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


“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?”


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…..


Zwolle in one

Paul Whitaker continues his tour of football in the Netherlands with a visit to Zwolle.

Zwolle is a picturesque market town and also the provincial capital of Overijssel. Their football club PEC Zwolle, ply their trade in the Eredivisie and I had pencilled in the visit of FC Utrecht, to explore this part of Eastern Netherlands. From Amsterdam Central Station, there are trains every 25 minutes to Zwolle Station. Journey times are about 1 hour 10 minutes and 2nd class day returns are approximately €35. To reach Zwolle, you travel through the flat polder landscape of Flevoland , which seemed to consist only of wind turbines, farmland and bland Milton Keynes-type ‘new towns’.

zwolle 1Thankfully, Zwolle town reassured me that there are some attractive old towns in this part of Holland. The ten minute walk from Zwolle train station to the charming old centre, was a mix of fountains playing in a moat, narrow medieval streets and modern apartments incorporated into the town’s fortifications. You will find Zwolle’s VVV tourist office beside the Grote Markt (Grote Kerkplein 15. Closed Sunday). There were some busy bars and restaurants dotted around Zwolle old centre. Café het Fluitje (Koningsplein 6) is Zwolle’s football café for pre-match beers.

PEC Zwolle’s Ijsseldelta stadium is located about a mile to the east of the town’s train/bus station. Jump on the No3 bus (€2 return) for the 15 minute journey that takes you back through the centre of town and get off at the ‘Stadion’ stop.

If I had not latched onto a group of Zwolle supporters, whom had got off the bus with me, I would have had trouble locating the Ijsseldelta stadium. Their current home is suffering from blandmoderndutchfootball stadiumarchitectureitis and reminded me why Simon Inglis never updated up his classic ‘Football Grounds of Europe’ book. Built in 2009, the Ijsseldelta stadium is an 11,300 capacity ‘office block’ complete with casino, restaurant, hotel and artificial pitch. OK it will never win any football stadium architecture awards, but at least the non-match day revenue tops up the club coffers. When you read about the clubs history and financial problems later, you can perhaps understand why they picked this design.

The away section is section 23 in South Stand and there is section of safe standing terracing for home supporters in the Marten Eibrink Tribune (Noord). Here you will find the supporters groups including ‘Groep Z-038’ and ‘FEU (Far East Ultras) Zwolle’. The best websites to see their choreography photos are www.peczwolle.org , www.groepz-038.nl and www.feuzwolle.nl (this website is still under construction). I understand there are also a couple of hooligan groups: the older ones who should know better are called ‘Vandas’ () and the younger ones are called ‘JOET’.

zwolle 3These groups will be most active and noisiest for the visit of the (Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV) and local rivals Go Ahead Eagles. The latter reside in Deventer, a town near the Ijssel river and hence why fixtures are called ‘Ijseelderby’. With Go Ahead Eagles promoted to Eredivisie this season, the rivalry will be renewed and worth a visit if you are in Holland those weekends.

PEC supporters have a number of friendships with other clubs. Matches with FC Volendam are well attended and the excellent dutch football website ‘footballculture.nl’ have a report on recent fixture . The FEU Zwolle supporters group have a friendship with ‘Los Aliadios’, a supporters group of a German 3rd division (Regionalliga) club called SV Lippstadt.

My pre-match walk around the Ijsseldelta found the PEC Zwolle fanshop and Informatiekassa under the Henk Timmer Tribune (West). The Zwolle supporters café was under the Marten Eibrink Tribune (North). What I did not find was the club name and emblem on any part of the stadium. This was the first time I has seen this on my football travels, but their financially troubled club history may explain why.

