Category Archives: Netherlands

SBV Excelsior v Roda JC

SBV Excelsior v Roda JC: Eredivisie, Sunday 16th October

Stadion Woudestein

It can be a pain when a club’s name gives no clue as to where they’re from.   Some of you must have looked up places on the map when you were younger and not found them: Schalke, Roda, St Johnstone, St Mirren, Juventus etc.  Until recently, I didn’t realise Rotterdam had three teams in the Eredivisie: Feyenoord, Sparta Rotterdam and Excelsior.

Having been in the Station Woudestein since 2000, Excelsior have been a bit of a yo-yo club: they have been promoted from the Eerste divisie four times during that period!  However, when you look at the size of their operation, it’s a minor miracle they are competitive in the division at all.

Behind the trees, there liveth a baby stadium
Behind the trees, there liveth a baby stadium
Getting there and tickets

Rotterdam is very easy to access from Belgium, both by car and rail.  However, reading that the stadium only has 200 car parking places convinced me that train was the way to go.  While you can take the Thalys high-speed train, you certainly pay for it (62 euros instead of 20 on the Inter City, for a gain of 45 minutes).  I was in no great hurry so plumped for economy.  It took two hours of chuntering through the fields on the Inter City train but it’s much cheaper.  It is an enjoyable chunter though.  If the difference between First Class and Standard is only 3 euros or so (as it was today), it can be worth the splurge.  Not so much for the additional comfort which, in all honesty, is negligible, but for the vastly increased likelihood of not standing.  The train was packed, especially on the way home, but I had the foresight to spend the additional 3 euros, which yielded levels of comfort and smugness over my fellow passengers that were worth far more.

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Some of Excelsior’s matches do require the dreaded Dutch Football Club Card which makes things far more complicated for the groundhopper or occasional fan.  Their ticket pricing is, however, competitive.  Tickets can (sometimes) be bought from www.excelsiortickets.nl

Season ticket prices Robin van Persie grandstand 2016-2017

Adult 200 euros, Students 165 euros, Youth 105 euros, Sports Club 90 euros

Single Match ticket prices Robin van Persie grandstand 2016-17

Normal 17 euros, Students 14 euros, Youth 9 euros

RVP never actually played for the senior team, but has a stand named after him!
RVP never actually played for the senior team, but has a stand named after him!

This does make the match excellent value – League Two clubs in England (4th tier football) charge more than this.

Rotterdam

During World War II, Rotterdam was severely damaged to the extent that post-war architects had to redesign a city.  However, somebody somewhere clearly commissioned the world’s wackiest designers, architects and town planners and said to them “sure, pentagonal prisms are perfect for residential buildings”, go for it.  The one thing you can’t help but deduce is that these people talked to each other and the whole town is a tribute to joined-up thinking.  The result is a bizarre fusion of steel and glass, some of the oddest designs of varying vintage and the occasional soupçon of classic Holland all set around the port.  It has an unusual look about it and, at first, I hated it but I think it’s grown on me like a good piece of Prog Rock.

Walking out of the phenomenally cool Rotterdam Centraal Train Station, strolling past the skyscrapers along the little canal, you come to a couple of streets full of cafes and bars; Oudebinnenweg and Witte de Withstraat.  Even at 11am, this area was busy and there is an almost boho/hipster feel to it.  Yes, you may love or hate this but there is something for everybody.  I particularly enjoyed that fabulous range of beer for sale in Sijf, which is a café/bar on Oudebinnenweg.

I walked from here to the stadium, stopping off en route for a cheeky Weihenstephaner – it was 20°C – at the Spansekade, which is a great spot for a bar overlooking the water.  The stadium is about 35 minutes walk from Centraal, or 25 minutes from the Spansekade, along the waterside, which was enjoyable in the sun.  I can imagine this stroll becoming more of a turgid hike in winter though, when trams running directly to the stadium (Stop Woudestein) from Centraal are frequent.

Some wee guy on a bike almost got flattened here - call the trambulance.
Some wee guy on a bike almost got flattened here – call the trambulance.
Stadion Woudestein

If it weren’t for the floodlights, you’d completely miss this place.  With Erasmus University looming in the background and trees all round, you can be 400 metres from the stadium and not see it but make out the outline of de Kuip (Feyenoord’s stadium) a few kilometres away.

