world-famous playwright and good friend of this website, Patrick Marber, is writing a script for a play that will be put on at the Domnar Warehouse based on the very scene in Sittard.

16434882400_07987e219f_zA few other craft beers later, all of which were on the beer menu, we headed to the Offermans Joosten Stadion, a significantly better name than its previous identity of the Trendwork Arena.  I may not be selling it very well by saying it is an out-of-town, out of the box, identikit stadium with no soul or character.  The club, having survived numerous financial problems seem rooted in the Eereste Division, the second tier of Dutch football, having been relegated from the top tier in 2002 – the Sheffield Wednesday of the league if you like.  The fans, wrapped up warm on a cold and wet night in the far corner of The Netherlands made their way to the stadium, with hope rather than expectation, of a win against the visitors FC Almere City.

Fortuna Sittard 1 FC Almere City 2 – Offermans Joosten Stadion – Saturday 21st February 2015
The Fortuna Sittard website summed up this game perfectly when they said “Op uiterst onfortuinlijke wijze heeft Fortuna Sittard de thuiswedstrijd tegen Almere City FC verloren.” Or, we were robbed.  An 88th minute winner for the away team was rough justice perhaps, but Fortuna paid the price of not putting their chances away.

16414595207_b709b20dfe_zBeing a Dutch ground, we had to get munted up before we could indulge in some traditional refreshments.  These strange plastic coins almost serve no purpose when you think about it. 2 munts cost €1.  A beer costs 2 munts, therefore why not simply charge €2 for a beer?  Logic?  We didn’t complain though, although the walk to the top of the stand holding four of them, plus a couple of Frikadelle in each pocket was problematic.

The home fans tried to raise the team’s performance but ultimately they fell short (the team not the fans).  Almere took a 24th minute lead when Bode Wine (brother of Red and White) scored from close range. Somewhere in the stadium a few away fans made some noise, but that was drowned out three minutes later when Connech equalised, following up like all good strikers should when a shot hit the post.

Alas, there was (almost) last-minute heartache for the 2,000 fans when Ahannach scored from close range and sent the away coach, Fred Grim into frenzied delight that his name suggests.

Despite it only being 9.30pm, Sittard was officially shut.  The only source of heat was a Dominos pizza.  Saturday night appears to be a non-event in these parts.  Our only option was a train back to Eindhoven.

Of course, Eindhoven delivered in large dollops, with the hedonistic delights of Stratumseind delivering on every level.  We turned our back on the ear-splitting Europop bars, taking solace in the 100+ different beers in the BierProfessor and The Jack.  Heck, we even indulged in the Dutch’s third most popular past time, football being the first, the second being….well, we’ve all seen the window displays in Amsterdam.

So back to the future on Sunday morning in the cafe.  Our original plan for the weekend was PSV at home Saturday, then a trip to see Willem II v Ajax on Sunday lunchtime then Feyenoord on Sunday evening.  The reality was essentially all three ending up playing at the same time.  Logic would have seen us make the 10 minute walk through the city centre to the PSV Stadion, but we don’t do logic so we were heading to Tilburg to watch Ajax play on and off the pitch.

16434816068_621aca3d46_zIf Eindhoven was dead, then Tilburg at midday was in Rigor Mortis.  We knocked up a bar owner, not in THAT way – he was in his mid-fifties and well passed his child-bearing years) before heading down to Koning II Stadion.  Ajax’s fearsome reputation seemed to have been lost on the locals who were happily going about their Sunday afternoon, cycling and eating pancakes. But the closer you got to the stadium, the more the atmosphere built.  In the club bar, with the obligatory Europop playing, fans were discussing the recent revelations about match fixing (well, that’s what it sounded like over a soundtrack of Melissa Tkatz and Franky Gee).  In early 2015, journalists from the publication Volkskrant revealed that Willem II had been involved in games that appeared to have been influenced by an “Asian gambling syndicate” in regard to games against Ajax and Feyenoord, played over five years previous. Not much the current owners, players and officials of the club can do about that now.

