Shame this is only once a year but the marital ball & chain only extends so far and I reckon i’ve loosened it quite a bit in the past few years. So it was that me and Eagle Bobster, the Boston publican, set off on our third annual Dutch jaunt from Brum airport early on Friday November 21st. The Wetherspoons at the airport is open and there are four tasty guest ales on view – shame it’s 5.45am and no alcohol to be sold. The brekky is nice though!
Strong winds above Schippol mean that we arrive two hours late, perfectly timed to dive straight into the Wildeman. Simon is on the bar and he gives us his valued opinions on some of the 20 or so draught and 200 or so bottled beers, so it would be rude not to tuck in. Three hours later we drag ourselves down to the Cornerhouse – our hotel for the weekend – and the bar gets in the way again. By the time we get to our room, flake out and come round wondering what the time is, we realise we are thankfully in good time for our first game.
Volendam v Roda – Friday November 21st 2008
Just outside Amsterdam Centraal station – well a bit to the left as you come out – there’s a few bus stops amongst which you can find a 118 to Volendam. It only takes half an hour and you’re in this touristy seaside town and heading for the floodlights. I like this ground – it smacks of 1970’s lower league with lots of character. I had a similar feeling about Excelsior’s stadium last year. The toilet has a permanently open door which allows you to watch the game whilst having a leak. This being Holland, nobody turns a hair. Volendam are having a bit of a tough time, several points adrift at the foot of the table, and need to beat fellow strugglers Roda tonight. They do it the smash ‘n’ grab way, conceding possession but striking on the break and winning 3-1. You feel compelled to cheer ’em on. Oh, nearly forgot, the little programme is given away free outside the ground, in the Dutch stylie. Then it’s the bus back and a return to the Wildeman. They kick us out at 2.30.
The following day it’s a train trek to Eindhoven via Breda, where we’ve got some friends. Trains in Holland are different to those in the UK in that A) They invariably run on time B) Nowhere is really very far C) You get value for money, like the tandam ticket which allows the two of us to travel anywhere in the country on that day for just £15 each. Oh, and that’s in First Class.
PSV Eindhoven v Heracles Armelo – Saturday November 22nd 2008
Getting tickets for this match cost us an arm and a leg. I won’t go into it cus I posted the hows and whys on another football website, but suffice to say we need to get our money’s worth. We make a great start by getting our bearings wrong and heading the opposite way from the station than we should have gone. It’s galling when you turn round and see the Philips signs twinkling away in the general direction from which you’ve just come. We check in at the ground, spend our vouchers in the club shop (hats for the teapot lids) and head off to the local recommended hostelry, the De Gaper, not far from the station, where I’m convinced the barmaid is giving me the eye. Totally misguided of course, and doubtless due to the copious amounts of good Dutch (and Belgian) ale consumed thus far. When we arrive in the stadium we find we’ve got the best seats in the house, right at the front of the top tier, overlooking the goal. It’s the same view you see in the Carlsberg advert where the guy is checking out his new flat. We then watch PSV, with star man Afallay running the show, put four past Heracles with ease. The food and drink vouchers we get as part of the deal are largely unspent. We could get some cheap lager but don’t quite feel the need. The programme, natch, is free. The train back to Amsterdam is hampered by something on the line, but we change at Amsterdam ArenA and get the metro. We tumble back into the Wildeman and guess what? They kick us out at 2.30.
FC Utrecht v Vitesse Arnham – Sunday November 23rd 2008
Sunday starts with a trip to the station for the English papers. I love sitting in the Cornerhouse window, spreading the sports pages across a big round table, and sipping away at a Duvel – it’s my classic Sunday morning and I will do it every week when I retire a millionaire. We train it via Schippol – dumping the bags – and head for Utrecht. There’s snow about but we attempt to walk to the ground, passing the bar we were going to frequent, but pushing it for time. Bobster resolves that we will bus it back, as he notes the relevant bus number. We pick up the tickets and grab some free programmes and we’re in the ground, a rebuilt affair which I like. It reminds me of somewhere I’ve been to in Scotland but I can’t quite place it. It’s bitter cold and it’s snowing but the game kicks off on time. The first 45 minutes is a dirge and we consider retiring to that bar we passed earlier. The second half starts with a Utrecht goal flurry which lightens proceedings and we chalk up 12 goals on our trip – not the best but not the worst. Out of the ground we hare across the road for the bus. When everybody gets off in the middle of nowhere we guess we might not be at the station. “This is the car park”, says a helpful native. So it’s back to the ground and we find the RIGHT bus. It’s off to Schippol and another Dutch weekender comes to a close. November 2009 can’t come round soon enough.