The Netherlands, not Holland as the common misconception goes. A tremendous and a somewhat underrated country. Many people choose to take their jollies in hotter climes. I however cant really be bothered with the sun these days. This maybe down to me being spoiled throughout my working career what with currently being stationed down in Angola and this being preceeded by dotting about the Middle East and North Africa in the previous job too. I’m more about the culture, beer and obviously the fitba these days, rather than the weather and beaches. This why I find myself writing about this fantastic lowland nation. A nation I have taken to frequenting for mini-breaks here and there. It is also nation which has brought me fitba memories for pretty much my whole life and in doing so it has made it more than apparent to me that the Netherlands is awesome and easily my favourite country outwith my own beautiful land.
I am never shy of enunciating my love for Scottish fitba and I will ninety-nine times out of one hundred argue in its favour. Not all of it is to my liking but most of elements to it get my backing. The bad rep from all angles it seems to get grates me as it is highly unjust. I find peoples attitudes to my own countries game very similar when I try to explain my admiration of Dutch fitba. It’s usually digs about it only Ajax and PSV with the occasional Feyenoord thrown in. (Five winners this millennium, there are alot worse top flights) The standard is mocked, unfairly I might add. It’s usually people who don’t have much of a clue that come away with this nonsense. There is a hell of a lot more to Dutch fitba than people think, they just don’t realise how great the game, the nation and the people are.
The Dutch “links” are numerous with me. For example the last match I saw in the flesh was at the magnificent Gelredome in Arnhem for what turned out to be one of the best games of last season where the hosts Vitesse defeated Heerenveen 4-2. It was a good way to sign off the season (unbeknown at the time that I was signing off the season and heading for this “end of days scenario” we currently find ourselves in). However the Netherlands does not just have modern day influences on my life in fitba. I was cheering on a Dutch influx back in the days my Aberdeen supporting career started off, right from the get go. The first time I wandered down Merkland Road East for a visit from Dunfermline Athletic, I was set to be faced with four Dutch faces in the squad. In the starting XI we had Theo Snelders in goal, with “Super” Hans Gillhaus and Willem van der Ark in front of him. Their countryman followed to make it four when Peter van de Ven came on for Scotty Booth(played at Twente at one point) in the latter stages of the second half. In the lead up to the game Theo ten Caat had signed from Groningen in his homeland and was interviewed in the programme for the match. This was complete with a photo of that hair do,which in all honesty wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Scorpions gig in the 80s. These guys racked up five hundred and eighty-eight appearances between them for the club. I cheered them all on until the last one left to sell his soul and become a disgraceful turncoat Judas in 1996. It is safe to say a big part of my fledgling days as a Dons supporter was the Oranje influence on the side. Since then we have had a few more from the lowlands. Who remembers the contributions of Ettiene Verveer , Dyron Daal and Dave Bus? No, me neither. There was also Ferne Snoyle who was unlucky to break his arm and there was Karim Touzani who I thought was quite a useful player. There was also Jeffery de Visscher who if we didn’t sign we would never had heard about his hilarious “wildepoopen” incident. Really, since the 90s the standard of Dutchmen has not really set any heather alight. However it wasn’t just the Dutchmen strutting their stuff on Pittodrie hallowed turf I have been watching….