Willem II Tilburg 1 Ajax 1 – Koning II Stadion – Sunday 22nd February 2015
This was certainly the hottest ticket in town, with the game sold out.  The sun was shining, the fans were singing and the beer was flowing.  You can’t beat a day out like this.  A draw was a fair result as both teams seemed to struggle to break down each other’s midfield.  Champions Ajax came into the game off the back of a tricky Europa League tie in Poland just three days previous and took the lead in the first half when Milik’s low shot found the corner of the net.

16621235692_d41fdf74cc_zAfter the break Tilburg upped their game and grabbed an equaliser when Messaoud and could well have gone on to win the game.  At full-time there was the usual confrontation between the two sets of fans across two sets of security fences and police but it was all good-natured (as good-natured as it can be in these parts anyway).

Our night, well afternoon really, was young and we headed for the bright light of the city centre (there is only one – Cafe Kandinsky) for a couple of well-earned beers before heading back to Eindhoven. One last tip – if you ever find yourself in Eindhoven, forget the bars in Stratumseind and head to Van Moll for one of the best evenings ever, surrounded by over 50 beers.  Lovely stuff – not my words, but those of Kenny “AITINPOT” Legg.

You see – it’s not always about the football…..

Cruyff’s turn again?

Michael Miles brings us an update on events from Amsterdam where a new dynasty is starting to develop, although not the one everyone wants.

Johan Cruyff made his debut for Ajax as a 17-year old in November 1964. He scored the only goal in a 3-1 defeat. Now, almost half a century later he is still making waves at the club where his mother used to do the laundry. In the few days I was in Amsterdam to see Ajax play NAC Breda the main story in the local paper was not concerning the team, but Cruyff’s on-going dispute with the club’s Supervisory Board. The gist of the dispute appears to be that they want to Bring back Louis van Gaal , but there is continuing bad blood between the two men , and Cruyff is set against him.

Of course Ajax already has a manager, and a successful one to boot. Frank De Boer was himself a mainstay for Ajax and Barcelona for many years, as well as winning 112 caps for Holland. Last season he took Ajax to their first Eredivisie title since 2004, a period of Arsenal-like proportions for a club of this magnitude, after succeeding Martin Jol.

I’d been to the ArenA once before, for a Euro 2000 semi-final against Italy, so I knew what to expect. Aesthetically it’s alright, but doesn’t take your breath away. Located south-east of the city, the ArenA stands alone, rather like Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. There’s a road and car park beneath the pitch, so climbing to the second tier involves a bit of a hike. I enter the concourse and there the ArenA experience begins. Everything is sold in “ArenAs”, so before buying anything you must buy a minimum 10 euro Arena card. Mine came as part of the package that Ajax sell to foreign fans. I also got given a very nice scarf. I guess the idea is that you get served quicker, but that you also waste money by either not spending your Arenas , or buying stuff you don’t want, to finish your card.

Ajax 2 NAC Breda 2 – The Amsterdam ArenA – 19th November 2011
Prior to this game Ajax lay in fourth place in a league led by AZ. NAC Breda were in mid table, but only four points behind tonight’s opponents. It was a match Ajax were expected to win comfortably, but it took them until the 36th minute to take the lead when Sulejmani swept in a cross. Luis Saurez’s place in the Amsterdamer’s affections has been taken by another Uruguayen, Lodeiro, and he buzzed around to great effect after coming on as a 28th minute substitute. Also in the side was the Dane Eriksen, reportedly a target for several Premiership clubs.

Despite only holding a one –goal lead Ajax became over-confident against limited opponents seemingly intent on keeping the score down. Players like Eriksen appeared more intent on showing off their skills than pushing for more goals.

It took until the 84th minute for another substitute, Boerrigter , to make it 2-0, and that should have been that. Many of the 49,531 crowd presumably thought so, as they made their way to the exits. Then a minute later NAC’s Kolk tried a speculative shot from the edge of the area that squirmed under goalkeeper Vermeer’s body. For the first time in the game NAC believed they could salvage something , and a minute from time Schilder hit a belter from distance to earn an unlikely point.

Apart from the two Ajax goals the biggest cheer of the evening came when the crowd spotted Cruyff sitting in the directors’ box. His post-match comments went unreported, though one didn’t need to be able to understand Dutch to see that Frank De Boer was not a happy bunny.