In the past I have declared my love for watching Dutch fitba. Out with Scotland it is by far my favourite place to get my kicks. However, I wont lie, my admiration is not strictly down to the game itself, it is also powered by the fantastic country, welcoming people and lovely beers but I do find the fitba to be underrated as it is excellent. A lot of people don’t know much out with the “big three” Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV. The place is littered with great clubs, cracking grounds and some excellent on the eye fitba. The fact I have now called in at eighteen grounds in the Netherlands is testament to how much I enjoy a jolly over to the lowland nation. From my first visit to Sport Park Berg en Boss in Apeldoorn to my latest visit(and last football match before this pandemic hit full swing) Gelredome in Arnhem. I have really have loved every minute. There honestly is not a bad word to say about anything.I have witnessed things such as indoor games, leagues as far down as 5th tier, an abandonment, a perfect hattrick, a title party ruined, Motherwell supporting Dutchmen and some of the finest grounds I have set foot in. But I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most hospitable and welcoming people I have met in over fifteen countries watching fitba. In October 2017, I decided to head over to a ground that I had always wanted to visit, even before I found myself with a fondness for neutral fitba. An arena that oozes history and is one of the most famous old European theatres. A place that has hosted a record ten European finals and a European Championships final thrown in for good measure. But most importantly on a personal level, it a ground that ignited a love affair with the fantastic place that is the Netherlands and the great fitba it gives to the world. That ground……… De Kuip, home of Feyenoord
I had already been to Holland with visits to Sportpark Berg en Boss and the Amsterdam ArenA of AGOVV and Ajax . But this trip to Rotterdam set something off inside me, something that has made me return time after time. As an extra added bonus as my flight was on Sunday night and the game in Rotterdam was on the Saturday evening, this paved the way to Tilburg to visit Willem II on Sunday afternoon.
Feyenoord 0 v 0 PEC Zwolle
De Kuip, Eredivisie, 14/10/17
Founded – 1908
Nicknames – De Club aan de Mass (The Club on the Meuse), De Club van het Volk (The Club of the People)
Honours – European Cup – 1969-70, UEFA Cup– 1973/74 and 2001/02 . Intercontinental Cup – 1970. Eredivisie -1923/24, 1927/28, 1935/36, 1937/38, 1939/40 ,1960/61, 1961/62, 1964/65, 1968/69, 1970/71, 1973/74, 1983/84, 1992/93, 1998/99 and 2016/17. KNVB Cup – 1929/30, 1934/35, 1964/65, 1979/80, 1983/84, 1990/91, 1991/92, 1993/94, 1994/95, 2007/08, 2015/16 and 2017/18
Current Division – Eredivisie
Random Fact – The clubs 2001/02 UEFA Cup triumph came in their own stadium with a brace from Pierre van Hooijdonk and the winner coming from Jon Dahl Tomasson. This giving the “home ” side a 3-2 victory over Borussia Dortmund. The final was the last European club final to be hosted at De Kuip
One appealing factor of Dutch fitba that I did not mention earlier is the ease of getting there and back. The 6am from Aberdeen to Amsterdam is always the flight of choice. With the vast amount of trains leaving and heading for Schiphol regularly you can get anywhere in the country and back with relative ease. Rotterdam is no different. I alighted the train at the back of 10 at the cities Centraal station, this meaning in just over three hours I had managed to get from Aberdeen to Rotterdam(taking the time difference into consideration). Part of the reason of always catching the 6am flight is I give myself time for sight seeing. So from the station I was on the search for some sights. First on the menu was the Markthal. What a place that is. A stunning mural painted on the tiled roof of the tunnel which houses a market and food hall. It really has all your food and beer needs. A great way to start the trip This was to give me the perfect opportunity to keep up my tradition of having my customary “getting my bearings” pint where I work out where everything I want to see and do is. From here I nipped over to see the nearby cube houses, followed that up with a walk over the Erasmusbrug where I grabbed some great photos of the city and the Nieuwe Mass river. On from there it was on to the adjacent Euromast. As I wandering about I came across a Feyenoord club shop. It would have been rude not to have a nose about. This also helped me as my printer had packed in the previous night meaning I could not print my match ticket, where better to get help I thought. In here I was greeted by a lovely lady (in more ways than one) at the till then and we were later joined by the male worker too. Due to my Aberdeen tourie I was quizzed a lot about Scottish fitba and ended up in the place for around half an hour. I got myself a few bits and bobs including the obligatory scarf. When everything was bagged up and my ticket was printed off, the girl handed me a pennant on the house as I had travelled so far to see her team. I don’t know why everyone seems to think Aberdeen is so far away when I travel. It’s as if I have travelled from Australia. Brilliant gesture however and the first of many of this trip. Next stop was the hotel to dump my bag. Unfortunately ,when I got there my room wasn’t ready and I was told to return in around an hour. The lady on reception pointed me in direction of the “red boat” at the other side of the canal in front of the hotel. After asking what it was it turned out to be Vessel 11. A bar/restaurant that sits on the Wijnhaven canal. Turns out this was a fantastic shout. A great pub with a huge selection of beers a friendly chilled out atmosphere. A couple of beers later I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the game, it wouldn’t be the last time I walked out of Vessel 11 on this soujourn.