Apart from goings on down Pittodrie Street I was also a fully fledged disciple of Eurogoals. What an outstanding program that was. The tones of Angus “Statto” Loughran clearly commentating from what seemed to be his box room added to its brilliance. With showing us the goals from all around the continent and clashes between the likes of Bastia v Toulouse, Estoril v Vitoria Guimaraes, Mechelen v Royal Antwerp, Sporting Gijon v Compostela, I quickly fell in love with it. The show was such an influence on my life. I used to watch the repeats so I could memorise the names of players such as Ljubinko Drulovic, Niko van Kerkhoven, Fabien Cool, and Manjarin. It was a different but enchanting world to me. It was an eye opener and a game changer in my youthful head. If I ever do write a book on my fitba adventures I will dedicate it to Eurogoals. That’s how much that programme meant to me. In amongst all the flares, smoking managers, ridiculous amount of sponsors on shirts(not looking ant any league in particular Ligue 1) one country stood out. The Netherlands. There were Ajax who sounded tough and created this impression that they went about their task by winning all the time and doing it comfortably. This with Jari Litmanen seeming to be the best player on earth(barring Jim Bett). There were the teams with letters for names, PSV, NEC, MVV, NAC, RKC ,AZ and so on. Then you had Den Bosch who I thought belonged in my dads garage, Willem II who were clearly Willem Junior, Twente that’s a bloody number and the unmitigatedly glorious Go Ahead Eagles who I liked to keep an eye on(more on them later). Eurogoals started a brief fascination with Ajax. A youthful glory hunter absolutely, but what young loon at an impressionable age didn’t have a flirtation with a successful side. I became familiar with the names or the era. Names such as captain marvel and one of the best defenders I have seen to this day, Danny Blind. Frank Rijkaard, Finidi George, Patrick Kluivert, Nordin Wooter, the De Boers(pre finding myself booing them) and many more top drawer stars including Mr Litmanen also plied their trade at Der Meer making them a great team to watch. I looked up their scores in the back of the Press and Journal in the tiny print “weekend scores” every Monday, I got their shirts for birthdays and Christmases. Then in 1995 I watched them defeat Milan in the Ernst Happel to win the Champions League. I was chuffed to bits and I had the strip well before it happened but still was called a glory hunter at school. I was delighted when I thought the trick was to be repeated the following season. Not even the Grampian TV introduction “now on Grampian the Champions League final between Ajax v Juventus with the J’s pronounced in an entirely non European manner could dampen my spirits. But come Vladimir Jugovic bagging the decisive penalty I was deflated. The following season I was to celebrate twice in my parents living room with my brother when we witnessed two Ajax wins v r*****s in the Champions League 4-1 and 0-1.Tijani Babangida outstanding in the Amsterdam game tearing Derek McInnes and co to bits. But it was those pesky Juventus sods again who ended the Amsterdam clubs participation as they hammered Ajax in the semi final over two legs putting the hopes of a third successive final appearance in the bin. From here my ability to watch full games was limited (pre multi-game formats of today) and with that my Ajax fandom died . As I said, I was a youthful glory hunter. But by this point I had also grown up a bit and realised that “supporting” a team from miles away that I never see in person was a pointless endeavour. Unlike all the r*****s, celtic and Manchester United “fans” I was surrounded by at school.
The Dutch connections also spread into my playing days too. When at primary school we had Shell Dutch in our league (The Hazelwood AOC International League). When you are ten or whatever its very weird rocking up at Hazlehead to play against foreigners. A totally alien experience. However we needed not worry as “Total Fitba” they were far from. They regularly took a hefty do in from the Meiklemill boys as they were classed as a six or seven team. It wasn’t just primary where there was a Dutch influence mind you. Who remembers Coerver Coaching? The training named after Kerkrade native and ex pro manager Wiel Coerver. The step overs, the shimmies and the arrogance of those kids who attended the coaching? You could spy them a mile off with their posturing. Seen as the enemy as a kid with their swanky nonsense (despite having one in my boys club side from u10s all the way through until U18s). Being the enemy made them also fair game for snapping and left themselves open for a blitzing more often than not. This because they were concentrating on a fancy trick rather than the centre half at full pelt and the predetermined mullering. That garbage didn’t go down well at Sheddocksley or Aulton or even in Ellon. Coerver boys, still egotistical nancy boys to me to this day. If Wee Man takes up fitba competitively will be told the same . Good times juvenile fitba, one thing I have missed immensely throughout life.
