Willem, it was really something


“The rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down
oh the rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down

And everybody’s got to live their life
and God knows I’ve got to live mine
God knows I’ve got to live mine”

There’s not many places more depressing than a Dutch town centre at 10am on a Sunday morning.  That is unless it is also a National Holiday.  The excesses of the previous night’s hi-jinx were slowly wearing off, thanks to the cold rain as we wandered the streets of Eindhoven looking for somewhere, anywhere to get some breakfast.  We’d declined the €17 “all you could eat Continental” offering at the hotel,

Finally, we came up trumps.  The Restaurant De Volder was not only open, but the lovely waitresses were almost begging us to come into the warm, flashing their hot Dutch muffins at us.  We all remember the De Volder, right?  Well, perhaps not the restaurant itself, but its outside tables and chairs made a number of appearances across global media channels in June 2000 when England fans decided to use them to launch at the Dutch fans and police prior to the European Championship game against Portugal.  Dave was tempted to re-create the scene but we pointed out that he simply didn’t have enough Stone Island on to be taken credibly.

I can see a hand up at the back. Yes?  Ah, why were we in Eindhoven on a National Holiday I hear you ask.  Well, pull up a seat and let me explain.  Danny said it was what we had to do.  “Stu, do you know Holland has gone craft beer crazy?”  I assumed he had just discovered that Heineken also made Amstel, but no, he was right.  His book “Which countries have gone craft beer crazy” list The Netherlands as a new entry in the top five, pop-pickers.  So that was it, I was sold.  So too was Kenny Legg, hot-footing it from Berlin and a new addition to our gang, Dave who coming from Manchester, had grown up from a teet-filled with Boddingtons.

Oh, and there was the small matter of some football too.  The original plan involved seeing the holy trinity of Dutch football.  PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord.  But then pesky TV coverage got in the way and we had to make some difficult choices with conflicting priorities.  But there was still going to be beer, so it was all right.

16599055966_cfb0bb8745_zSaturday morning and Danny & I met our advance party, who had arrived 24 hours earlier and taken in the Eindhoven FC game, in a bar obviously.  Nothing unusual about that, nor was drinking 9% beer at 2pm.  Seemed a strange choice from Kenny and Dave.  Then we saw the attraction.  A steady stream of young ladies coming through the doors and making their way to “the back room”.  Our minds were racing, Kenny was already pulling on his “hot fireman’s outfit” (his words, not ours) and grabbing a bottle of baby oil.  Alas, the steamiest thing happening in the room was the teapot in the middle of the table.  Ladies who luck, Dutch style.

Our first destination for the weekend was Sittard, a 45 minute (2 can strategy) train ride away, home of Wim Hof or “Iceman” as he is known as, not because of his cool composure under pressure, or the fact he is a look-a-like from Top Gun.  But because he once walked to within 7km of the summit of Mount Everest wearing a small pair of shorts.  It is also the home of Francine Houben, creator of Mecano.  Sittard is a rocking place I can tell you.  Danny had done his research and our first pre-match warm-up location promised a craft beer list as long as your arm.  For sake of brevity, below is an edited conversation that took place between Danny and said landlord:-

“Do you have any of these beers?” Danny shows a list on his phone

“Yes”

“Which ones?”

“Which ones do you want to try?”

“Well, if I know which ones you have then I can let you have them”

Enter Stuart – “Danny, they have Maximus on draft.  That’s on the list”

“We don’t have any Maximus.  The beer pump is just for display”

Danny, sighing..“Do you have a beer list?”

“No….you really do not understand how craft beer works, do you?”

Enter Kenny with a beer list that was on every table “Can I have four Le Trapp Blonde’s?”

“Yes”

As we speak, world-famous playwright and good friend of this website, Patrick Marber, is writing a script for a play that will be put on at the Domnar Warehouse based on the very scene in Sittard.

16434882400_07987e219f_zA few other craft beers later, all of which were on the beer menu, we headed to the Offermans Joosten Stadion, a significantly better name than its previous identity of the Trendwork Arena.  I may not be selling it very well by saying it is an out-of-town, out of the box, identikit stadium with no soul or character.  The club, having survived numerous financial problems seem rooted in the Eereste Division, the second tier of Dutch football, having been relegated from the top tier in 2002 – the Sheffield Wednesday of the league if you like.  The fans, wrapped up warm on a cold and wet night in the far corner of The Netherlands made their way to the stadium, with hope rather than expectation, of a win against the visitors FC Almere City.

Fortuna Sittard 1 FC Almere City 2 – Offermans Joosten Stadion – Saturday 21st February 2015
The Fortuna Sittard website summed up this game perfectly when they said “Op uiterst onfortuinlijke wijze heeft Fortuna Sittard de thuiswedstrijd tegen Almere City FC verloren.” Or, we were robbed.  An 88th minute winner for the away team was rough justice perhaps, but Fortuna paid the price of not putting their chances away.