Stadium car (and bike) park
Stadium car (and bike) park

There is a little bar immediately adjacent to the press entrance but it’s a members-only arrangement.  Otherwise, there are virtually no attempts at catering or hospitality.  Burgers were being sold on the Astroturf training pitches just past the stadium at 3 euros a go because it was family day but really, it’s slim pickings.

Upon entering and confirming who I was, I entered the press room.  This had been set up for a press conference with Excelsior boss Mitchell Van der Gaag and looked like the interior of a bowling club bar in the West of Scotland, formica and nicotine being the colour scheme.

I snooped around under the stand looking for catering facilities for the fans but ended up in the club kitchen and the laundry room.  In a way, this made me appreciate the scale of the operation and Excelsior are performing minor miracles by competing in the top division.  It did feel like a small, family run club, which is neither condescending nor derogatory.  It’s far more heartwarming seeing this than an army of agents surrounding an overly tattooed headphones mannequin.  However, looking around, there seemed nowhere for fans to get a drink or a bite to eat.

Asking a helpful dude where I could go to get to my seat, I was directed down the tunnel (missed opportunity) and up the stairs at the front of the stand.  My seat was simultaneously one row from the back and five rows from the front.

The pitch is Astroturf, installed to offset the cost of undersoil heating which is mandatory for Eredivisie clubs.

White lines
White lines

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It took a while for most of the 3544 crowd to take their seats.  It doesn’t have the feel of a top-tier venue.  Looking around, there are plans to fill in the three ‘unfilled’ corners, although that will probably only add a few hundred to the capacity.  There are a couple of oases of terrace behind both goals, where the dedicated young team take their place.  To give them some credit, they were the only ones in the stadium making any noise.

Shortly before kick off, the pitch was watered with such ferocity and to such an extent that perhaps Excelsior have been speaking to the Mayor of London for a good deal on water cannons.  I wasn’t expecting to get wet on a sunny day in a covered stand.

Skoosh
Skoosh

Both managers were interviewed pitch-side, just a few rows away.  Roda’s manager has more than a passing resemblance to Arec Baldwin.  Mitchell Van der Gaag looks different from how I remembered him from his Motherwell days, but maybe he’d say the same about me.

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As the players came out to a Dutch version of a well-known Neil Diamond song, Schweet Caroline (replaced by ‘Excelsior, wo wo wo), the fans behind the goal waved their flags and the little stadium let out a gentle rustle of approval.  With a 4400 capacity, it’s not realistic to expect perforated eardrums, but the intensity is sadly lacking.

Excelsior v Roda JC

The match itself was of decent quality without ever being a classic.  Excelsior did make most of the play during the first half, with Van Duinen in particular spurning a few good chances.  The intensity was high, the passing pretty good, the intent always there.  One player in particular frustrated me though.  Ryan Koolwijk is a giant beanpole of a midfielder who tackles with the intensity of cooked spaghetti.  He should be dominant in the centre but instead tries to play this Xabi Alonso/Pirlo regista role and really doesn’t have the vision or the passing range for it.  He also, despite being the tallest man on the pitch, took the corners for Excelsior, à la Harry Kane.  Signing him must be like ordering a perfect looking beer only to taste it and discover it’s alcohol free.

The visitors from Kerkrade scored on the 56th minute through Boysen with a well taken finish from inside the box.  Thereafter, it has to be said that they Roda their luck a little.  The game became more agricultural as the players tired but both teams pushed right up to the death.