Continuing on boys club fitba. Under 14s, all teams in the organisation (Ellon Colts)got a get away at that age. Where were we heading? Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. Excitement levels were through the roof, then the stratosphere smashed when the special treat of a tour of the Amsterdam ArenA was thrown in the mixer. The “youthful glory hunter” was back, be it only temporarily. The aim of the trip was to take part in an Easter tournament at Park Berg en Bos in the west of the city. A wooded area with sportsclubs and numerous fitba pitches. The set up of the tournament was two groups of four teams with the winners of both groups playing off in the final . Our group was made up of local boys WSV Apeldoorn, Hvidorve (Denmark) and Stoneywood (all the way abroad and play a local team). Day one, the first game was some tussle against one of the best teams I ever played as a kid in Hvidorve. 2-2 that finished. An excellent game of fitba and we got a decent round of applause from everyone watching and I would say deservedly so too. Then on to WSV in the afternoon who took a fair bit of rough housing from us much to the disgust of the native parents. I cannot remember the score but we brushed them aside three or four nil or maybe more. It was a walkover that I do know. Day two was a day off and Amsterdam day. To say the bus was buzzing was an understatement. We arrived at the recently-ish built stadium which to me looked extremely spaceship like a way out there when comparing it to any Scottish fitba architecture. On exiting the bus we noticed there were Ajax players practicing free kicks over those fake walls on the nearby training pitch. We nipped across to watch and were in luck as they were finishing up so they all said “hello”, signed autographs and were happy to give us some of their time. Benni McCarthy, Peter Hoekstra, Dean Gorre and Shota Arveladze(pre one of them) were the men in question. A superb way to start the day. Then to the tour. Fascinating for a fourteen year old. The tour guide was ace and took us into areas not usually on the tour, refs room, canteen to see if any players were in, press boxes. He wasn’t too happy when one of our players ran on to the pitch to Neale Cooper one into the goal with a ball newly acquired in the club shop despite the clear “do not enter the field of play” signage. Then it was on to the trophy room and press room for photos. A brilliant tour and an equally cracking day. A day topped off by being watched in the shower by a Swedish girls team. This coming about as we had snuck into what we thought was an empty dorm at our digs as the showers in our dorm were full. It was empty in the morning, turned out it had been filled when we were in Amsterdam. Ten or so Swedish girls just stood there watching our keeper Baillie and myself lathering our balls. That broke the ice with them and we “befriended” them for the rest of the trip much to the dismay of their coaches. Day three started off with a bit of fun and meeting another Ajax player, this time Fred Grim the goalkeeper. The reason being, he was about to give me my claim to fame. Every team in the tournament throughout the few days were to take halfway line penalties against keepers from pro clubs. The team with the most won training gear for their club. We were lucky as were to face Grim on our day, a guy who had played over one hundred games for the club. Coerver boy in the team Gaz was up first. Off he went but he cheated as he shot from 18 yards. In it went. Everyone between him and me missed. I still remember this moment like it was yesterday. I sprinted to start then realised I had no idea whatsoever what I was away to attempt. As I bared down I saw what looked to be a mountain in Umbro kit closing in, somehow the inner Ronaldo(real, not poncy) was unleashed inside me and I feigned left and flicked the ball right, down went Fred and I was by him with an empty net to tap into letting out an almighty, “FUCKING YAAAAAS”. Highlight of my fitba career that. Nobody else netted for us but to be noted no team scored more than two either. After this, the “derby” v Stoney was upon us. The game will be remembered for the WSV team standing watching singing “we love you Stoney, we do” as they were still clearly hurting from the previous days kick in. This led to our left back Slow telling me to give him a hospital ball in front of the Dutch Stoney Ultras. I got the chance , I did as I was asked and Slow who was a big bulky guy like myself hurled himself in at a hundred mile an hour taking the Stoney player and four of the Apeldoornians out in one swoop. It was a thing of beauty and stopped the singing stone(y) dead. Incredibly the big full back was not even spoken to for the full on assault. We went on to win 2-0 and were top of the group on goal difference and heading to the final. Which actually turned out to be incorrect as we were deducted a point for acquiring two bookings( Myself v the Danes and our sweeper Mainzer v The Dutch). It turned out it was a fair play tournament and every two bookings led to a point off. Absolute bull if you ask me. Hvidorve went into the final against the Colombian U14 national team at our expense and took the crown of the U14 tournament, as we watched on gutted. The tournament finished but there was one last involvement as every team had to take part in a march around the pitch where the finals were played. The tannoy announced the team name as you passed the main stand and the (hefty) crowd showed their appreciation. When “Ellon Colts Under 14s, Scotland” was delivered we were roundly booed and the only people I remember seeing clapping and giving us any credit were the Hvidorve coaches. A truly surreal moment but by fuck I was proud. This group of ragamuffin Scottish teenagers had manged to travel abroad and have such an impact on the punters watching we caused a backlash. What do you do when you are that age and someone’s giving you jip? Moon them. And that’s just what a few of us did. The booing raised a few notches. Importantly though, due to watching the Hvidorve v Colombia final rather than playing in the game, I had watched my first match in a ground abroad . The ground, Sportpark Berg en Bos home of AGOVV. Not the catalyst for my travels but will always be the first of what has turned out to be many on foreign soil, especially in the fantastic nation that is The Netherlands.