Next stop, De Kuip, the reason I was in the Netherlands, I had decided to head down a few hours early and get a couple of pints en route(De Kuip is a fair hike south from the city centre so a few power ups would not go a miss). Once I neared the old girl I got a huge rush of excitement when I saw the sign on a central reservation. This telling me I was near. This also made me realise I had failed in my quest for a pint. A couple of hundred meters further down the road I caught a glimpse. What a sight, the bowl, the steel work, the external staircases and the almost the space ship-esque exterior . If I was excited before, I was absolutely elated by this point. As I was saying, something that was becoming more and more apparent was the distinct lack of boozers (en route or near) the place. There were chain restaurant/bar places but no pubs like I would have a pint in before a game usually. I settled for Café Hollywood which wasn’t to far from the stadium. I was about half full when I entered and Ajax v Sparta Rotterdam was kicking off on the box. I was quids….. I mean guilders in. As time went on the place filled up and got louder and louder. Not my type of place at all but any port in a storm. A geezer and his son were giving me the eye from the moment I walked in. The reason being I can only guess was because I had a Aberdeen tourie on when I arrived. Eventually the Dad asked what the script was. After my “travelled to see your team” spiel he got the beers in. A fine couple of dudes they were. A distinct hatred for Ajax was apparent very quickly. A round of beers each and I was off. The loud terrible music was getting to me. The son had informed me that I would get a beer in the ground, that was all I needed to hear.
As I walked across the road that earlier elation returned. The crowds were building, many looking like they were having their ritualistic pre match carryout. As I got closer De Kuip started to tower above me, I was in awe. Once past the turnstiles I spotted the correct staircase which I proceeded to head up. The beers in the ground I had been told about were then staring me in the face as there was a bar perched at the top. I grabbed a pint and partook in some people watching outside the ground as the queues were starting to grow. Another group of lads had taken on the same idea, but instead of people it was person as I couldn’t help feeling that I was having holes stared through me. Turns out I was, as eventually I was met with “fucking Aberdeen man”. Turns out these dudes were trying to see who was on my trusty ice breaking hat. I need not have worried. These guys were sound and I was instantly handed a pint. We blethered about all things Dutch fitba, their likes and dislikes with the latter being pretty much every team in world fitba. A few more beers were had and as I was saying my “Vaarwel” I was asked where I was staying. When I told them, “next to the boat?” was the reply. I was told to wait at the bottom of the stairs at full time and we would go for a beer or two.
So to the main event. Despite going through the turnstile around an hour before I still had not seen the inside of the place yet. Let me tell you, it has the fucking wow factor ,that’s for sure. Only three grounds have given me this “holy shit” feeling. But this was the first of the three. It really is bloody stunning. There is not another ground in world fitba like it. The three tiers are reasonably steep and loom over the park. The 45 degree slope in the forward portion of the roof gives it a quirk as its about a third of the full height of the ground(may be an optical illusion). As the place filed up in the moments leading up to kick off I could feel a real buzz about the place which in all honesty is alien to me, Pittodrie is not know for this kind of energy. But it has been known on the rare occasion. As the teams came out the club anthem was sang at full tilt while the centre circle sized flag was shaken and ruffled by numerous children. The place was rocking. More than anywhere I had been previously. Game on.