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Looks like the Nobel Laureate is diversifying his portfolio

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At full-time, I ended up having to leave via the corporate area, with all the food and drink sloshing around, but I didn’t want to chance it and I had a train to catch.  Excelsior is a lovely club and location and they’d be a good team to support.  That they have their own stadium  is considered to be a huge positive but, as a neutral, it’s not a stadium I’d have near the top of my list.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***
  • Stadium character: **
  • Stadium atmosphere:  **
  • Hospitality: * – couldn’t spot a snack peddler anywhere.
  • Ease of access: ***
  • Things to do around the stadium: ***
  • Overall: **
 

PSV Eindhoven v CSKA Moscow

PSV Eindhoven v CSKA Moscow

Tuesday 8th December 2015: UEFA Champions League

Between cursing scrotum-esque Belgian undertaking drivers, I played a little game of ‘What could PSV stand for?’.  Based on this experience, it certainly could mean People Should Visit Eindhoven or Proudly Support Vocally Eindhoven.   The excitement and atmosphere of this match was fantastic and even with its ‘importance coefficient’ factored in, the fans were terrific and were surely complicit in inspiring their team to victory.

Inschwinger
Inschwinger
What's this shape again that looks like the scolex of a tapeworm?
What’s this shape again that looks like the scolex of a tapeworm?

Getting to Eindhoven

Travelling from Eindhoven from Brussels via public transport is surprisingly slow given the geographical proximity of the two cities. The city does have its own airport and train station for those with more patience than me.   Under normal road conditions, this drive takes 1 hour and 15 minutes.  However, craziness on the Belgian roads varies directly with rainfall meaning that the journey was 2 hours and 35 minutes of cursing, stressing and worrying about missing a game I’d set out in plenty of time for.

This was compounded by the fact that my sat-nav sometimes confuses his ‘turn rights’ from his ‘go straights’.  Finally, I pulled into a car-park that may have been car park 4 but, given how poorly lit the area was, I’d never have known.  I locked the car and camera, phone, wallet and printout in hand,  scampered across the road to find gate 9.  The reason the area was so poorly lit is probably due to the whole Dutch electrical supply being channeled into the 3-bar patio heaters dangling from the roof of the stadium.

Roof Heaters. What's a 'Carbon Footprint?'
Roof Heaters. What’s a ‘Carbon Footprint?’

I won’t be able to include anything about Eindhoven as, due to time constraints and bad weather, I didn’t see much of it.  However the stadium is very central and is any easy walk from the city centre.  I didn’t have to purchase a ticket for the game but, if you are visiting from outside the Netherlands, you can get tickets via https://www.psv.nl/english-psv/ticketing.htm.  Dutch fans needs a Club Card to buy tickets for most home games.  To be honest, the whole process seems clunky and time consuming but, at 60€ including 20€ credit in the fan store and 11€ credit for food and drink for a Dutch league match, it’s not exploitative.

Once the dude at gate 9 frisked me for weapons – it didn’t seem like the time for saying how a pen could be figuratively weaponised – I made my way up to the press seats.  I was right at the back of Vak CD.  I was very grateful to PSV for the invitation to this match. However, I’m sure I’m not the only person to sit in those seats to marvel at the stupidity of the design.  The seats are fixed, so don’t fold down.  Not a problem if there is space to pass in front of or behind the seats.  But, there isn’t.  So if a person wants in or out, the whole row has to stand up and let the person walk along the seats. Add to this the little ‘desk’ bench for placing your notepad or laptop on which prevents you from actually standing up fully.  If the fans in front stand up, and you try to stand up, you get the back of the chair digging into your calves due to the platform and lack of space.  It is frightfully stupid.

Philips Stadion

The Stadium itself looks like it was made from the spare parts of other stadiums.  It isn’t a modern thing of beauty and is fairly asymmetric.  However, what it lacks in immediate aesthetics it makes up for in atmosphere and character.  It is a clearly a stadium that has evolved into its current condition.  That’s not to say it is ugly.  I really liked how it looks, but you wouldn’t design a stadium like this from scratch.

There is all the fan merchandise, chips and beer outside the stadium that you would hope for.  They also looked like little independent operations as opposed to being club-run vendors, which means they don’t need to succumb to UEFAs corporate prohibition.  Fans were flooding between spaces between parked cars immediately next to the stands like winding roads leading to Rome.