As you get older you get more freedom, you get a job, money, you can drive. It’s the natural progression in life. It gives you a lot more liberty to carryout hobbies. My hobby after ending my playing career was to change to the social side of fitba. Watching and having beers to sum it up in a nutshell. I didn’t however bank on it turning into the monster it has over the years. I have mentioned in other articles about trips over the border to mercenary jamboree grounds(young and clueless at that point). There were also two stupendous trips away overseas with Aberdeen to Madrid and Munich. At this point I didn’t see myself as a “groundhopper”. Just a single guy who liked trips on the drink and getting a game if possible. Then came the foray in the Highland League and things changed for me . (See Fitbawbaggery From the Vaults #8). The “groundhopper” in me had arrived. Coincidentally going hand in hand with completing the Highland League up at Brora r*****s on a Saturday in November 2016, I headed for the Netherlands to see my childhood glory boys Ajax the following day. (See Fitbawbaggery From The Vaults #5). This was tied in with some work related crap which also took me to Borussia Dortmund on the same trip. Although I wouldn’t pinpoint this as the foreign fitba addiction starting it was the grand opening of my love for live Dutch fitba and started a new branch of the habit I have of collecting grounds. An eighteen minute Kasper Dolberg perfect hattrick with follow up strikes from Bertrand Traore and Lasse Shone rounded off a fantastic 90 minutes of Ajax putting NEC well and truly to he sword. There was no way I could grumble about what I had just watched. There were also to be no moans in regards to the following fourteen towns/cities and sixteen matches I have attended across the country since that blowy day in Amsterdam. Well actually maybe Sittard was a bit shite.
Going back a few years, the first Dutch Club I saw in the flesh was PSV in a friendly against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, again I was in the vicinity due to work. They were a joy to watch. They passed Forest to death in a fast aggressive manner. The possession count must have be 70%+ in favour of the Dutchmen who were lucky if they broke sweat. Philip Cocus side were far too much for “Schteve” McLarens men who were walloped 3-1 (which should have been more). I also got a glimpse of FC Twente at Pittodrie for Dons (ahem) legend Andy Considines testimonial. The mob from Enschede spoiling the party with a header fit to win any game. A sublime headed finish from Shadrach Eghan to win the game 2-1. Truly top drawer and also top corner (YouTube Andrew Considine Testimonial Match – Aberdeen FC v FC Twente and go to 3.05). One of my biggest regrets due to the nature of my work and missing things was being denied the chance at watching the Dons in Groningen. What a trip that could have been . But such as life. I need to eat and pay for my collection somehow. Anyway there were plenty more opportunities to head over.
I have parked myself in hundreds of grounds and naturally Scotland is home to the majority of them. Around two thirds have been on home soil. The other third is made up of another fourteen countries but The Netherlands stands head and shoulders above the rest. I have now been to eighteen grounds across four divisions and sixteen cities with Utrecht and Rotterdam having been visited twice in this time period. After Ajax I headed to another famous old club. Not particularly for the club its self but the magnificent historic stadium. Feyenoord and De Kuip were next and I wasn’t disappointed even despite the 0-0 scoreline with PEC Zwolle(See Fitbawbaggery from the Vaults #14) .This also allowed the opportunity the next day for a trip to Willem Junior in Tilburg who put on a show and well outplayed Twente earning the points after a very good 3 v 1 victory. The next trip over the North Sea was to celebrate my 100th turnstile with a double header. The first night I headed Utrecht v Sparta Rotterdam where the hosts churned out a tedious 1-0 win . A game not fitting for the wonderful Stadion Galgenwaard. For my hundredth I did not make it to Penarol as I first intended as because I had well and truly caught the “groundhopper” bug by this point the grounds had came too think and fast. So instead I found myself at the Car Jeans Stadion in The Hague for ADO Den Haag v Vitesse which finished in another 1-0 win to the hosts, totally against the run of play I will add. A couple of months later I