PEC (Prince Henry, Ende Desespereert Nimmer, Combinatie) was founded in 1910 and their supporters were to experience more name changes than league/cup successes. In 1971, the club changed its name to PEC Zwolle and enjoyed their best period, losing KNVB Cup finalists in 1977 and reaching the heady heights of eighth in the Eredivisie in 1978. Success on the pitch came at a financial cost to the club owners and they were forced to change club name to PEC Zwolle’82 in, yes you guessed it 1982. Despite buying in famous players like Johnny Rep, the club eventually went bankrupt in 1990. Now clear of debts, a new club called FC Zwolle was formed, complete with new club colours of blue-white shirts/white shorts. Their most famous player Jaap Stam played for the club during 1992/93 season. PEC Zwolle supporter Friso Schotanus explained the most recent history and why the club announced that their name would change to PEC Zwolle.

“FC Zwolle stayed in the 2nd division for 22 years, except from 2002 to 2004. Most people started to forget about PEC. But in 2010, when PEC celebrated its 100 years anniversary, the attention for the past grew. An unoffical biography of the club, titled “Desespereert Nimmer” (written by Friso), stimulated this. At the same time the club made a sportive comeback, with positive, attacking football, they won the championship in the Eerste Divisie in 2012. To celebrate this, the club returned to the highest level under the name PEC Zwolle. This is of course a far more distinctive name than former name. There was some criticism about the name change in the beginning, but now everybody seems to be happy about it”.

zwolle 4So perhaps the club badge and name had been removed from the stadium’s main entrance, to be changed.

After picking up tickets at the Informatiekkassa, I tracked down the 24 page match programme (€0.50) and complimentary ‘opstellingsformulier’ ( photocopy team sheet). The club operates a token scheme inside the stadium. If you want to buy a beer (non alcoholic only) you have to have to buy a minimum of five (€1) tokens from a machine and I do not think you can get refunds. I would advise getting pre-match alcoholic beer outside, at the supporters café under Marten Eibrink Tribune (North). Also take time to admire the impressive supporter murals that have been painted on walls under the stands. You are left in no doubt that you are in the home of PEC Zwolle.

After some impressive pre-match watering of the artificial pitch, the match kicked off and the 11,000 + crowd enjoyed an entertaining afternoon. Utrecht took the lead under less than 2 minutes when a long ball from Mike Van der Hoorn found Nana Asare running down the centre, who coolly slipped the ball under PEC goalie Diederik Boer. PEC equalized in 18 minutes when the ball pinged around Utrecht penalty box before eventually falling to to Joost Broerse who smacked the ball into Utrecht net. Utrecht then scored the winner in the 54th minute with the best goal of the match. Jens Toornstra picked up a loose ball just in Utrecht half and found Elroy Pappot running towards the PEC penalty area on the left hand side, who slotted the ball home. Despite a frantic late psurge by PEC, Utrecht held on for three points and place in Europa League play-off spot. PEC Zwolle supporters went home knowing they will certainly be playing Eredivisie football next season, although less certain if they will get a club emblem outside the Ijsseldelta stadium.

Club Basics.

Name (at the time of writing): PEC Zwolle
Address: Stadioplein 1 , 8025 CP Zwolle, Netherlands
Email: stage1@peczwolle.nl
Website: www.peczwolle.nl
Supporters website: www.supportersclubpeczwolle.nl

Getting a ticket
Tickets go on sale about 2/3 weeks before. Tickets can be bought by contacting the club by email. After no replies from my English language emails, the club eventually replied to a dutch language email, a template of which can be found below:

zwolle 6“Geachte

Ik ben een Engelse voetbal toerist dat op bezoek is in Zwolle. Ik zou graag xxx kaarten (volwassenen) kopen voor de wedstrijd van PEC Zwolle tegen xxx op xx/xx/xx.

Wat is de prijs en is het mogelijk om de kaarten te reserveren en te komen halen aan de stadion kassa op de wedstrijddag?

Dank bij voorbaat voor jullie antwoord

Met sportieve groeten.”