Up in the Gods
Up in the Gods
Flags!
Flags!
Looks like old Croatia Strips
Looks like old Croatia Strips
Lasagna
Lasagna
Flag tastic
Flag tastic
A clown's makeup palette has been spilled.
A clown’s makeup palette has been spilled.
It says 'No Shmoking' there Joris...
It says ‘No Shmoking’ there Joris…
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More layers than an onion
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Away fans
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The corner stand looks like Jenga with steel and concrete
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Zoet Heyyyy

Normally I’d get a walk around the stadium, check out the refreshment system and prices, evaluate the toilet situation and watch the stadium fill up all before the players warm up.  Not this time.  Although, my half-time trip to the toilet revealed a woefully inadequate 5 urinals being accessed from two doors.  This drastically needs sorted.  The club also operate one of these dreadful token systems, where you have to go and buy tokens and decide you want to buy food and drink before you see what’s on offer.  The toilet and refreshment concourse reminded me a little of Anderlecht’s stadium.  Narrow, pipes at head height for a tall person, funneling stairways and little space to move.  Let’s home those roof heaters never catch fire or nobody is getting out alive.

The pre-match atmosphere was fabulous.  Better to show you than describe it, but it left you pumped for the game itself.  When the teams emerged, it seemed almost coincedental as opposed to the focal point: the fans were partying regardless.  The video won’t do it justice but it certainly blew Feyenoord and Ajax out of the water.

The Match

This could easily be described as 74 minutes of the teams feeling each other up, a very soft CSKA penalty conversion followed by gung-ho PSV waking up and getting the goals they needed.  There was a lingering inevitability about PSV getting the win, which they just about deserved.  My friend Shug declared that PSV were being osmotically fuelled by my hatred of Van Gaal, giving them the extra impetus they needed to get over the line.  I don’t hate Van Gaal; I just think he’s an Amiga in world of iPads.  That Man United pinched PSV’s top scorer from last season and their team cost ten times what PSV’s did perhaps made the victory all the sweeter though.

I liked PSV’s shape and, importantly, the players looked like they understand it.  Luuk de Jong is a bit of a mystery and, at times, looks like the complete centre forward.  He didn’t really cut it Borussia or Newcastle but is a clear threat.  For me, PSV’s main man is Jeffrey Bruma at the back.  Formerly of Chelsea, he’s far more solid and   assured than anything they currently have and he bossed the defence tonight.

CSKA played a very high line, perhaps due to de Jong’s lack of real pace, and ‘gegenpressed’ a little but lacked the killer pass.  It is easy to be swayed by the howling home support every time a refereeing decision doesn’t go their team’s way but PSV didn’t get many favours.  Propper’s winning goal was fit to win any match as he thumped it in from the edge of the box.  By that time, my camera had died and the stadium was shaking.  I did manage to catch it samples on my phone, but you can fill up the memory of an 8GB iPhone with a Haiku recital.

‘So Happy Together’

All in all, it was a fabulous night.  I stayed to watch the celebrations for a couple of minutes after the match but, realising that 35000 were still inside the heated stadium, I made a dash for the car and was back home within 90 minutes.

A PSV home game in the league might be different but it’s a great, non-linear and characterful stadium whose fans make a great racket. The team play some nice stuff as well.  Next time, I’ll take the train and see what Eindhoven is all about.  What does PSV stand for? Tonight, it stood for Proudly Superior to Van Gaal.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: *****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  *****
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: ****
  • Overall: ****1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFC Ajax

Saturday 21st November 2015

Ajax v SC Cambuur

Given that this was the first day of ‘Brussels Lockdown’, I wasn’t even sure if I’d get to this game.  The Amsterdam ArenA, home of Ajax, was always a stadium I wanted to visit regardless of the state of Ajax themselves.  Turns out they are a very decent team, with weaknesses and flaws, who play in an amazing stadium.  The Amsterdam ArenA is pretty special and, if Ajax can somehow unify their seemingly factioned fans, it could have an atmosphere to match.

Talk to each other
Talk to each other

Getting There

The closure of the Brussels Metro was more of an inconvenience than a problem as I simply took a tram and bus, staying overground, to Gare du Nord to get on the Megabus (www.megabus.com).  Sleet was falling, marking the end of the extended Autumn, soaking into my socks before the bus had even arrived.  Luckily, it arrived punctually although it was 20 minutes late leaving Brussels.  The shops and bars were still open and it felt like a quiet Saturday but not the deserted town the media were portraying it as.  The bus was heated, had a USB port for me to charge my phone and, incredibly, the wifi was working.  Not bad for 12€ return!  The bus took a little over 3 hours due to traffic around Rotterdam.

