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Holland 2015 (Part 1)

Water and windmills, greenness, Islets green;—
Willows whose Trunks beside the shadows stood
Of their own higher half, and willowy swamp:—
Farmhouses that at anchor seem’d—in the inland sky
The fog-transfixing Spires—
Water, wide water, greenness and green banks,
And water seen—

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)




Wednesday 4th February 2015

Dutch Eredivisie

PEC Zwolle                                   4

Stef Nijland 44, 86,

Sheraldo Becker  79,

Ben Reinstra  85,

Dordrecht                                     0

Referee:- Eric Braamhaar        Attendance:-  11,430


We took the train straight from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Zwolle, the big change this year being that we invested in an OV-chipkaart and, having worked out the cost of all the rail journeys in advance, we were able to load the chipkaart with the right amount of money for our stay! No more travel worries, the chipkaart is available for all forms of transport across Holland!


We stayed at a small but very pleasant guest house about four or five kilometres outside Zwolle, but first we had lunch in the town with its Museum Funtadie – a grand building with a strange silver foil ball for a roof. Inside, there is a substantial collection of art, including a small ‘Turner”, we were reliably informed, by the couple eating at the table next to us in the bar and bistro we had chosen for our first meal in the country!


We walked the three miles or so from the guest house at Vecht & Zo  on Hessenweg to The IJsseldelta Stadion and and our tickets were waiting for us at The Club Shop – very reasonably priced at €18.50. Jack and Graeme adjourned into the stadium and I repaired to a large wine bar, which was incorporated into the exterior of the stadium, for a fine glass of Rioja, whilst I waited for  the team sheets to be delivered to the club shop. Quite a few Dutch stadiums have shops and businesses incorporated on the exterior of their arenas and The IJsseldelta Stadion is no exception. Besides the wine and coffee bar, there was a chinese restaurant amongst other businesses on display, but Graeme (an avid collector of Chinese Restaurant menus and flyers) didn’t, on this occasion,  attempt to extend his collection !


Zwolle is a medium sized Netherlands metropolis and its football club has never been considered amongst the elite clubs of the country. It has only spent thirteen or fourteen seasons in total in the Eredivisie, which is the top flight of Dutch Football and they have only been in the division recently, since The 2012/13 season.  Last season, they won The KNVB Cup for the first time in their history. They were formed in June 1910 from the amalgamation of two clubs in the town – Prins Hendrik and Ende Desespereet Nimmer (“And Never Despair”). The single entity was named PEC and “Zwolle” was added in 1971. The club has been professional since 1955.


After their first spell in Eredivisie in 1979, they over-reached themselves and fell into bankruptcy in 1990. This time around, they seem to be in a much healthier financial state and without the towering ambition of the early eighties.


Their opponents this evening, were Dordrecht, recently promoted from Eerstedivisie and currently propping up the table with but eleven points and thirteen goals from their twenty league games this season.


The first half of the game was pretty turgid stuff, enlivened only by a goal in the 44th minute. The ground, which has a capacity of 12,500 was nearly full, but was totally lacking in atmosphere.


Jack and Graeme at PEC Zwolle

The second half was much better and this was, curiously, sparked off by a Dordrecht substitution. Sensing that a 1-0 defeat was of no use to them, they sent on Rick Tenvoorde, a strapping striker, who created havoc amongst the home defence without actually managing to score.Had he done so, the outcome of the match might have been very different! As it was, the attempt by the visitors to get back on terms, led to their undoing. They left gaps at the back and the hosts pounced, driving home three goals in the final ten minutes or so for an emphatic victory!


The following morning, we took a taxi to the railway station and were held up by the operation of one of the town centre bridges across a waterway. “I’ve never seen that happen before!”, commented our taxi driver!

Thursday 5th February 2015

Dutch Eredivisie

Ajax Amsterdam                                    0

AZ Alkmaar                                             1

Aron Johannsson 76,

Referee:- Poll van Boekel         Attendance:- 47,724


Back in Amsterdam and with a bit of time to spare, we took a trip on the waterway system which dominates the city centre.


At the same time as the match inside the stadium, Lionel Richie was performing live in the indoor arena opposite. We enjoyed a few drinks with the throng – mainly middle-aged ladies – who were waiting to take their places and scream their way through his performance!

We had booked ourselves hospitality for this second match of the tour and we were all eagerly looking forward to a visit to probably the top soccer stadium in the country. We were sadly let down. I don’t think that Ajax understand the concept of ‘hospitality’ – certainly not in the English sense. In England, the match is everything and the food and drink incidental. There are master of ceremonies, former players, team sheets and a constant stream of football trivia. I don’t know whether Ajax is typical, but all we got was a rather splendid meal and a complimentary club scarf! In England, there are half-time refreshments and the bar is usually open after the match for an hour or so. At Ajax, there was no half-time or after match option. We were underwhelmed!


This is a public urinal outside the wall of The Bijlmer Arena,

one of several dotted round the stadium perimeter!


The match was no great shakes, either. Ajax stand second in Eredivisie, but with this defeat, they slipped twelve points behind PSV Eindhoven, who are in first place.