Unfortunately the game did not live up to the stadium or the atmosphere this great ampitheater was deserving of. Visitors PEC Zwolle had came for the draw. They were negative and out to stifle. There really was nothing of note in the game. Feyenoord clearly had a player in Karim El Hamadi. He did try to get things going but it was without merit. A disapointing ninety minutes, but thats the way the cookie crumbles sometimes unforunately. However this does not take away anything from the De Kuip visit.
So to the pre-arranged meeting point at the bottom of the stairs. In all honesty I expected to be forgotten about, but no, they appeared with a dissapointed but ready to party anyway attitude and I didnt know what I was in store for. First stop was a small bar around a fifteen minute walk from the ground. A swift couple were necked in there. We then went to a bigger bar which was rammed with Feyenoord fans. Then I was informed, “TO THE BOAT”. So for the second time in the day I found myself and my Sambas (which were to get me a nickname later on) back aboard Vessel 11. In here the six of us sat putting the world to rights over various beers. From hating PSV and Ajax to ranting and raving about the pointlessness of Scottish fitba (guess who). Euro travels were talked which was more about my random fitba jaunts. Winning trophies was also a choice of discussion, which clearly I had very little input myself. Playing careers I could relate too and again I had to sit out the fighting talk(some pretty mad stories in there) . The chat was all football, barring the mickey taking, the usual mock “och aye the noo” type stuff and I was also given the name “Steve the samba” due to the fact that I had a pair of Sambas on. “How British” I was informed.The beers flowed, the night went on, the laughs got louder. It was a brilliant night/morning and by morning I mean ten to six. When I looked at my watch and couldnt believe my eyes. Unlike the others I had done it stimulant free too. I had to say my goodbyes and get organised to for my train which I told them was to Schiphol as I wasnt sure how seeing another team would have went down. Time flies when you are having fun and all that. Was it a lock in or was it a 24 hour pub, I’m still not sure to this day. What I am sure of, when you have a train to Tillburg at 07.20 maybe time flies too fast
Willem II 3 v 1 Twente
Koning Willem II Stadion, Eredivisie, 15/10/17
Willem II Tilburg
Founded– 1896 as Tilburgia
Honours – Eredivisie – 1915/16, 1951/52 and 1954/55. Eerste Divisie– 1956/57, 1964/65 and 2014/15 KNVB Cup – 1943/44 and 1962/63
Current Division – Eredivisie
Random Fact – Ex Aberdeen manager Jimmy Calderwood managed the club between July 1996–June 1997(never miss a Dons link)
After the excesses in Rotterdam I had decided to take a later train to Tilburg in order to sleep off some of the lovely Dutch craft beer . This was to cause a logistical nightmare for me. Something I really could have done without if truth be told. The day had already started badly with me not feeling too wonderful on waking. This led to a cold shower and a dip into the six Heinekens I had been left by the hotel as an apology for my room being late the previous day. This seemed to do the trick and blow the cobwebs into the river Nieuwe Maas where they would hopefully stay and not follow me to Tilburg. But the fear of the day being a struggle was definately around.
As I reached Centraal I noticed my route had work going on. Works I would have avoided If I hadn’t drank untill sunrise or so. If only I had caught the planned train. I had already skimmed two hours off my time in Tilburg. Due to the works I was to get off at Lage Zwaulue and bus the rest of the way. Basically the station board was telling me any chance of a wander round Tilburg was off the cards. Bugger. I wasnt sure if it was me and my day after boozy paranoia but the bus seemed to be meandering along taking forever and and a day to reach the station at Tilburg. The hands on my watch were travelling in a more energetic fashion. Eventually we got there and by the time we did my condition had deteriorated some what. So I had to dip into the freebie Heinekens again. After dumping my bag in a locker I sat having a beer out the front of the station trying to work out how to get to the ground when a taxi driver yelled “Taxi” at me. I shook the can as if to say “is this ok? ” which it was. With just over the hour untill the 13.30 ko a taxi was the best option to save pottering about. I had made it to the North Babant town, but well after I should have , this meaning I was to see nothing but stadium which was disappointing yet self inflicted. It could have been worse, I could have missed the game.