The Zuiderseeweg ‘Park and Ride’ where the bus stops is connected to Amsterdam Central by the number 26 tram, which gets you into town in under 10 minutes.  A ticket for 24 hours (not a calendar day, but for a full 24 hours) on the trams and metro is €7.50 and works similarly to an Oyster card in that you scan when getting on and off the tram.  You can buy the ticket from the booth in the middle of the tram.  In general, the public transport in Tramsterdam was fantastic. It just works.  Like the roads with lanes for cars, bicycles, trams and pedestrians.  These things are done with a more of a carefree abandon in Belgium and aren’t done at all in the UK.

Tickets and Accommodation

My hotel was 2 minutes walk from Dam Square.  Amsterdam looks even more amazing with Christmas lights everywhere.  The Nova hotel http://www.novahotel.nl/EN/english.html met my needs perfectly.  I checked in to the hotel, checked in with my family at home and then went to check out the Amsterdam ArenA.

The Arena can be reached via train or metro but it is the same stop. 15-20 minutes from Centraal station and you’re there.  It’s quick and efficient and is obviously in receipt of reasonable investment.

I didn’t need to order tickets thanks to a free press pass (thanks Ajax!) but the club might want to review this policy.  Dutch fans who want to attend a game need to have an Ajax Club Card, which you can order by clciking http://www.ajax.nl/tickets-support/tickets.htm  If you are from outside the Netherlands, you must order via http://www.visitajax.com/ and the tickets are much more expensive!   There were a lot of empty seats in this game and yet visitajax.com said ‘Sold Out’.  Charging people more money because they are not from the Netherlands just isn’t ethical.

The Stadium

From the road, the ArenA looks like an unstable muffin.  The overhanging roof is topped with solar panels and the retracting mechanism.  You can park in the stadium itself and a road leads into the stadium.  It really is spectacular.

ajax plaza
ajax plaza
view from station
view from station

Clearly during the planning stage for the ArenA, people sat down and thought about it.  What would fans like?  How else could we make use of the facilities in the vicinity?  It is close to perfect.  Upon arrival at the station, you go down the escalator into a large ‘plaza’ area – I don’t have the vocabulary in English to give it a better name. There is a large concert venue, an IMAX cinema, some large shops and loads of bars and restaurants.  It naturally lends itself to people arriving early for the game and having some food and drink together and congregating in large numbers.  A few mounted cops surveyed everything outside the bars but there was no sign of chimpery or nonsense.  I grabbed a hot dog (interestingly, served with cheese as a default option) and made my way to the stadium as the club had requested that I arrive early due to additional security checks in light of recent events.

The South (Zuid) Entrance was lit up as a French Tricouleur and is adjacent to a bar called Burger Bitch (burgerbitch.nl/) which seemed to me as an imperfect use of English slang and reminded me of ‘My Tea is Rich’ from ‘A Year in the Merde.’

Toddling round to the Main Entrance, clutching my email printout like Charlie Bucket with his Golden Ticket, I wandered into this reception area that is shinier than my head after applying after-sun.  The receptionist found my name on the press list, printed my ticket and I made my way to security.  They simply verified that my camera case contained a camera and then I ascended the 6 flights of hospitality, function suites etc until I got to the top and was shown to the press room.

Here, I managed to catch the first half of the Real Madrid v Barcelona match (where an ex-Ajax forward was causing havoc) and I had a free ham roll and coffee.   The room was set up for a press conference, with names, which made me wonder if Frank de Boer was giving a pre-match announcement.  Forty five minutes before kick off, I walked out of the press room and into the cafeteria concourse area with the real fans, drunk a nice draught Grolsch for 3€ before heading to my press seat.

seat with a view
seat with a view
Note the bottom tier
Note the bottom tier
Up on the roof
Up on the roof
Hmmm
Hmmm
Amsterdam
Amsterdam
homogenise these seats!
homogenise these seats!
clasico on the TV
clasico on the TV
will it fill?
will it fill?

