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…..

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Chelsea leave it late to give Rafa a going away present

The Daggers Diary team have a nose for getting tickets for most big games so it is no surprise that they were heading off to the Europa League final for the fifth consecutive year.

Way back in August, both Benfica and Chelsea would have harboured hopes of progress in the Champions League. Benfica were drawn in a group containing Barcelona and Celtic, while Chelsea would have fancied their chances of progressing from a group containing Juventus, Nordsjaelland and Shaktar Donetsk, especially as they went into the competition as European Champions.

Benfica were undone by some very impressive Celtic performances, but the problems encountered by Chelsea during the first half of the season were many and were the subject of many column inches in the printed media. It cost the coach his job, and the replacement has been the subject of almost as many articles as the failure to get out of the group stage of the Champions League.

As the competition progressed, it became apparent that we were getting dangerously close to an all-English final. For a while, it seemed that Gareth Bale (or Spurs as they are more commonly known) would get to Amsterdam, and in doing so, provide their head coach with the chance to win this competition for a second time in three years.

However, quarter final defeats for both Spurs/Gareth Bale and Newcastle meant that the European Champions were still in with a chance of holding both major European trophies at the same time. So, with the European Champions getting past Basle in their semi final, and Benfica progressing at the expense of Fenerbache, we got a final that promises to be a really good game.

Of course, the idea of having teams that fail in one competition, only for them to turn up in the apparently lesser competition after Christmas is one that provokes much debate. Quite why the powers that be at UEFA felt the need to devalue a competition that already attracts less attention that it should do is open to question, but at the present time, they are the rules, however much they may seem abhorrent.

935686_10152820465140223_1281274735_nThere are certainly two sides to this. For the teams that started the season in the Europa League, it may seem a bit on the harsh side to have clubs that have essentially mucked up their other competition to be allowed to compete in this one. For the clubs who have “dropped down” into the Europa League, then it presents a chance to retrieve their continental season, although there are plenty out there who feel that having competed in the Champions League at the start of the season, that this is a come down from which there is no glory to be had at all.

For me though, as a bluff old traditionalist, I think its all wrong. The league champions of each country go into the Champions Cup, while the cup winners (and three or four teams via the league) go into the Europa League. None of this “fourth placed team playing in the Champions League” rubbish. And if you muck up in one competition, then that’s it. No second chance.

Wednesday 15th May 2013, SL Benfica v Chelsea FC, Amsterdam ArenA
In the days leading up to the final, the lack of tickets available for the competing teams was an issue. Like all UEFA finals, there are a certain number which are available for neutral fans. These go on sale via a ballot run through the UEFA website, and after the application period has ended, the results are announced a couple of weeks later. This is how Dagenham Dan and I are attending the game. It’s also probably part of the reason why there are some that will miss out on seeing their team playing in a European final.

Which all seems just a bit unfair. Selecting a stadium that can host about fifty thousand fans should be enough for a final like this, but next year, when the final will be staged in Turin, there will be about ten thousand less in the arena. Even for a competition that attracted its fair amount of scorn recently, that’s probably not big enough.

The ticketing allocation for finals has always been a contentious issue. However, and speaking as someone who follows a small club in the nether regions of league two, is it fair that someone who supports a club that is never likely to play in European competition is denied the chance to see a major game like this? Are these events purely to be the preserve of those who attach themselves to a bigger club like Chelsea or Benfica? The allocation for the neutral section could be made a bit smaller, but then there are also sponsors tickets. If you are a company that pays millions of pounds to have your name associated with a tournament, would you not want a certain amount of tickets for the showpiece occasion?

Arrival in Amsterdam is in the gloom, of a grey damp and cold morning. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the plane is full of Chelsea fans, who may or may not have tickets for the game. The beers were already flowing in Southend airport, and it continues on the plane.

We aren’t able to check into the hotel upon arrival, so having left our bags in their storage facility, we head into Amsterdam. Having tried to find out what is going on in the town centre, we stroll away from the central station and find very little, except bars almost full to bursting point, and the chip shop selling the best fries in the Netherlands. Even at this early stage, Dan goes for the large portion of chips, but is soon struggling. My choice of the medium is met with scorn by the vendor, but the splat of mayo is more than enough to compensate for the smaller amount of chips.