Willem II, a name from Eurogoals when I was a boy. One of those strange names that didnt make sense. Until I booked this trip all I knew was Aberdeen had signed Willem van der Ark and Peter van de Ven from the club. Named after King Willem Frederik George Lodewijk or you guessed it, Willem II (pronounced “twee”) the club have a few trophies to their name but not a vast amount. The arch rivals are NAC from neighbouring Breda as the driver told me. Their eponymous stadium was built in 1995 and has seen renovations at the start of the century. It holds around fourteen and a half thousand punters but is never sold out. Again good knowledge from my cabbie who after the brief history lesson dropped me off at the main gate adjacent the team bus of todays visitors Twente. He offered his services post game which I agreed to. He told me he would show up after the bikes cleared just down the road. Top man
The stadium exterior I was faced with was different from anything I had seen. A brown bricked simple shaped non fancy facade which didn’t look like a fitba stadium. Bland would be a suitable word. As always the first port of call was the club shop to get the usual scarf for the collection and badge for my brother. I was greeted with real warmth and I got speaking to the guy about Aberdeen and Willem II and the links of ex players. He was clueless and didnt know them. He was a fair bit younger than me to fair to him. After donning the scarf and snapping the equally essential photo, I entered the place to get a beer and something to eat as once again my wellbeing was starting to lag a bit. Then it happened. After purchasing a hotdog and a beer I had a popeye spinach moment and I was raring to go. I took my seat and enjoyed my beer taking it all in when an old man started yabbering in dutch. After explaing to him I only spoke English we had a good yap. Just before kick off he offered me a beer and went to get one. The dutch are great people. The seem to warm to us Scots.
With a fresh beer in hand the game kicked off to a decent cacophony of noise considering the not so huge crowd. The Tilburg Tifosi/King End behind the far goal drummed up a decent racket as did the travelling band of merry men in the corner. The game was not bad too. I was however surprised at the hosts who had deployed five at the back. A crime to fitba in my eyes. This also made me surprised to hear from my new friend that they had scored more goals in the first fifteen minutes than any other side in the Eredivisie. Today that wouldnt be the case. Twente opened the scoring from the penalty spot. Looked a legit pen to me as there seemed to be a bit of wrestling in the box. The kick was dispatched with into the bottom corner by the visiting number 8. The home side didnt shirk after losing a goal so close to half time and fired themselves equal soon after via Spaniard Fran Sol. Ensuring there was nothing between them going into tbe half. Half time saw more chat and more beer and my new pal (Peter was his name) at the concourse, with introducing me to all his mates that passed. A really friendly man and a cool vibe about the club by all accounts.
The second half was mostly dominated by the Tricolores and the three points were looking more and more like to stay at the Koning Willem II Stadion and thats what they were to do. Substitute Azzaoui scored on the hour via a half volley from ten yards after some erratic goalkeeping. Twente despite being only the solitary goal down seemed to collapse a bit with Willem going for the third and killer goal. On ninety minutes that did come and it was the man from Spain again, Fran Sol who tapped in from a couple of yards after some great play on the left from fellow countryman Chiravella. A good day for the hosts and Twentes stuggle went on(and on and on as they were relegated come the end of the season)
As I left to find my taxi I found out first hand why the driver was to turn up after the bikes. It was like a biblical swarm of locusts. Quite the sight.
As I sat over my final beer in the Netherlands for the weekend before my plane left, I couldn’t help but know I would be back soon. The fitba was good. The people were friendly. The experience was different to what I was used to. I think I had just opened a new chapter in life. Dutch fitba.
Within six months I was back for another double header (Utrecht and ADO Den Haag)and since leaving the Koning Willem II I have visited fourteen grounds in the superb country that is The Netherlands.