For the fourth year in succession, Eagle Bobster and I embark on our three games in three days jaunt across the North Sea, but this time with a difference. BMI Baby’s insistence on charging top whack for Amsterdam flights means we look elsewhere and find that Ryanair’s service to Weeze in Germany is a darn sight more cost-effective. Granted, we do have to get back across the border into Holland, and stay an extra night, but that’s all part of the adventure!
Before I go on, a word about Dutch football. I have a friend who lives in Breda, in southern Holland. When we first met in 1997 in Crete, he was very keen to tell me that his favourite TV programme was BBC’s Match of the Day, widely available throughout his homeland. Did he watch any Dutch football? I asked. No, It’s not so good, he assured, which surprised me, reared as I was on a diet of that great Ajax team and the exploits of their national side. After this weekend, Eagle Bobster and I are now in agreement that we don’t come to Holland for the quality of the football. In FC Twente, Feyenoord and Utecht we were watching three of the top five teams. On a weekend where Spurs put nine past a Wigan team that are not exactly rock bottom of the Premier League, we had to sit through 180 minutes of some of the most tedious football we’ve experienced all season, from perceivably the best sides. Their approach is to pass square and back and hope that an opening shows itself. It’s patient passing football, somewhat like Arsenal, but at least Arsenal have some firepower. Our Dutch teams relied primarily on muscular central strikers in the John Fashanu mould. Except Fashanu, for all his perceived limitations, could at least control a ball and find the net on occasions. How we prayed for a John Fashanu!
Day One starts with an early morning meeting at Direby Station and a train to Birmingham Airport. We run the gauntlet of the ‘Does Your Bag Fit In This Rack, Sir’ Ryanair jobsworths before the short flight to Weeze. We have taken the precaution of pre-booking a taxivan at the German airport which takes us to Nijmegen for 16 euros each – a good deal cheaper and quicker than the cross-border rail service. From Nijmegen it’s a train to Deventer, where we’ve booked a room for two nights. It’s two minutes from the Bierencafe de Heks (the Witch) which is busy when we arrive for our pre-match bevvys. It’s then only a 15-minute walk from the town centre to the stadium of Go Ahead Eagles, who are by coincidence top of the Dutch Second Division. I say that because we chose and organised tickets for this match right at the start of the season.
Their ground is what the Dutch describe as an ‘English’ stadium. It has bags of character but certainly nothing in common with Old Trafford or the Emirates, which are definitely English stadiums. We’re sitting next to a couple of Dutch brothers who, noticing our accents, engage us in conversation. They actually live in Arnhem but adopted Go Ahead as their team courtesy of their father who ‘infected’ them with his allegiance. They tell us, to no great surprise, that the unusual team name has stirring English connotations, and that the Eagle suffix was added by a British coach who thought it had a nice ring to it. Indeed it does as the Kop section of the crowd regularly chant “Go Ahead” which is swiftly followed by an “Eagles” from the rest of the punters. Out on the pitch a couple of handlers release and catch a giant eagle which flies to various parts of the ground and excites the ensemble.
The visitors are mid-table MVV of Maatricht and it’s a reasonably absorbing game settled by a three-goals-in-two-minutes burst in the first half, on-loan left-sided midfielder Jules Reimerink – a Kevin Sheedy type of player – ripping the defence to shreds to inflict the damage. It’s a hammer blow from which a plucky MVV will not recover, and a fourth in the second half is an Eagles bonus. The crowd is just over 5,000 and at a little over 11 Euros to gain entry, we reason that we have had good value for money on the night.
Our plan for the evening is to return to the De Heks, but it’s a tad busy so we divert to another quieter cafe nearby. The owner susses we have been to the game (programmes a give-away) and indicates we should not tell him the score, pointing to a big-screen which subsequently rolls down to show the Friday night’s Jupiler League highlights, obviously a tradition. Despite the no Smoking rule being applied to Dutch bars last year, this one is decidedly smoky. Eagle Bobster and I have this theory that, when Brussels dictates a new law, the British protest but ultimately obey it. The rest of Europe, meanwhile, simply accept the law and proceed to ignore it. Hence one in two Dutch bars is still smoky. After a couple of Boks, we decamp back to the Heks, find a corner, and settle for a session, which we regret in the morning.
The only answer to the mother of all hangovers is to get over to Amsterdam and drink it off in the Wildeman. As usual we buy a go-anywhere ticket which gives unlimited rail travel in Holland for the day. At 39.50 euros for two people, travelling in First Class, it’s the bargain to end all bargains. We take a detour to the Arandsnest, a bar specialising in Dutch-only beers, and speculate as to why we’ve never actually been in the place before. As we arrive at the door, we suddenly remember it’s because it’s never bloody open when we arrive (it opens at 4.00pm, far too late for beer tourists like ourselves). So we head to the Wildeman, are pleased to see that our old friend Simon is on the bar, and we chill out for several hours, taking our beers at a decidedly leisurely pace.