Having scoffed the mid morning snack, we make a decision to head out to the stadium to see if we can find our programmes. After nearly missing out in Dublin two years ago, we are determined not to do the same this time. So a fifteen minute train ride is in front of us, and despite the train getting a touch on the cosy side, we arrive at the stadium to find that all of the merchandising and fan parks, so missing from the town centre, are out here instead.

Having purchased the programmes, plus the obligatory mini ball, we were dismayed somewhat to discover that the Ajax fan shop at the stadium is shut. The chance to get the new away kit (a very fetching black and pink number) is thus denied, although the credit card is no doubt breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Having spent enough, we head back to the hotel for a couple of hours, although more important is that we actually check in. The local news is dominated by the game, and one reporter has clearly drawn the short straw, by getting lumbered with interviewing people walking past a bar populated seemingly exclusively by Chelsea fans, none of which want to look at the camera. One interview with a Benfica fan is interrupted by a blue, proclaiming that Arsenal aren’t very good, or at least using words to that effect.

The shuttle bus back to the airport is almost full, but we seem to be the only ones using it as a way of eventually heading back to town as everyone else has a suitcase of some description. After checking which train we should be on we are, for the second time today, heading back to the Amsterdam Arena.

260244_10152820466535223_256540632_nIt’s much busier this time around, with both fan park areas full of people. We wonder around and as we stroll, Dan makes a spot; the Amsterdam final ambassador, Patrick Kluivert is heading our way, and Dan is straight in. After a polite enquiry as to whether we can have photo, Patrick agrees, and we get our picture taken. As we get ours completed, others start to head over to do the same thing, ensuring that his path to the stadium entrance is going to be taking longer than planned.

There is time to enter the Chelsea fan park, but aside from the heavy thump of the dance music offered up by the resident d.j. and the smell of something exotic (something that some of the local residents put in their cake apparently), the visit is short, and we complete our lap of the stadium, before entering.

By the time the kick off rolls around, we have been treated to the teams being announced by using the player escorts to show their position on the field, as well as an opening ceremony involving tulips, club crests and Patrick Kluivert parading the trophy. Each club is represented by a fan, and they are asked a series of questions by the two matchday presenters (one of whom sounds rather like the bloke at Wembley stadium) although given their patter, they sound more like each clubs matchday announcer.

The first half isn’t bad. The first chance is only a couple of minutes in coming, although Cardoza heads over. Early on, Chelsea display very little cohesion as a defensive unit, and are fortunate not to concede on a couple of other occasions. Errant shooting, as well as some scrambled clearances save the day for the European champions.

Torres is an isolated figure at times, and a couple of early kicks look to have him in trouble, although he does eventually continue. Frank Lampard has a shot which swerves all over the place, but the Benfica keeper is just about able to stick out his left hand and divert the ball over the bar. From our vantage point, it looks to have crept in, but we soon see that that wasn’t the case.

Benfica have been the better side in the half, and the second starts in the same vein. Gradually, Chelsea do get a bit of a hold, and it is arguably against the run of play that they take the lead on the hour. A throw out by Cech seems to elude the midfield of both teams, and the ball somehow ends up at the feet of Torres. He is able to out run Luisao, and after seemingly taking an age to round the keeper, he slots the ball home. The Chelsea fans in their section go nuts, as does a good portion of the allegedly neutral section.

Their good humour lasts about eight minutes; Azpilicueta is deemed to have handled the ball, and after a few seconds of confusion, a penalty is awarded. The Benfica section away to our right celebrates as Cardoza scores although closer to home, one Chelsea fan in our section takes umbrage with a celebrating Benfica supporter, and for a few minutes is facing away from the game, as he points and looks like he about to clump him one. The Benfica fan is just ignoring him, although it does look a difficult job.

970159_10152820468340223_1804981471_nQuite what he would have made of the winner in the last minute of stoppage time is not recorded. Despite Chelsea still not looking the better side, the corner from the right wing is met by Ivanovic, whose looping header takes an age to drop into the net. From the other end of the stadium, it is a second or two before it registers, and when it does, those of the blue persuasion are celebrating once again. As the corner is awarded, we both reckon that a goal for Chelsea would be a bit of a mugging, given the game. This is agreed with by those in front, although a few seconds later, they don’t really care.