Reserved tickets can then be collected at the Informatiekassa office at Ijsseldelta stadium. Prices are cheaper behind the goals. No tickets are sold in the Henk Timmer tribune, as this is reserved for corporates. Adult prices in the Fred Patrick tribune are €22.50 and a rather steep €18.50 for kids under 16. I understand prices are increased for visit of Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV and Twente. Also expect a price rise for visit of local rivals Go Ahead Eagles, this season

Thanks to Graeme Holmes for ticket contact and Stephane Lievens for collecting tickets, translations and supplying photo of Zwolle mural. Also thanks to Mike at www.footballculture.nl for putting me in touch with PEC Zwolle supporters. Finally thanks to Zwolle supporters Friso Schontanus, Bryan Pieterson , Kevin Buter and Olaf Hoornstra for kindly replying to my questions.


An evening with NAC

Our resident Dutch expert, Paul Whitaker takes us on a tour of Breda. 

My ‘Rough Guide to Holland’ says Breda is a pleasant market town located in the province of Noord-Brabant. What the publication does not say, is as with other towns around this southern part of Netherlands, Breda also has a well-supported football club (NAC) and I planned my visit to coincide with their Eredivisie fixture against reigning champions, Ajax.

There are hourly trains from Amsterdam Central Station to Breda via s’ Hertogenbosch. 2nd class day return were €38. There is also a direct line from Amsterdam to Breda, with ‘Fyra’. It’s a few euros more, but you will get to Breda direct in one hour. If you have access to a dutch friend with an OV chipkaart , you should get up to 40% off this ticket price.

The demands of television on modern football dictated the match would not kick off until 20.45pm local time, which meant not getting back to Amsterdam until after 1am. “Against Modern Football/Tegen Het Moderne Voetbal!”. Thankfully, the ever reliable dutch railway system came to the rescue by ensuring regular train services ran into the early hours.

On arrival at Breda train station, head down Willemstraat, picking up a map/guide book from the VVV office (no 17-19, open Saturday). Cross the Valkenberg park and you will find yourself in typical dutch old town. Here the Grote Markt and neighbouring Havermarkt are the centre of Breda life. You will find a castle and moat off Kasteelplein and several surrounding streets full of bars, cafes and restaurants. I worked out the “Het Paviljoen” (Viserstraat 6) to be the most popular football bar on matchday, mainly due to the incessant din of dutch techno music and sprinkling of Stone Island tops amongst its clientele. You will find an NAC fanshop close to the old town called ‘t feesterijke’ (haagdijk 8).

There is no better way of locating NAC’s stadium than climbing the tower of the impressive gothic church (€4.50). The stadium can be seen about a mile to the northwest. You can take the bus no2 (direction Haagse Beemden) from outside Breda train station. There are between 2-4 buses per hour and €5.50 for day ticket. I found it more convenient to miss the post-match queues and do the 20 minute walk back the train station.

breda 1NAC’s current home is called Rat Verlegh stadium. Named after one of NAC supporters most popular icon who played for the club between 1912-31, the unremarkable looking modern stadium was built in 1996. Although initial capacity began with 17000 seats, the club introduced safe standing terracing to bring capacity up to 19000. At the time of my visit, NAC was celebrating their 100th anniversary season, during which time they had won one championship in 1921 and one KNVB Cup in 1973.

On the Lunetstraat (where the bus drops you off) side of the stadium, you will find another fanshop to get your NAC souvenirs and the free matchday programme, “De Klok”. Right next door is the ticket/information desk, where you collect your match ticket. Finally, next door to that is the busy ‘Beatrixpub’, which is named after the club’s old stadium located at Beatrixstraat. Above the Beatrixpub is the NAC supporters club, which you are allowed in before the match only.

Here you will also be allowed to buy a club ‘debitcard’ (to purchase food/drinks inside the stadium) at the entrance of the Beatrixpub before the match. You simply pay 2 euro deposit and buy the amount of money you want on the card. After the match,simply hand the card back in and you get the money on the card back as well as your 2 euro deposit. This is a great idea by NAC and as with not needing a club card to purchase a match, I wish some of the ‘bigger’ dutch football clubs (you know who you are!) were as forward thinking and supporter friendly.

