When my wife revealed that she would be running one of her work events in Rotterdam, I wasted absolutely no time in checking the fixture list and planning a trip over to watch my boyhood club Feyenoord in action against local rivals ADO Den Haag.
After a walk up to where I used to live on Saturday morning, there was of course the obligatory trip to an Irish Pub to watch Arsenal on Saturday afternoon; which proved to be the first ‘interesting’ experience of the weekend; as while they were indeed showing the Arsenal – Southampton game, they were also showing the Stoke-Tottenham game simultaneously with commentary coming from the latter, it all proved slightly confusing, as there were cheers going up when nothing much was happening in the game we were watching. Arsenal eked out a win after going behind to an own goal from Cech, thanks to a fairly soft penalty in added time.
Just to ratchet up the surreal feel of the weekend, we then headed off to a free heavy metal festival, that was on just over the river from the centre of town, for the rest of the afternoon/ evening.
Sunday was match day and with a 12:30 kick off, after a quick bit of breakfast we caught the tram to De Kuip, thankful that we had got on in town as the large number of waiting passengers at later stops were told in no uncertain terms that the tram was full and that they would have to get the one behind. As someone used to travelling in London, there seemed to be ‘plenty of room’ to me and it was also surprising how those denied entry took it in good spirits instead of trying to barge their way on.
We arrived at the ground with over an hour to go before kick-off so went in search of some pre-match refreshment, to discover that the two main watering holes near the ground were a bar in a bowling alley and even more bizarrely a Chinese restaurant. Being the adventurous souls we are, we of course opted for the Chinese. Once inside we were greeted by a CD of Feyenoord songs playing on the stereo and a large group of stereotypical football fans within the surroundings of a typically decorated Chinese restaurant; it is certainly the most unusual pre-match pint that I have ever had!
Heading into the ground we wondered just exactly what percentage of the kids wearing named and number jerseys weren’t actually ‘Kuyt 7’? We estimated no more than about 10%; as the returning club legend remains a hero amongst fans even if, judging by the age of some of those wearing his name, it was probably more at the instigation of their dads than the kids themselves!
As we headed to our seats the bright green and yellow jerseys and wigs of the away fans really stood out, little did we know what they were planning later on.
After the traditional pre-match songs, the teams emerged from the underground tunnel and were greeted by a tremendous noise all around the ground; it was highly reminiscent of how football in England used to be before the advent of the Premier League and the impact of the ever-increasing consumerization of football in this country.
The game started brightly with the home team very much in control, dominating possession and looking to create chances through crosses into the box. Then eleven minutes in came the most bizarre thing we have ever seen at a match; the home fans behind the goal turned round and started applauding the away fans, initially we felt it was some kind of tribute to a player or official or something. However as it turned out, some ADO fans had found out that Feyenoord had invited children from a local children’s hospital to come and watch the match and that they would be sitting immediately underneath the away section; so called upon all travelling fans to bring a small cuddly toy with them. After a countdown, literally 100’s of teddy bears and other soft toys rained down with the home fans making sure they went to the children. For once it showed football fans in an amazing light and in truth brought a tear to the eye.
Feyenoord all but sealed the match just past the half hour mark, first Kuyt prodded home from close range after his initial flick from a cross from the left had been saved; as he wheeled away in celebration and we joined in the traditional De Kuip ‘I will survive’ celebration, I couldn’t help but raise a smile knowing that it really couldn’t have been anyone else to open the scoring. Then in the very next attack, playmaker Jens Toornstra slid a ball through for Jorgensen to fire home for 2-0.
Being 2-0 up allowed Feyenoord to take their foot off the gas for the most part in the second half, no doubt with an eye on the upcoming Europa League clash with Manchester United. However with five minutes to go they were shaken back into action when ADO pulled one back through substitute Ludcinio Marengo, turning the ball home after former Liverpool keeper Brad Jones had failed to deal with a cross. The Rotterdamers restored their two-goal lead in added time when El Ahmadi rounded off a sweeping counter attack.
After the match we spent some time using up our remaining beer tokens and chatting to a Feyenoord fan who now lives in Groningen and had set off at 8:30 in the morning to make the 250km trip to take his son to his first Feyenoord game. In many ways that kind of summed up the whole matchday experience, in comparison to the overly sterile Premier League, it was almost like taking a step back in time to when football was more real, more about the fans and less about commercial revenue. The standard of play may have been at a lower level, largely as a result of Dutch teams, by necessity, being a mix of upcoming young players and experienced veterans, but that only served to maintain the connection between fans and players. By my calculations for what I pay attending Arsenal games, I could actually probably afford to have a season ticket at De Kuip and still cover air fares and accommodation costs. Whilst I would never give up my season ticket, it did provide some interesting food for thought.