Even at this late stage, there is still a chance for Benfica to score again. Another defensive shambles leads to a few “heart in mouth” moments in the seats, but once again, it is scrambled clear. The final whistle brings celebration at the far end of the stadium, and in much of the neutral section, while some of the Portuguese are already on their way. Chelsea become the first team to hold the Champions League and Europa League trophies at the same time, while Benfica stretch their losing run in European finals to seven, covering fifty years.

As soon as the trophy presentations are done, we are on our way back to the station, hoping for a train straight back to Schipol, but although we move as quickly as we can through the plastic cup strewn floor of the stadium surrounds, we miss the train by a minute, and it’s another half hour wait for the next one. Slowly but surely the station fills up although most seem to be heading back to the city centre, probably for just one more beer before bedtime.

Not only do we miss our intended train, but as we reach Schipol, we also miss the airport shuttle bus, which we see leaving just as we get outside the terminal building. Getting a cab proves to be difficult, and we eventually get a highly reluctant driver to take us back to the hotel. Throughout the journey back, we are made to feel that it is our fault for wasting his time driving such a short distance, and although we protest our innocence, he doesn’t seem to want to know. Even when we point out the shuttle bus in the hotel car park, he still complains about the waste of time. We hand over the payment to the grouch, and walk away.

Thursday morning, and the airport is full of fans making their way back home; as we pass through the terminal on our way to the aircraft, there are a few that look as though they slept there, with several lying face down on tables. As we wait at the departure gate, the plane arriving from Southend lets loose its passengers while we stare out of our glass cage, looking like goldfish waiting for the next feed. The plane back is full, although not all are Chelsea fans; there is a sizeable group of excitable Dutch schoolkids, which means that anyone hoping for a short nap on the forty minute flight is to be disappointed. One person a few rows in front is overhead to ask if this is the flight to Southend, which means that it must have been a very good night in town after the game.

Long live the European Football Weekend

Whilst Danny Last, Big Deaksy, Kenny Legg, Huddo Hudson, Spencer Webb and myself got familiar with the German beer, sausages and football at the weekend, our paths almost crossed with the Daggers Diary team who made the foray into Düsseldorf territory as part of their four game, three countries road trip.

About a year ago, Neil, Dagenham Dan and I made a trip into Europe to take in a game in four different countries over the course of one weekend. Even as we were making our way back from Oostende to Calais to catch the train back home, there were already plans to repeat (or improve) on the trip in 2013.

Despite the schedule of four games in such a short space of time, the only mad rush between games was between Koln and Venlo, and that was comfortably achieved without too much drama.

So this year, we thought we should try to do it all again. Obviously with different venues (fixtures permitting), but to attempt to repeat our 2012 trip would be great. A weekend was selected, and then we set about going through the games, seeing which ones we could feasibly attend. We selected four games, and unlike last year, they would all be in the top division of the respective leagues. Except that the French league was causing a bit of a problem, and after all of the others were more or less confirmed, we were kind of hoping that Lille would be scheduled for the Sunday evening, so that we could get a fifth game in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen, so we would have to make do with just the four.

Of course, while we have got lucky with the fixtures and kick off times, there have been other things where we (or more specifically Neil), haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, about a week before the trip, Neil had an accident in the car, which meant that we ended up hiring a vehicle for the weekend. This year, the car hasn’t been the problem, but instead over the New Year period, Neil managed to break his wrist. This meant that, for a few days the trip was in the balance before the hospital proclaimed that the break should be healed in about a month’s time, and in plenty of time for the trip.

I say we have been lucky with the fixtures, and to a certain degree, we have. While Dan and I will be attending four new grounds (it’s two for Neil), we have potentially missed out on a couple of other games. For example, Anderlecht have a home game on the Friday of our trip, while Borussia Dortmund are at home on the Saturday night. Having already booked tickets for the other games as well as the hotels, we have decided to stick to the planned games. However, both clubs are ones that we all want to visit, but as we have found out before, getting tickets for Dortmund can be difficult. Continue reading

All roads lead to Utrecht

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.