16414595207_b709b20dfe_zBeing a Dutch ground, we had to get munted up before we could indulge in some traditional refreshments.  These strange plastic coins almost serve no purpose when you think about it. 2 munts cost €1.  A beer costs 2 munts, therefore why not simply charge €2 for a beer?  Logic?  We didn’t complain though, although the walk to the top of the stand holding four of them, plus a couple of Frikadelle in each pocket was problematic.

The home fans tried to raise the team’s performance but ultimately they fell short (the team not the fans).  Almere took a 24th minute lead when Bode Wine (brother of Red and White) scored from close range. Somewhere in the stadium a few away fans made some noise, but that was drowned out three minutes later when Connech equalised, following up like all good strikers should when a shot hit the post.

Alas, there was (almost) last-minute heartache for the 2,000 fans when Ahannach scored from close range and sent the away coach, Fred Grim into frenzied delight that his name suggests.

Despite it only being 9.30pm, Sittard was officially shut.  The only source of heat was a Dominos pizza.  Saturday night appears to be a non-event in these parts.  Our only option was a train back to Eindhoven.

Of course, Eindhoven delivered in large dollops, with the hedonistic delights of Stratumseind delivering on every level.  We turned our back on the ear-splitting Europop bars, taking solace in the 100+ different beers in the BierProfessor and The Jack.  Heck, we even indulged in the Dutch’s third most popular past time, football being the first, the second being….well, we’ve all seen the window displays in Amsterdam.

So back to the future on Sunday morning in the cafe.  Our original plan for the weekend was PSV at home Saturday, then a trip to see Willem II v Ajax on Sunday lunchtime then Feyenoord on Sunday evening.  The reality was essentially all three ending up playing at the same time.  Logic would have seen us make the 10 minute walk through the city centre to the PSV Stadion, but we don’t do logic so we were heading to Tilburg to watch Ajax play on and off the pitch.

16434816068_621aca3d46_zIf Eindhoven was dead, then Tilburg at midday was in Rigor Mortis.  We knocked up a bar owner, not in THAT way – he was in his mid-fifties and well passed his child-bearing years) before heading down to Koning II Stadion.  Ajax’s fearsome reputation seemed to have been lost on the locals who were happily going about their Sunday afternoon, cycling and eating pancakes. But the closer you got to the stadium, the more the atmosphere built.  In the club bar, with the obligatory Europop playing, fans were discussing the recent revelations about match fixing (well, that’s what it sounded like over a soundtrack of Melissa Tkatz and Franky Gee).  In early 2015, journalists from the publication Volkskrant revealed that Willem II had been involved in games that appeared to have been influenced by an “Asian gambling syndicate” in regard to games against Ajax and Feyenoord, played over five years previous. Not much the current owners, players and officials of the club can do about that now.

Willem II Tilburg 1 Ajax 1 – Koning II Stadion – Sunday 22nd February 2015
This was certainly the hottest ticket in town, with the game sold out.  The sun was shining, the fans were singing and the beer was flowing.  You can’t beat a day out like this.  A draw was a fair result as both teams seemed to struggle to break down each other’s midfield.  Champions Ajax came into the game off the back of a tricky Europa League tie in Poland just three days previous and took the lead in the first half when Milik’s low shot found the corner of the net.

16621235692_d41fdf74cc_zAfter the break Tilburg upped their game and grabbed an equaliser when Messaoud and could well have gone on to win the game.  At full-time there was the usual confrontation between the two sets of fans across two sets of security fences and police but it was all good-natured (as good-natured as it can be in these parts anyway).

Our night, well afternoon really, was young and we headed for the bright light of the city centre (there is only one – Cafe Kandinsky) for a couple of well-earned beers before heading back to Eindhoven. One last tip – if you ever find yourself in Eindhoven, forget the bars in Stratumseind and head to Van Moll for one of the best evenings ever, surrounded by over 50 beers.  Lovely stuff – not my words, but those of Kenny “AITINPOT” Legg.

You see – it’s not always about the football…..

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Five things from….Netherlands 2 Mexico 1


I could get very used to weekends like this.  The beauty of having games on at 5pm and 9pm is that you can do a day of family stuff, get home, watch game one, cook dinner/do chores and then settle down for game two. The heat was always going to be the deciding factor in this game as to whether we were going to see a match of all out attack like the Brazil v Chile one, or a more tactical one like Colombia v Uurguay.