In no time at all we’re back on the train and heading for Enschede. Something goes wrong with our rail schedule and we have to give the biercafe Beiarrd in the town a miss, going straight back out to Twente’s dedicated railway station, right opposite the ground. We’ve got pre-booked and pre-paid tickets here (20 euros each, plus £20 bank transfer fee) which we collect from the ticket window next to the turnstile. We’re directed round the ground and are disappointed to see that we’ve been allocated seats in a spill-over section for the away fans. No Vitesse fans in it, but a bloody great glass screen with spiky metalwork and a net impairing our view of one goal. Welcome to Enschede! We’re not amused, especially as there are more than a few spare blocks of seats scattered around the stadium.
We’ve been told that the Arke Stadion is an atmospheric stadium, and before the kick-off most of the crowd do join in a hearty rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, but that is about as animated as it gets. A relatively lively first quarter settles into the Dutch passing game and forays on goal become a rarity. The visitors have the better of the few chances, but live to regret it as a late winner is bundled in to keep Twente on top of the table. The home crowd are happy but we’re decidedly less so. Back in Deventer the Heks is positively rammed so we settle on a small smoke-free bar near the hotel and drink some Lachouffes.
Day Three dawns with an early rail journey to Rotterdam. It’s a 12.30 kick-off and we head in and out of the Centraal station courtesy of our day rail tickets. The Stadion station is right opposite de Kuip and we suss out the ticket office, deciding to join one of the four queues all heading for a window with a different indecipherable Dutch word on it. We’ve pre-booked tickets but speculate on the odds of being in the wrong queue. Unfortunately at the head of ours is a large local ‘yoath’ who clearly has an issue with the ticket staff, rattling away in Flemish and swearing in English – the man has talent! To our delight, when we do arrive at the window, we have chosen wisely, and 44.50 euros each – you’d better believe it – gets us our prize seat which is as different again from Twente. Right on the front row of the top tier, and almost as good as the PSV ones we bagged last year.
De Kuip is almost three-quarters of a century old but still passes as a modern-style stadium, despite rows of what appear to be temporary seats filling what must have once been a running track or something similar. A lot of the crowd seem to prefer to stand, and the 500 or so Utrecht fans encased in their away cage are out-shouted for much of the game. Unfortunately, this game picks up where the last one left off. There is a smattering of chances but not enough to lighten up the general tedium, and derisive whistling at half and full time shows that even the Dutch – probably well-used to chess-board domestic football – can get a bit teed off now and again.
A train journey to Nijmegen and a taxivan to Weeze sees us over the German border by early evening and our digs for the night, a typically un-Teutonic bar in the town called ‘Kevin’s Pub’. Run by an ex-RAF man – Weeze airport was an RAF base once – the bar has an accommodation block opposite which is good value at 65 euros per night for a twin room. Curiously the town has several restaurants and virtually no bars (the opposite to Holland) so we polish off a pizza and settle for a pool tournament in Kevin’s, Eagle Bobster showing what an English pub landlord gets up to in his free time by giving me a pasting, 6-4 flattering me somewhat. An early morning flight, a Wetherspoons brekkie in the Briar Rose in Brum, followed by a couple in the Wellington, and our 2009 adventure is done.
Eagle Bobster thinks we should try Germany next year, in a search for better football. In the next breadth he’s suggesting we could hit that week in the Spring where the Dutch Eredivisie has a game for virtually ten days in succession. It’s a nice idea but I think the missus might have something to say about it….
Programmes – Had to pay for all of them this year (usually given away free in the past). Go Ahead Eagles on sale in the club shop, FC Twente and Feyenoord from sellers outside the grounds.
Floodlight Pylons: Four each at Go Ahead and Feyenoord, none apparent at Twente (!)
Parakeets – Ducks and Coots outnumber the natives in Holland
Toilets – plenty, usually with a birds eye view of the pitch
Club Shops – outside the ground at Go Ahead and Twente, didn’t come across one at Feyenoord
Players with the quirkiest names: The best thing about Dutch names is that they’re generally funny enough without having to add anything. Here’s my selection….
GO AHEAD – Dave Bus and Joey Suk
MVV: Ruud Boffin, Edwin Wang and Faty Papy
FC TWENTE: Wout Brama and ‘Wellington’ (unless he’s been given the boot…)
VITESSE: Civard Sprockel and Calvin Jong A Pin
FEYENOORD: strangely pretty normal
UTRECHT: My son’s X-Box 360 Fifa 10 favourite, Ricky van Wolfswinkel!