Club Basics
Name:
Football Club Utrecht
Address: Herculesplein 241 , 3584 AA Utrecht. Netherlands
Email: info@fcutrecht.nl
Website: www.fcutrecht.nl
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.

Paul Whitaker

‘Friday Night is FC Volendam Night’ by Paul Whitaker

Just a few miles north of Amsterdam , you will find the charming fishing village of Volendam. A former seaport that once prospered on North Sea trade via the waters of the Zuider Zee (Southern Sea), today Volendam’s trade is tourism that arrives by coach or are deposited by Markermeer Lake cruise boats. Whilst these daytrippers cram the cobbled streets and waterfront in search of an old dutch world atmosphere, few are aware of an authentic dutch football experience that can be had a mere ten minutes walk away from where their coaches/boats are parked/moored.

FC Volendam or Het Andere Oranje (The Other Oranje) have just finished mid-table in 2011/12 season of the Jupiler League or Eerste Divisie. Football tourists should not expect voetbal in the Dutch second division to be of the quality of Ajax or Feyenoord . But, Eerste Divisie fixtures are always played on Friday evenings (8pm kickoffs), so as not to clash with Eredivisie fixtures. You also do not need to apply for a club members card or purchase an expensive ‘tourist ticket package’ for Eerste Divisie fixtures. So if you are planning a long weekender in Amsterdam, why not give the ‘Ajax Experience Tour’ (Price €17.50 for adult) a miss on the Friday and instead sample the ‘FC Volendam experience’ (Price starting €15 for adult). You can still be back in Dam Square, central Amsterdam for 11pm.

There are no trains service to Volendam, but Bus nos. 110 and 118 frequently depart from the bus station behind Amsterdam Central Station, for the 20 minute journey. Ask the bus driver for a €10 dayticket and get off at the stop, opposite Volendam’s VVV or tourist office ( 37 Zeetstraat). From here, simply follow the daytrippers to the waterfront or ‘De Dijk’.

There are a number of bars and restaurants on ‘De Dijk’ for a pre-match fish, chips and Heineken. Cafe Centraal (Haven 94a) , Cafe Sjaakies (Meerzijde 29), Cafe Motje (Dril 12) have all been recommended by locals. If there is some Dutch sounding pop music playing in the bar, this may well be the Palingsound or ‘Eelsound’ from Volendam’s most famous crooner, Jan Smit. The more adventurous of you may want also to chew on a smoked eel or be photographed in traditional Dutch dress . I just grabbed a waffle and jumped on the Marken Express (€8 adult return) for a short ferry across the Markermeer Lake to Marken. Here you will find a fishing village that is even quainter than Volendam, but not as busy.

FC Volendam play at Kras stadion (Sportlaan 10), which is tucked in a quiet residential area about ten minutes walk from ‘De Dijk’. Simply head back to the VVV office/bus stop on Zeestraat and you cannot miss the Kras stadion floodlights, as they are the tallest structures in Volendam. From the outside, the 6,200 capacity modern stadium is typically functional with everything from a bank to a fishing tackle shop, all operating from under its orange stands.

The only place to buy FC Volendam merchandise is the fan shop located at Kras stadion’s main entrance. The fanshop is only open on matchdays, 2 hours before kick off till 30 minutes after final whistle. Please note you will also need your match ticket to gain access to the Kras stadion main entrance and fan shop. The ‘Welkom bij Wedstrijd’, a handy pocket-sized 34 page match programme which is issued free as you enter the stadium , includes a list of FC Volendam merchandise, on offer at the fan shop. I understand a museum will in 2013 at Kras Stadion, under the theme of what makes Volendam special: “sports, tourism , humour, hard working and traditional clothing”.

Opposite the main entrance you will find the both the ticket office (Inlichtingen), where you can collect your match ticket and next door the small bar for the FC Volendam supporters club (Thuishaven). Inside you will find the members of the supporters group called the Pe side/Palingboeren/The Orange Army. Outside the Thuishaven was a basic floral tribute to FC Volendam’s most famous player, Dick Tol.