The inhabitants of the Beatrixpub are NACs ‘Yellow Army’ and are famous for creating one of the best atmospheres in dutch football. Budi Loonen from the excellent English language NAC fan website http://www.nacbredafc.nl/ , explained the phenomenon ‘Avondje NAC’ or ‘An evening NAC’:

“NAC are supported by two fan groups. We stand on the B-side, Vak G (Block G/G-end located next to the away-end also the hardcore firm is there located) and eretribune (F6 and F7). We’re fanatic but we don’t want to look like any other team in the entire Netherlands. No songs after scoring a goal, no drums, no mascot, no tifo-choreography (maybe a banner if you are lucky). The bottom line is we don’t like advertising stuff around it because it influences the atmopshere. Atmosphere is from the fans not from a stupid drum or whatsoever. We have an impulsive-atmosphere: when the team play some good football, the crowd picks up and take over to sing. Some german football fans say we’re similar like FC Sankt Pauli. But even we think the atmosphere is dissapointing (especially on sunday matches with a lot of hangovers) a lot of football fans don’t agree. NAC is also famous of the ‘avondje NAC’ or ‘evening NAC’.On Saturday night there is a special atmosphere in the Rat Verlegh stadium. A mix of football, fanatism of football, beer, emotion but above all bourgondic culture before a night out. True story: we have a lot of fans from different clubs like Feyenoord and Ajax, but they have a season ticket for NAC because the like the atmosphere and the fans. Even other football-fan opinion agree as well. NAC fans are Fans that do not like modern football in general”

breda 2I was pleased to read that NAC were the first dutch football club to form a supporters’ advisory council, that protects NACs culture and looks after their supporters interests. NAC also ensure a supporter representative is also on the club board.

My €15 seat ticket was in neutral section I. Right in front of the away section H and right next to ‘Vak G’ terracing, where the more boisterous elements of NACs ‘Yellow Army’ are located. This put me right in the middle of some intense atmosphere during the match, between the NAC and Ajax supporters. I had been told the best match atmospheres at NAC are against the big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV. Feyenoord matches in particular have a history of violent disorder that goes back to the 1970s. NACs local rivals are Willem II from the nearby town of Tilburg and matches are referred to locally as the derby of Brabant. The best website for NAC supporter photos is http://www.f7breda.nl .

The match kicked off with NAC chasing points to keep away from the relegation scrap, whilst an Ajax win would all but secure them a 32nd Eredivisie title. NAC were the better side in a mediocre first half. Eric Botteghin headed a corner cross against the Ajax crossbar. Most of Ajax attempts were long range shots that sailed high or wide of NAC goal. The second half was a much better Ajax performance. From a Viktor Fischer rebounded shot, Kolbeinn Sigthorrsson slotted home to put the visitors 0-1 up. On 52 minutes, a Christian Eriksen corner saw Siem De Jong’s head in Ajax second goal, via NAC’s Tim Gilissen. De Jong later hit the post, but the match was effectively over. Both myself and Ajax were to leave Breda after a very enjoyable visit.

Club Basics

Name: NAC Breda
Address: Stadionstraat 23, 4815 NC Breda, Netherlands.
Email: ticketing@nac.nl
Website: www.nac.nl/
Supporters website: www.nacbredafc.nl/ 

Getting a ticket
Tickets go on sale about 2/3 weeks before. You can buy tickets from the dutch
language website http://nac.voetbalticket-shop.nl/ . For matches against Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV, I would contact NAC direct. Simply ring the following number (they speak English) +31 76 521 45 00

breda 3Tell them you’re from abroad and want visit the match. Let them know your name, nationality and date of birth. The club will give you a reservation number. Take the reservation number and your passport to the Ticket and Information Desk (next to the supporterspub Beatrix and NAC Fanshop) give them the number, you pay and you got the tickets.

For other matches please contact Budi Loonen at the excellent English language NAC fan website http://www.nacbredafc.nl/ ,by emailing info@nacbredafc.nl .Please add in the subject title which football match you want to visit. Maximum 4 tickets each match. Budi can only arrange tickets 2 months in advance or earlier, else it´s not possible. If you make a reservation this way, please note you are buying ticket from NAC Breda supporters. If arrange tickets that means, because of Dutch law, they are responsible for you. Tickets can be picked up 2 – 1 hours in advance in the Beatrixpub at the stadium. They only accept cash.