It was, indeed, a poor match. In the first half, neither side showed any inclination to win, there were very few attempts on goal and the play was wayward and listless. At half-time, the visitors coach must have spread some useful gospel, because in the second half, his team came out believing that not only might they gain one point, but three were a real possibility! With less than fifteen minutes remaining, Aron Johannsson scored the winner to give AZ an unlikely but fully deserved victory.


The pit behind the goal at The Bijlmer Arena


Once again it was bitterly cold and we were glad to return via underground to Amsterdam Centraal and our hotel!

Friday 6th February 2015

Dutch Eerstedivisie

Sparta Rotterdam                                       4

Denis Mahmuder  30, 54,

Paul Gladon 58,

Youri Loen 83,

MVV Maastricht                                        1

Jordy Croux  37,

Referee:- Siemen Mulder                    Attendance:- 4,915


We had a very interesting morning in The Rijks Museum in Amsterdam. There were artists from the thirteenth century to the present day and although many of them were Dutch, there were examples from other countries. Over two thousand paintings were on display, and we couldn’t possibly see them all. The artists who stay in the mind were Rembrandt, Franz Hals and Johannes Vermeer.


The train took the strain for the forty minute sprint to Rotterdam Centraal and then we took the No 8 Spangen tram to Spartastadion. The tram stopped right outside the facade (see above), which looked very much like the walls of a castle! Sure enough, the ground is called “Het Kasteel” – The Castle!


We had been told that there would be no problem in buying tickets and we bought them in the club shop (€18.50) and then went round to the far side of the stadium (see below) where we were allowed in to take some photographs and were given a tour by Ben Wessels, the club kitman for the last twenty-five years and a frequent visitor to  England and English football games and a member of The English union of football kitmen.


Ben had a host of personal memories, but also a wonderful grasp of the history of the club, who last won The Eredivisie in 1959 under an English coach – Denis Neville – who went on to coach the Dutch National team. Sparta are the oldest professional club, not only in Rotterdam, but also in the whole of The Netherlands, having been founded in 1888. Some directors who visited Sunderland FC a year later for a match were very impressed with the Sunderland colours and that club presented them with a set of red and white striped shirts and black shorts and socks, which have been the club’s colours ever since (replacing the white shirt with a red diagonal sash)!


The Tonny van Ede Stand

Having enjoyed our tour, we still had an hour or two to kill and wandered down to a rather seedy establishment a couple of hundred yards from the stadium. Graeme was under impressed, but eventually we trooped back up the road and eagle eyed Jack spotted a fair wench carrying team sheets and accosted her, relieving her of three sheets, one for each of us!


I’m not very impressed with my photographs from inside the stadium. I really should have taken more care! It is an impressive stadium which has had its pitch turned through 90 degrees in the last twenty-five years and can accommodate some 11,000 spectators.There are stands to commemorate Denis Neville, the successful England coach from the 1960s and Tonny van Ede one of the outstanding players of Sparta’s last championship winning team from 1959.


Sparta are an ambitious team determined to return to Eredivisie from whence they were last relegated in 2010. They currently lie in sixth place in Eerstedivisie, but, sadly, some nineteen points behind current leaders NEC Nijmegen. Their visitors, on the other hand, MVV Maastricht from way down in the south east of the country, are seriously threatened with relegation in seventeenth place (out of 20).


The match started slowly and, initially seemed to be following the pattern of the previous two games. The two teams were cautiously weighing each other up and a Denis Mahmuder goal for the hosts on the half hour was cancelled out seven minutes later by the visitors striker, Jordy Croux


The second half, however, started explosively with two early goals to Sparta who then wrested control of the game.  They played some good football and dominated the half, finally scoring a fourth goal to round off a resounding victory.

At the end of the match, conditions underfoot were treacherous with long stretches of sheet ice. One wondered if the health and safety conscious English leagues would have allowed the match to go ahead (Even though the actual match was played on 3G). We walked about half a mile to catch an earlier tram to the railway station and our train rolled into Amsterdam Centraal around 11.30pm.


Saturday 7th February 2015

Dutch Topklasse

IJsselmeervogels                                             0

Rijnsburgse  Boys                                          3

Casper Knoester 80,

Jeffrey Koemans  90+2

Railey Ignacio  90+3

Referee:- C. Box                                Attendance:- approximately 2,000


At last, the weather intervened. We had arranged to visit a Hoofdklasse match in Drachten – Drachtster Boys v Flevo Boys. This morning, Jan Visser from the club sent us an e-mail to say that it had been postponed.


We quickly scanned the Dutch leagues for a replacement game and settled on IJsselmeervogels, who play in Spakenburg, and Jack sent an e-mail off to the club seeking confirmation that the fixture was on. Back came a reply in the positive from Ronald-Jan Heek, the club secretary and we piled off to Amsterdam Centraal for the train to Amersfoort.


