SBV Excelsior v Roda JC: Eredivisie, Sunday 16th October
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.
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.
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
This does make the match excellent value – League Two clubs in England (4th tier football) charge more than this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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: **