headed over again. This time for a triple header, starting in the second tier in Leeuwarden, where I attended Cambuurs 1-0 defeat to Roda JC, the next day I was off to Rotterdam to catch the lesser known of the three big clubs in the city Excelsior where a phenomenal individual effort from Icelandic Elias Mar Omarsson defeated VVV. The third day of this Dutch invasion culminated at the tidy Afas Stadion in Alkmaar where the home side chucked the lead on two occasions including a last minute equalizer from youngster Zian Flemming of PEC Zwolle. My next adventure to the great nation was to this day the best “away day” I have had the pleasure of taking on. Make no mistake this was a day too, literally. I left Aberdeen at 6am Friday heading for Deventer to see Go Ahead Eagles beat Almere City 2-1 and was back in Aberdeen via home watching Auchinleck Talbot defeat Ayr United on TV in the pub fourteen hours after full time sounded at De Adelaarshorst. This prior to a trip to Pittodrie to see Aberdeen v Stenhousemuir. I do not have enough superlatives for the day, Deventer and its inhabitants. I WILL take Wee Man over. The will be my first revisit on the continent. A team I have developed a soft spot for all these year after hearing their glorious name on Eurogoals(See Fitbawbaggery from the Vaults #1). Another triple header followed at Easter 2019. Second tier again where a game of two halves saw NEC defeat RKC 2-1 in Nijmegen, the next day I was off to Heerenveen for a dead rubber where two teams had nothing to play for. But this didn’t stop a cracking game being served up with full time sounding after VVV had taken advantage of a defensive error to punish the Fean in the last minute to equalise making it 2-2. What happened in the third match of this three game sojourn was never going to be predicted pre-match. With Groningen leading 2-1 in Zwolle the game was prematurely ended at around the half an hour mark after an incredible electrical storm was dangerously low putting the players and fans at risk. A story to tell when I got home. Twente (becoming a very common word in this story) were next up in in May 2019 . Their title party after clinching the highly sought after return to the Eredivisie. Two-nil and cruising at ninety minutes the party was set to hit full steam at the very Old Trafford-esque De Grolsch Veste. Cambuur on the other hand were there to mar proceedings. On ninety-one minutes they pulled on back, in the ninety second minute they equalised then incredibly in the ninety-fourth the smashed home the winner………….only for it to be scandalously chopped off for offside .As the move happened I found my self saying “hes on, hes in” and getting excited for the most unlikely of comebacks I would have ever witnessed, this despite being in the home end. A rapid fire move clearly onside ruined by suspicious officiating. This denying me what would have been the greatest comeback. (To be noted TV footage showed the Cambuur forward was two yards maybe more onside.) Next up was the last football I saw before the world hit the skids with coronavirus. I had done the two-way Dutch adventure, I had even had a couple of threesomes but this trip was to be a gang bang of four games. Starting in Doetinchem I was to see De Graafschaap carry on their push for promotion by beating Roda JC 2-0. I excelled myself in fitba geekdom on the Saturday afternoon by attending a fifth tier Hoofdeklasse match in Utrecht between DHSC and Rijnvogels. An easy 2-1 win for the away side at the Sportpark Wesley Schneider. After a rush to the train station I was on my way to Sittard for Fortuna v Emmen. A nightmare was to unfold as, one, the game was awful. One of the worst I have ever set eyes on. 0-0 with no excitement barring a daft red card. Then two and worse still, before the game I changed from a fleece to a jacket as I thought the heavens were to open. This leaving my phone in the hotel, depriving me of any evidence and especially my obligatory thumbs up photo outside the ground. Maybe the football gods were needing me to wipe all memory of that crap fest. Got my scarf though so not all lost. Arnhem was up next and without knowing it I was to watch my last game for months and months.(Heading for two hundred days currently) This was to be at the brilliant Gelredome, complete with its roof shut too. As previously mentioned this was to be a great way to sign off the season. With Vitesse racing into a 2-0 lead and blowing it before the half. They need not have worried though as they went on to win 4-2.