I was pretty pleased that the roof was closed.  The last time I visited a stadium with a roof was at Schalke, where the kept the roof open even though it rained throughout the entire match.  Once inside, the stadium is impressive.  My only gripe about the stadium is that the seat colours are stupid.  Deck it out in predominantly red with white writing.  There’s nothing intimidating about seeing a kaleidoscope of colour in the stands.  Ironically, the fans themselves were not very colourful.  By that I mean there was a notable absence of club colours being worn.  Again, this gives the impression that the stadium is filled with tourists like me.

I watched some of the Clasico on the fabulous big screens waiting for the atmosphere to build but the volume and atmosphere remained tepid – only the octaves built up indicating a high density of children in the vicinity.  I was intrigued by the empty seats behind the goals.  I was hoping that meant a big tifo was to be unveiled or maybe that the tickets weren’t sold in that area unless needed.

The ‘Anthem’ is played which could be rousing but few people sing along.  The focusing on fans around the stadium on the big screen is a nice touch though.  The teams come out and a minute of silence is observed very well.  I knew it had ended by the teams breaking up.

The Match

Ajax set out playing a fairly defined 4-3-3.  However, they lacked any genuine penetration or width from out wide and Milik was disappointing despite his goal.  They were frustrating but entertaining simultaneously.  Veltman and Riedewald played plenty of long diagonal passes to the wings in the style of Frank de Boer. Klaasen was the main creative and attacking force as the advanced central midfielder.

kick off
kick off
corner before the goal
corner before the goal

Bizarrely, all of the first half goals came from crosses or corners and the marking was abysmal.  SC Cambuur were unlucky to be 3 goals down at half time but the tragedy that is zonal marking ensured that the goals would flow.  Ajax also looked shaky at the back when crosses came in.  If I were managing a team against them it would be cross balls all the way.

4-1 up at half time, you could have forgiven Ajax for simply seeing the game out.  However, they actually played better in the second half.  Younes woke up and became a threat and Cambuur did look beaten.  The star of the evening for Ajax was Mitchell Dijks at left back.  He defended well and was probably Ajax’s best attacker.  The number 10 was also Klaasen in a glaasen.  They need a striker though.  Milik didn’t convince at all, despite heading a nice goal from a cross.

Winner!
Winner!

The half time keepy up challenge for kids is a great idea.  Places emphasis development and on ball control instead of glorifying the chubby middle-aged man trying to lob a ball off of a crossbar.  I enjoyed this.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about this match was the entrance of fans behind the goal at half time.  Like ants emerging from a hole, they spread out in the stand to a chorus of boos.  It was clearly some kind of protesting but what were they protesting against?  When those latecomers started singing, they were again booed.  Seeing fans of the same team booing each other is a new one on me. Perhaps if they spoke to each other, their team would have a more vocal support.

To describe the experience in a few words, I’d say: amazing city, fabulous transport links, wonderful stadium, decent team but flat support.  When it comes to atmosphere, I haven’t seen anything to convince me that Germany isn’t king.

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Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***
  • Stadium character: *****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  **
  • Hospitality: *****
  • Ease of access: *****
  • Things to do around the stadium: *****
  • Overall: ****.5

 

Feyenoord

Feyenoord v NAC Breda

8th March 2015

De Kuip has this feeling about it, in the way that I’d imagine the old Wembley did, that it had seen moments of real history.  It somehow feels special.

It was meant to be 17°C today.  That was cause for optimism.  My football day bag still contained my trusty bunnet and running gloves and I felt like living dangerously and risking the gilet/jumper combo.  It was only a week since my last jaunt so I felt like this was a stolen moment.  However, this would be an experience with a difference as I was ‘treating’ a 10 year old girl to a day in Rotterdam to watch the football.  The kind of Daddy-Daughter days that seem like a karmic return for the endless hours of waiting at drama or Brownies.  Getting to spend the day with Sofia and visiting a new stadium and city was a win-win for me.  Those good people who run the Belgium-Netherlands intercity train clearly had this sort of day in mind when they set their pricing policy.  Yes, the train is slower than the Thalys but for 2.50€ each way for a child, Sofia can look forward to more Dutch excursions (at least until she turns twelve).   That was for first class seat as well.  I wouldn’t normally travel first class but she had homework to do and it was certain to be quieter than the regular carriages which, given the sizes of some of the rucksacks various ‘crusties’ were wielding, were more like cargo containers.

