With things getting serious in the Eredvisie and belief growing that this might finally be the year that my boyhood team Feyenoord would finally re-establish themselves with a credible title challenge; my wife and I decided back in February that there was only one place that we were going to spend our Easter, at the temple of Dutch football that is De Kuip. Whereas our trip in September had been a more light-hearted and laid-back affair where visiting supporters had bombarded children from a local hospital with teddy bears in an extraordinary act of kindness (https://football-nerd.org/2016/09/16/pre-match-beers-in-a-chinese-restaurant-and-away-fans-throwing-teddy-bears-just-an-ordinary-day-at-de-kuip/); this was going to be an altogether more tense and edgy affair, with Feyenoord sitting just one point ahead of second placed Ajax with four games to play it was absolutely crucial to take all three points from this game.
The importance and popularity of this fixture meant that all tickets had sold out well in advance of the game, meaning that the only way for us to get in was to buy a VIP match ticket that included a tour of the famous old ground and a goodie bag, which it has to be said Mrs Football Nerd was looking forward to at least as much, if not more than the match itself. When my father decided that he couldn’t think of a better way of spending Easter either, he had to go through a ticket agency to secure his ticket with all tickets having been sold out for all remaining home games.
Upon arrival at Rotterdam-Den Haag airport, after the wondrously short journey from London City Airport, the wife and I jumped into a cab for the fifteen minute drive into town, chatting away with the driver we soon learned that he was part of a now ‘retired’ firm of Feyenoord hooligans who were too old to get involved in the day-to-day scuffles, but if needed on the big occasions, he assured us that they could always be called upon. I am not too sure what it says about us that we neither found this news particularly frightening or even that strange, given the reputation of the club!
After checking into our apartment, we rendezvoused with my Dad at the decidedly plush bar of the Hilton hotel before heading out to sample some of the food and wine culture for which the city is gaining quite a reputation.
We spent Saturday doing the traditional Rotterdam tourist things like the Spido harbour cruise, which my Dad reminded us with glee he hadn’t been on for 35 years, making us all feel very old! Then after lunch my Dad and I, in what is rapidly becoming a tradition for us, searched in vain for a particular museum, this time it was the War and Resistance Museum, before reluctantly having to settle for the City of Rotterdam museum, which offered nowhere near the excitement and entertainment we were hoping for; while Mrs Football Nerd, wisely, opted to spend her time shopping and securing the specifically-requested food items, such as Fritessaus (mayonnaise for chips/ fries), Melk Hagelslag and Melk Vlokken (different types of chocolate sprinkles to go on bread for breakfast), for our exiled Dutch friend, Erik, and of course yours truly.
Sunday was of course the day of the big match, and with our tour due to start at 11:30 am, 3 hours before kick-off, the wife and I were flabbergasted to discover a group of decidedly hungover looking Scottish Feyenoord fans in the lift as we headed out of our apartment building. They headed into town presumably in search of breakfast, a hair of the dog, or in all likelihood both, as we headed off for the tram.
After a quick stop at the Chinese restaurant that serves as a pre-match watering hole, still quite possibly one of the most surreal football experiences, we made our way over to the ground. To our slight surprise we weren’t the only ones there for the tour, or indeed the only tour. After exchanging our vouchers for our Adidas-branded goodie bags we eagerly opened them to see what we had gained, as well as a scarf and free tokens for beer and food, the highlight was a 3D model of De Kuip stadium, which assuming we manage to build successfully, will be taking pride of place in our newly refurbished spare room.
Despite being in Dutch and me having to strain my brain to try and drag out any scrap of football-related terminology I could remember, the tour was highly entertaining with our guide, Ed, being quite a character with an array of comedy hats and actions; we were just about able to follow the story about Pierre van Hooijdonk hitting his (the guide’s rather than Van Hooijdonk’s we think!) mother in the eye with his UEFA Cup medal and the fact that De Kuip had hosted PEC Zwolle’s 5-1 Cup Final win over Ajax in 2014, a source of great joy to anyone associated with Feyenoord! It also helped to distract me from the nervous tension in the build-up to the match. After the tour we were left to enjoy several beers, albeit light beers, in the newly developed British style pub De Vereeniging siuated under one of the stands, and to watch Willem II take on Mrs Football Nerd’s recently declared team Go Ahead Eagles,(the Eagles lost 2-0 and remain rooted to the foot of the table for anyone interested); before heading out for the compulsory cone of chips and fritessaus/satésaus.
You could feel the tension in the air steadily building as we approached kick-off, recognition amongst the sell-out crowd of 47,500 that it was make-or-break time, win and the dream stayed alive, draw or lose and it would open the door for a resurgent Ajax. The atmosphere was truly electric all around the ground, and reminded us of how things used to be in England in the pre-Premier League days, when football was football. Every attack by the home side drew nervous anticipation from the crowd and every time the opposition threatened Brad Jones’ goal we had our heads in our hands. It was an open end-to-end game that somehow stayed goalless at half-time, having suffered through the opening 45 minutes we had no option but to fight the crowds and the Dutch approach to queuing, which for those not in the know is to basically not bother and simply push your way forward, to seek a medicinal beer.
Thankfully we were back in our seats just as the teams re-emerged for the start of the second half, as less than three minutes after the re-start came the moment we had all been waiting for: Jens Toornstra, seized on a knockdown from targetman Jorgensen and floated a cute finish over the keeper and into the net from the edge of the area. The explosion around the ground as the PA kicked up with the traditional chorus of ‘I Will Survive’ (no I have no idea either!) is something I will never ever forget, you could actually feel the upper tier shaking beneath our feet. It was more than just a goal celebration, it was an expression of pure relief, a reaffirmation of our belief that maybe just maybe it was written in the footballing stars that this year was going to be the year that our team finally threw off the years of hurt and disappointment and at long last won the title for the first time in 18 years.
Of course a 1-0 scoreline is never a time to relax and it wasn’t until left winger Elia cut inside and curled a right-footed shot inside the far post ten minutes from time that we knew the three points were in the bag. With three more games to go, the battle is far from over and it really feels like the race is going to go all the way to the wire; but it gave us another week to continue to live the dream. As we waited for the crowds to clear with a beer and complimentary spring rolls back at the Chinese restaurant (where else?), we all knew that we would be back to do it again next season whatever Feyenoord’s title destiny ends up being.