Barring the debacle in Sittard I feel I have been somewhat spoiled by the fitba gods. I have had the pleasure of finding myself in some greats stadiums. I have averaged 2.5 goals a game(45 total) and had an abandonment. De Kuip is a truly outstanding. A place that more than deserves to have hosted its record ten European finals and one European Championship final. The old place oozes class. There were the two indoor games at Ajax and Vitesse, the only two I have attended in all my travels. I am not big on newbuilds but given these two date back to the beginning of the big new builds, I still find them superior to most newer new grounds I have visited. The Galgenwaard in Utrecht was another tidy ground which goes against the usual fully enclosed bowl modern stadium set up. The AFAS Stadion in Alkmaar struck me as exactly how I would want the new Aberdeen stadium to look like. Going by the artists impressions there was not alot of reccy work carried out for Kingsford. One trip to Alkmaar would have give some serious things to think of. In fact if anyone at AFC Is reading, I will do the research for the small fee one hundred euros for beer tokens per trip. We will be at Pittodrie for a long time yet anyway, moving is just a pipe dream. Then there was De Adelaarshorst. This charming old fashioned colourful and atmospheric beauty, really is a gem of a place. One of the best decisions I ever made was to head there.
Still kind of on the stadium theme, I’m an admirer of the fan bar culture over there. With visits to the bars of Utrecht, Cambuur, AZ, Go Ahead Eagles, NEC, Heerenveen, Zwolle, Twente, De Graafschap, DHSC and Vitesse I think I have enough experience and evidence to say these types of clubhouses should be fitba wide. Great addition to the match day experience, that is not in doubt. Again AFC officials, get over to see for yourself The Broadhill Bar is derelict. Just saying…..
There are also the places, or the collateral bonuses of following football. I have not found myself in a bad one. Every city has had their own charms. Utrecht is a great place to go. If you ever find yourself there or there abouts I highly recommend it. Leeuwarden was also a highlight with the long multiple train journey being more than worth it. Quite recently the European city of culture its a exceptional city. I really enjoyed my walk around the place. As I did doing similar for hours in the Hague. But one place that stands out above them all, Deventer. I wholeheartedly mean it when I say its my favourite city I have visited. Chilled out, peaceful, friendly, has its history to see and has a great football club too. I fully intend on taking Wee Man there in the not too distant future.
Most importantly though, there are the people. I have met so many wonderfully welcoming souls throughout my visits. Whether it was fleeting meet and greets with the receptionists in Deventer and Heerenveen(thanks for the lift) or the bar staff at my hotel in Enschede. The Real Betis supporting barman in my Hague hotel who gave me the inside info on celtics visit to Seville. Don’t belive the best fans in the world tag. The lovely steward at De Graafschap who allowed me a walk around the ground before it was opened. A fantastic gesture going way above and beyond her duties. There were the various fans in various pubs pre match at Feyenoord, Zwolle, AZ, De Graafschap, Vitesse and GAE. There were also the longer encounters, the two girls behind the counter in Cafe Doedel in Deventer who were brilliant company. The dude on my left at De Grolsch Veste who was a walking encyclopedia of Twente. Unfortunatley his name escapes me. There were the group of Motherwell supporting NEC fans who took the piss due to my Aberdeen polo shirt. But ended up getting the beers bought. However special mentions have to go out to Peter at Willem II. The longer in the tooth gentleman who kept me company throughout the game. A very affable man. There were also the five Feyenoord fans who took me to the boat untill 6am leaving me to miss my train to Tilburg. Well worth it in the end and no harm done. Then there was Bart in Utrecht who got me into the member only supporters bar during half time and after the game at the Galgenwaard . A good amount of beers were consumed between us and great stories told. A top man despite telling me his other team was r*****s. Last but not least, Marcel, the American sounding Dutchman at Cambuur. The guy who didn’t drink alot but ended up being involved in alot of Jupiler that night. I’m sure he didn’t expect the mad night out when he left his house. A great guy who I still speak to to this day. (We still need to do the Cambuur away game mate). Definitely a candidate to meet again. That’s only a selection of fine folk I have met. There are so many more but this blog has turned out alot longer than expected. Which I suppose is testament to the great country that is The Netherlands.
I have only scratched the surface of the Netherlands so far. In future, I fully plan to continue my visits and adding to the ground, city, fine folk lists and of course my scarf collection. With Wee Man growing up, hopefully he can start joining me a bit. Once the world finds some normality, whenever that may be I’ll be on the 6am KLM and heading over. Sparta Rotterdam, Roda JC, Heracles, VVV, Telstar, NAC, I am looking in your direction folks. Then of course there will be a further visit to Overijssel for Go Ahead Eagles too.