Thanks to Budi Loonen for kindly answering me questions and NAC for the €15 euro ticket.

Welcome to the Gelredome

One of the reasons why I love European football Weekenders in Dusseldorf is that the excellent German train transport network means I am merely an Inter City Express (ICE) train journey away from Dutch football. With Vitesse Arnhem riding high in the Eredivisie, their home fixture against Roda JC Kerkrade was an ideal opportunity to cross Vitesse off my Dutch ground hopping list.

Arnhem is located in Gelderland, a province of Holland that stretches from Utrecht east to the German border. With Arnhem being a major transport junction there are direct trains from both Dusseldorf Hbf, every 2 hours and journey lasts 1 hour 10 mins (2nd class day return from €43) and Amsterdam Central Station, every 20 minutes and journey lasts 1hour 10 mins (2nd class day return from €31). On arrival, you will find VVV tourist office (Stationsplein 13) located right next to the train and bus station. As I arrived on a Sunday, the office was closed.

1 Arnhem wallpaperInstead, I jumped on the city bus line 1 for a 20 minute journey to Oosterbeek. Today it is a well-heeled suburb of Arnhem, but in September 1944 was the scene of Operation Market Garden, the failed World War II Allied Airborne operation to capture key river crossings in southeast Gelderland. Getting off the bus at the last stop of Oosterbeek train station, it was a short 5 minute walk to Oosterbeek War Cemetery where nearly 2,000 British and Polish paratroopers are buried. From there it was another 10 minutes walk south , following the many signposts to the Airborne Museum  (Utrechtseweg 232). The museum is actually the former Hotel Hartenstein where British 1st Airborne Division withstood superior German forces for 4 days before retreating across the river. Recently refurbished, the museum vivdly recalls the Battle for Arnhem from the perspective of both sides and the Dutch civilians caught in between. Amongst the artefacts was a section of wallpaper salvaged from an Arnhem house, containing the graffiti and a cricket score card tally of Germans killed or wounded, written by an unknown British paratrooper.

The fighting and its aftermath has not surprisingly left an indelible mark with the people of Arnhem, even after all this time. This year, Vitesse were asked by their Supporters Club to change from their usual yellow and black striped home kit, to claret and blue that were the colours of the British 1st Airborne Division. The shirts also bore their ‘winged horse’ logo and the slogan ‘ No Bridge to Far’. The limited edition strip was then worn by the Vitesse players against Heracles Almelo at the weekend to commemorate the 68th Anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.

2 Arnhem shirtReturning to Arnhem bus station, it was a 10 minute walk through its postwar reconstructed centre to the church of St Eusabius. For a couple of euros you can catch a lift to the top of its tower where to the south you can see the modern looking bridge that was the title of the famous war film “A Bridge Too Far”. Today the bridge is named ‘John Frostbrug’  , after the British commander that defended it . Further south you will be able to make out the Gelredome, home to Vitesse Arnhem.

Returning to the bus station via the centre you will be spolit for choice for restaurants, café and bars on and around Korenmarkt and Jansplein. The best football bar in Arnhem is Murphy’s (Varkenstraat 48) and you can pick up Vitesse souvenirs at the fanshop (Jansbinnensingel 19).