I did not see any away supporters (FC Eindhoven) drinking here as they were down at ‘De Dijk’ , under the watchful eye of a heavy police presence. FC Volendam do not seem to have any rivals and perhaps unique in Holland ,do not show any antipathy to their big neighbours, Ajax. On the contrary the rare meetings with Ajax were fondly remembered and created the best atmospheres experienced at the Kras stadion. FC Volendam has apparently also befriended supporters of both RKC Waalwijk and FC Zolle. Photos of the latter’s meeting earlier in the season can be seen on the excellent dutch website, footballculture.nl

My €15 ticket was in the ‘Jap Jonk-tribune’ and in the bar below the stand I picked up a photocopied teamsheet or ‘Opstelling’ with a beer, that I paid with euros rather than tokens. The ‘Pe Muhren-tribune’ to my right housed the noisy home support, whilst the upper tier of the ‘Dr Duin-tribune’ opposite appeared to be all corporate supporters. The away section was housed in NA and NB of ‘Jaap Bond-tribune’ to my left and there were more flags than supporters of FC Eindhoven. Their choreography when the players came out onto the pitch was excellent though.

Whilst FC Eindhoven were pushing for promotion , FC Volendam had nothing to play for in this last fixture of the season. Consequently, the evening was rightly dominated by a pre match end-of-season awards party and the chance to say goodbye to those players pulling on the orange shirt for the final time. Before kick-off, FC Volendam’s Jack Tuyp received an award for top scorer of the Jupiler League. During the match itself, I witnessed two of the strangest substitutions ever seen at a football match when two FC Volendam players were carried shoulder high off the pitch by their colleagues, to the applause of 4200 supporters in the stands and players, alike.

The first player substituted on 67 minutes was defender Barry Opdam who had played almost 400 professional matches at AZ Alkmaar, Red Bull Salzburg and finally FC Volendam. Such was Opdam’s popularity in dutch football , that over eighty AZ supporters attended this fixture and stood behind a huge banner stating “OPDAM, FOR ALWAYS OUR HERO”. This probably explained Opdam’s tears as he left the football pitch for the final time as a player. Then ten minutes later the same thing happened to midfielder Olaf Lindenbergh. In between all this, a football was played out and FC Volendam won 3-1, with Jack Tuyp getting goal number 20 for the season.

Club Basics

Name: Football Club Volendam
Address: Sportlaan 10, 1131 BK Volendam, Netherlands
Email: info@fcvolendam.org
Website: www.fcvolendam.nl
Supporters website: www.fanatix.nl

Getting a ticket: Fortunately, you do not need to apply for a club members card to attend Eerste Divisie fixtures. 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 at the ticket office (Inlichtingen), located near the Main entrance. As always, bring a passport or other ID. You can also buy a ticket online at dutch language website https://fc-volendam.voetbalticket-shop.nl

Thanks to: Remco van der Ende at FC Volendam, Kevin Morris and Freek van der Kerkhof.

The great EU bailout

It warms our hearts when we hear about some of the trips people make to see football around Europe. This week our beloved Brian Parish and Dagenham Dan teamed up with long-suffering Wolves fan Neil Shenton and hopped across the Channel to fit in an astounding four games in four countries in just over 48 hours.  Jealous?  Who would be:-

It was during half time at a home game towards the end of last season (which Dan assures me was the Easter fixture at home to Plymouth Argyle) when the ideafor this trip was first formed. Having not done a non-Spanish league game for a while, we decided that we should try and get to a couple of games in Europe over a weekend, just by way of a change. The Bundesliga was the unanimous choice, and so we set about thinking about where in Germany we would like to visit.

Within a couple of days, the trip had been increased to a two game trip, with the notion that we should try and get to a game on the way to Germany. Soon it was three then four, and then the best selling point of all. Four games, in three days, in four different countries.

Of course, we had to wait until the fixtures were announced, and so while we had all these ideas of where we would like to go whirling around, it was all pointless until we could see who was playing and when. With three of us (Dagenham Dan, Neil Shenton and myself) making this trip, we would have to wait to see if there was a weekend where we wouldn’t miss a home game for any of our teams. Continue reading

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.