It is probably fifteen kilometres from Amersfoort to Spakenburg and we took a taxi. The driver was very informative, telling us that the town was fairly small and quite wealthy with a big reputation for fishing and bakery. He suggested that it was unlikely that the football clubs would want to gain any further promotion because that might mean that they would have to play on a Sunday and the town was very religious. There were more churches in Spakenburg than the whole of Amersfoort!


When we got to the stadium, Ronald greeted us and took us straight into the ground for coffee and almond apple cakes, which were a speciality. His was a responsible position and he said he often worked forty hours or more per week on club business, but purely in a voluntary capacity! He had been at the club since 7.00am that morning and Jack’s general e-mail enquiry had been picked up by Ronald at the ground. He was very proud of his club. They have been champions of Topklasse a total of seven times – more than any other club in the division and much better than local rivals, Spakenburg, who could only muster three titles!


Ronald was a busy man and he advised us to take a look at the town centre and market after our tour of the ground. In reality, there are two football clubs on the same footprint (you can see the floodlights of Spakenburg in the background on the photograph below). Each has an enclosed stadium, but in addition, each club has three or four additional pitches attached behind their stadium and even as we arrived, there were several games going on – adults, youth and ladies matches.


We did our tour of the town centre and enjoyed a fish ‘n’ chip lunch in one of the waterside cafes. It was really a fish shop which served fish meals. The fishing fleet was all tied up, sheets furled and the wide expanse of waterway was clearly visible from the top of the main stand at the stadium.


Back at The Sportpark de Westmaat, Ronald had left word with the stewards to let us into the ground and we were mightily impressed with the friendly reception we had received and with the impressive facilities and organisation of the club. The match was played on a 3G surface and, sadly, the hosts did not enjoy the day! After a poor first half where there were almost no shots on target, Rijnsburgse Boys eventually took the lead some ten minutes from time and then added a further two goals in added time at the end of the match. It was a little hard on the hosts, but the visitors were delighted as they moved six points clear of the home side in the league!


Graeme takes a nap on the train north

after the match at IJsselmeervogels

Saturday 7th February 2015

Dutch Eredivisie

Heerenveen                                          4

Luciano Slagveer 3,

Sam Larsson 11,

Mark Uth  42 (pen)

Henk Veerman  86,

PEC Zwolle                                         0

Referee:- Tom van Sichem          Attendance:- 25,145


Time was tight! We caught the Leeuwarden train with minutes to spare and it dropped us off in Heerenveen at 7.05pm. When we got out of the station, there were no taxis left at the taxi rank, so I hailed the first cab that I saw and it pulled over to the station apron where I found that I had hailed, not a taxi, but a police car! It was very embarrassing, but the surprisingly youthful policeman inside was understanding and friendly. He said it would be better to walk. It was only fifteen minutes on foot to the stadium and he gave us directions.  Jack cheekily asked him if he would give us a lift, but was declined. “What if I kick your car?” said Jack. “Then, I would give you a lift, but not to the football match!” said the policeman. So we set out on foot.


The tickets were waiting at the main box office (I had booked in advance) and we collected team sheets from Reception, bought programmes and found our seats high up on the half-way line and all with barely five minutes to go before the match started at 7.45pm.


The first impression I had was of how much more substantial the ground was than that of PEC Zwolle. The stadium was heaving, with a crowd of well over twice that of Zwolle on Wednesday. There were two rows of hospitality boxes in the stand opposite.


The game started explosively. Heerenveen had just beaten Feyenoord by 3-1 to enable PEC Zwolle to climb back into third place with their 4-0 victory over Dordrecht. Heerenveen, however, are no slouches themselves. They lie in seventh place, some seven points behind PEC Zwolle. They were well fired up for this contest. Strong, powerful and determined, they swept into a third minute lead and doubled the advantage after eleven minutes.


Poor old PEC were shell-shocked. They staggered around drunkenly for the rest of the first half and then conceded a penalty three minutes before the break. The hosts were well worth their half-time lead!


In the second half, the visitors regained some of their composure, but they remained at full stretch to keep a rampant home team at bay. Eventually, they succumbed again and a fourth and final goal was scored four minutes from time by substitute, Henle Veerman. It had been a breathtakingly commanding performance by the hosts!


After the match, we escaped fairly easily, aware that the last train back to Amsterdam left at 22.24. We were lucky and able to catch the 22.01 train which by way of a change at Amersfoort got us into Amsterdam Zuid at 00.20. It seemed like a lifetime ago since this morning when we had transferred hotels to  Amsterdam Zuid and when we got there by metro, we couldn’t find the hotel!!! The Hotel Qbix is a very modernistic establishment. There were no windows in my huge room and a compartment containing bed, shower and toilet, was set on a plinth in the middle of the room! No carpets or chairs, but a modern reclining chaise longue was the only seating available!


No breakfast in the hotel, either, but it didn’t matter, it was only six minutes to Schiphol and our flight back to Luton. It had been an exhilarating – if also a tiring –  five days ping-ponging around The Netherlands. We had met some wonderful people and while the football wasn’t always as exciting as we would like, the stadia and the towns and cities and the people were charming and engaging.

Here’s to the next time!

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