The train itself reminded me of a British Rail diesel chugger on the outside.  Upon boarding, it became clear that the first class carriage was about as first class as a first class stamp.   The seats themselves had the plastic/leather/metal feel that reminded me of a bygone era.  It was perhaps analogous to a high end late 1970s Rover saloon infused with the nostalgic aroma of stale pipe smoke.  After a little searching, I found a plug point for phone charging (worth the additional 4 euro each way in itself) and sunk back into my Parker Knoll buttock receptacle.  Two hours of homework and hangman passed surprisingly quickly and we had to scoop up our belongings and disembark.

Rotterdam Centraal Station is incredibly funky.  I’m no train geek – the two previous paragraphs notwithstanding – but I’d go back to Rotterdam just to look at the station again.  It feels like you have walked into a film set from the 1960s that is supposed to depict the future but has made all the wrong predictions.  It was almost as though a flamboyant architect with the same raw materials as a Soviet or Post-War German designer was showing off and saying ‘look what you can do!’

KFC don’t have any stores in Belgium so, as a down-payment for compliance and tolerance, Sofia was fed some unhealthy but scrumptious fried chicken.  Like me, Sofia does not like to even contemplate being late so we headed to the station and bought some tickets to the stadium.  This seemingly simple task was made far more complicated by poor design and chimpery on my behalf.  The card reader is angled in such a way that you need to bend your card round to insert the chip into the reader.  There seemed no obvious alternative.  Furthermore, the search facility doesn’t tolerate incorrect word order.  You need to search for ‘Rotterdam Stadion.’  Without the word Rotterdam, it cannot find Stadion – feyenoord/feijenoord was also ‘not found.’  Once we finally beat the machine, we took our tickets (which are scanned upon entry and alighting, much like an Oyster card) and boarded the 7 minute shuttle to the stadium.

It was a bit of a faff getting the tickets (25€ each).  They MUST be ordered either in Dutch from Feyenoord’s own website or through viagogo.  The club will direct you, via the FAQ page in English, to viagogo.  It is much better, and generally cheaper, to register an email address and order the tickets directly.

The stadium is literally (please apply non-Essex, traditional meaning) 200 metres from the train station.  Scarf and keyring purchased from the man in a tin can, I took a few photos of Sofia in front of the large ‘feyenoord’ sign.  There were a lot of people milling around, clearly waiting on friends, but not a lot to see or do so we headed to the stadium for a refreshing beverage.

De Kuip Front (and Sofia)
De Kuip Front (and Sofia)
They came down in a flying saucer
They came down in a flying saucer

After we scanned through the turnstile, we had a little nosey around.  The food and drinks system is unneccessarily rigid and complicated.  In order to buy any food or drinks, you need to buy tokens.  However, somebody has decided that they can only be bought in multiples of 5, at 2.70 per token. Therefore, you need to spend 5 tokens worth on food and drink in order to make it worth it.  I understand the logic behind cashless food and beverage stalls within a large event.  But when the token is the unit of currency and the price for a slice of pizza or a 50cl beer is 1.5 tokens, you then end up with a half token (yes, you snap a token in half).  All the food and beverages were on the ground level, as were the only toilets in that section of the stadium. What was on offer was absolutely fine but the system was just nuts!

Armed with a coke and a small beer, in addition to the free match-program that is given out, we made our way to the stairs up to our section.  There was a steward half way up and I’m not convinced her job was not to hand out oxygen masks to those who struggle with the stairs or pass out due to the thinning oxygen.  At the entry to section HH, we had a look around.  De Kuip has this feeling about it, in the way that I’d imagine the old Wembley did, that it had seen moments of real history.  It somehow feels special.  It is not modern or even that comfortable but it feels like it is steeped in some concentrated solution of glorious moments, fading from view like the sun at dusk.  I had perceived this before I had even arrived at our seat.  The view was great although you are quite far away from the action.  We were very close to the away section, which provided some entertainment.