From the bus station there is free transport to Gelredome with ‘Breng’ busservice. This service operates from 2 hours prior to kick-off until 1 hour after the match. The journey last 10 minutes and drops you right outside the main entrance to Gelredome. Just to the left you will find the ticket office and fan shop.3 gelredomeVitesse Arnhem (Stichting Betaald Voetbal Vitesse) was founded in 1892 and famous players to have donned the Vitesse colours include Sander Westerveld , Pierre van Hooijdonk and Philip Cocu. In 2010, Georgian businessman and former football Merab Jordania purchased Vitesse, making them the first dutch club to be owned by a foreigner. This caused much controversy in Holland, with some commentators arguing this would open floodgates to English Premier league style foreign ownership of Dutch football clubs and all the problems that come with it. Results on the pitch have silenced the critics for now and in 2012/13 season, Vitesse seem to have a team to finally challenge the big guns of Eredivisie: Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV and Twente. Jordania’s money has attracted some great young players including Wilifred Bony, who is currently the Eredivisie leading goal scorer. Bony and other team players hav inevitably drawn interest from bigger clubs and it will be interesting to see if they leave the Gelredome during transfer window.

Vitesse moved from Nieuw Monnikenhuize to the Gelredome in 1998 and its current home was a template for modern football stadium design across Europe. Its retractable roof (Cardiff’s Millennium stadium), retractable pitch that could be moved outside the stadium (Schalke) and proximity card access (Manchester City) have all been used. The Gelredome capacity is nearly 30,000 but even riding high in Eredivisie there was only 16,000 in attendance for visit of Roda J C. Attendances and match atmospheres increase for visit of Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Twente and local rivals NEC Nijmegen in “de Gelderse derby.”To see the Vitesse Arnhem supporter choreography, visit www.Vitesse.org and search for ‘Vitesse in beeld’

4 supporters barAs I had been warned the club operates a token system for buying food/drink inside the Gelredome, I picked up the wafer thin 16 page free match programme, ‘Vitesse Vandag’ and retired to their supporters bar, called Supportershome Monnikenhuize. It is located between Oost and Zuid stands. Opening hours are 2 hours prior to kick-off and after the match.

Inside the Gelredome I took my seat in was entertained by some unusual pre-match entertainment, in the form of some falconry display. Shortly before kick-off, an Amercian bald eagle called ‘De Hertog’ (The Duke) is released by its owner to fly a circle over each of the four stands in Gelredome . I am not sure what is dutch for “never work with children or animals”, but sometimes ‘De Hertog’ has a mind of his own and has been known to land amongst supporters.

6 Vitesse v Roda JCThe match itself was very one sided, with the much stronger Vitesse beating Roda JC 3-0. On 10 minutes Marco van Ginkel’s impeccable shot from just outside the penalty area made it 1-0. Then 3 minutes before half time, a pinpoint pass from Jan-Arie van der Heijden found Jonathan Reis perfectly. The Brazilian striker played around Roda keeper Kurto and simply slid the ball into the net. The second half continued as the first with Vitesse still controlling the match. Although Roda’s Nemeth hit the post in 52nd minute, Vitesse made it 3-0. Patrick van Aanholt’s shot on goal was saved initially by Kurto, but the ball rebounded to Wilfried Bony who hit the bar. Thankfully, Reis put Roda out of their misery by easily sliding the ball in for his second of the afternoon. Vitesse hit the crossbar with a long shot by Van Ginkel and the one-way traffic continued until the final whistle. Vitesse’s victory took them to second place in Eredevisie.

Club Basics
Name: Vitesse Arnhem(Stichting Betaald Voetbal Vitesse)
Address:B.V. Vitesse, Batavierenweg 25, 6841 HN Arnhem,
Email: fanservice@vitesse.nl , info@vitesse.org , supportersvereniging@vitesse.org
Website: www.vitesse.nl
Supporters website: www.vitesse.org

Vitesse Arnhem is a very football tourist friendly club when it comes to ticketing and I wish other Eredivisie clubs were as hospitable. You do not need to apply for a club members card or expensive tourist package to watch Vitesse. Simply email the club a few weeks in advance and they will confirm that you can buy a ticket on the day of the match. You do not even need to show ID. For the visit of the top clubs, you may well be restricted to four tickets. Tickets go on sale about 2 weeks ahead of match. Tickets can also be purchased at fanshop in Arnhem and online. My ticket for lower tier of Oost stand was €25 and the views were excellent.

Many thanks to Henk Parren at Supportervereniging Vitesse.

Paul Whitaker, Maracana Manor


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.