Next to the away fans
Next to the away fans
Does this seat come with binoculars
Does this seat come with binoculars
De Kuip feels like a well crafted grandfather clock whose time is being called
De Kuip feels like a well crafted grandfather clock whose time is being called

The seats themselves were the type that do not fold up which inevitably leads to people treating the them the way that Super Mario (the plumber, not Balotelli) treats mushrooms in order to reach the end of the level.  The Breda fans were lively and armed with inflatable bananas.  I didn’t want to simply assume the worst and thought that this might be because they play in yellow.  Before the game, Feyenoord were 4th in the league and Breda were 15th so the Breda boys were clearly there to enjoy the day more than in expectation of a victory.  Hearing that former Ajax and Anderlecht midfielder Demy de Zeeuw now was playing for Breda, I fancied them even less.  As kick off approached the stadium filled up, although it was not quite sold out.  As the teams emerged from the trap-door tunnel, I expected an eruption of noise.  Instead, a spattering of polite applause like one might hear resonating round Wimbledon when someone serves an ace against the Brit, was heard.  Some kind of anthem interrupted the techno music (what is it with techno in Europe?) and the fans dutifully sang along in the way that a hungover family who attend church out of habit sing hymns.  It was all just a little flat.

Kick off
Kick off
Giant waffle in the penalty box
Giant waffle in the penalty box

I suppose, in a way, it reminded me of the Celtic or Rangers fans when St. Mirren or Dunfermline came to town.  The Feyenoord faithful were clearly not expecting much of a fight and weren’t sufficiently energized as a consequence.  It became apparent within the first couple of minutes that there was only going to be one winner.  If Manu, the Feyenoord striker, had been a little less wasteful, it could’ve been a cricket score.  When Lex Immers finally opened the scoring, the celebrations were a little delayed as the referee and assistant discussed if the ball had crossed the line.  An affirmative refereeing decision (it did look in, even if the ref was a bit of a homer) was rewarded with some green smoke that looked a little like what the Trevi fountain was spewing a few days earlier after Feyenoord visited the Italian capital.

The wicked witch went that way!
The wicked witch went that way!

Maybe an early Breda goal would have livened things up a little.  After that, it just seemed like an inexorable procession towards victory.  To be fair to Feyenoord, they knocked the ball around very nicely, everything going through Jordy Clasie, and te Vrede scored two good goals, especially the team’s third.  3-0 was a fair reflection on Feyenoord’s superiority and their varied play kept Breda guessing right till the end.

Feyenoord have plans to start building a brand new stadium right next to the current one and, to be honest, it could do with it.  The plans look fantastic but I just hope that the stadium doesn’t lose its magic.  I had always planned to come to Feyenoord.  Its proximity and transport links to Belgium made it very straightforward.  Reading the excellent www.supportersnotcustomers.com website only further whetted my appetite.

Sofia and I left two minutes before the end in order to make the 1624 train back into Rotterdam, which we got on before heading back to Brussels.  We scampered across but it left a couple of minutes late anyway to scoop up its capacity of passengers.  It would be unfair to say that the atmosphere inside de Kuip was disappointing.  It’s just that I had expected more.  I would encourage people to visit de Kuip and I’m certain that Rotterdam has plenty of interest.  However, my advice would be to pick the right game, against a genuine rival.  The tickets might be less available but the experience should be augmented by the tension.

Some phone video clips

techno techno techno techno

Feey-en-oooord

clapa clapa handies

Overall Ratings: (out of 5)

  • Quality of match:***
  • Stadium Character: *****
  • Stadium atmosphere: ***
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: *****
  • Things to do in the area: ****
  • Overall: ***1/2

Useful Links:

http://www.feyenoord.nl/tickets/in-de-verkoop  –  Feyenoord ticket sales (in Dutch only – use google translate if needed)

https://www.b-europe.com/Travel  – good old Belgian rail

http://supportersnotcustomers.com/  – an excellent blog written by a Cardiff City fan who now follows Feyenoord.