1. Holland v Netherlands – Are ITV right in referring to the Netherlands as Holland?  Holland is actually a region and former province located on the western coast of the Netherlands. The name Holland is also frequently used as an informal term to refer to the whole of the country of the Netherlands. This usage is generally accepted, but some individuals, particularly from the other parts of the Netherlands, dislike the use of “Holland” as a substitute for “the Netherlands”. So it’s like New York being part of New York, right?

photo (2)2. “Let the ball do the work, the chance will come” – Exactly how will this happen?  Clarke Carlisle is suggesting that if the players simply play it to feet without any running then someone will get a chance?  Did he not see Germany v Austria in 1982 where this was exactly what happened?  Then 10 minutes later Carlisle bemoaned the Netherlands play as they did exactly what he said they should do, saying that it was “dull and defensive football”.  Wisdom of a former professional player.

3. Cooling Break – Preparation for Qatar 2022?  Imagine the temperature 10 degrees hotter and you will need breaks every 15 minutes.  Whilst I can see the medical sense in it, who benefits the most out of that five minute break in the first half?  The TV companies who can sell an additional TV advert break? Absolutely.  The coaches who have a chance to alter things? Correct.

4. Girl in the crowd – Surely a record for “most number of attractive girls given a close up on TV at a football match”?  There must be one cameraman whose job it is to troll the crowd looking for attractive girls to zoom in on.  Hard life.

5. “Van Gaal must be dreading this going to penalties” – Another great Carlisle line.  If you are trailing 2-1 in injury time do you think the Dutch manager will say..”tell you what, it is a bit hot out there.  I don’t want us to equalise and take this game to extra time.” So when Snejder’s 88th minute equaliser went in, he would have been absolutely fuming.  Almost as good as Glenn Hoddle’s comment that the final minute challenge on Robben was a “double penalty”.

The Beer World Cup

After a trip to the sunny Kent seaside it was a very pleasant beer match enjoying a cold Sol in the first half, with a twist of lime of course, against a chilled Amstel in the second.  Tough choice and one that eventually went to penalties with a bag of Totilla chips against a chocolate pancake….close but there could only be one winner.

Netherlands 2 Mexico 2…Netherlands won 3-1 on penalties

 

Long live the European Football Weekend


Whilst Danny Last’s famous site closed its doors just over a year ago, the EFW is still as big as ever.  This weekend Danny himself, Big Deaksy, Kenny Legg, Huddo Hudson, Spencer Webb and myself got familiar with the German beer, sausages and football at the weekend, our paths almost crossed with the Daggers Diary team who made the foray into Düsseldorf territory as part of their four game, three countries road trip.

About a year ago, Neil, Dagenham Dan and I made a trip into Europe to take in a game in four different countries over the course of one weekend. Even as we were making our way back from Oostende to Calais to catch the train back home, there were already plans to repeat (or improve) on the trip in 2013.

Despite the schedule of four games in such a short space of time, the only mad rush between games was between Koln and Venlo, and that was comfortably achieved without too much drama.

So this year, we thought we should try to do it all again. Obviously with different venues (fixtures permitting), but to attempt to repeat our 2012 trip would be great. A weekend was selected, and then we set about going through the games, seeing which ones we could feasibly attend. We selected four games, and unlike last year, they would all be in the top division of the respective leagues. Except that the French league was causing a bit of a problem, and after all of the others were more or less confirmed, we were kind of hoping that Lille would be scheduled for the Sunday evening, so that we could get a fifth game in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen, so we would have to make do with just the four.

Of course, while we have got lucky with the fixtures and kick off times, there have been other things where we (or more specifically Neil), haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, about a week before the trip, Neil had an accident in the car, which meant that we ended up hiring a vehicle for the weekend. This year, the car hasn’t been the problem, but instead over the New Year period, Neil managed to break his wrist. This meant that, for a few days the trip was in the balance before the hospital proclaimed that the break should be healed in about a month’s time, and in plenty of time for the trip.

I say we have been lucky with the fixtures, and to a certain degree, we have. While Dan and I will be attending four new grounds (it’s two for Neil), we have potentially missed out on a couple of other games. For example, Anderlecht have a home game on the Friday of our trip, while Borussia Dortmund are at home on the Saturday night. Having already booked tickets for the other games as well as the hotels, we have decided to stick to the planned games. However, both clubs are ones that we all want to visit, but as we have found out before, getting tickets for Dortmund can be difficult.

So, now that we are half way through February, Neil’s fracture is healed, and we are on our way through the channel tunnel towards our first stop on the trip, Nijmegen.

Meeting Dan at Chafford at just before eight in the morning, we were lucky enough that the Dartford bridge was not too clogged up, and once across, we were able to make good progress on to our meeting point with Neil at Folkestone services. Arriving just after nine, we were able to sort out payment for Dan’s car parking before we carried on towards the Channel Tunnel. Booked on the 10.50 crossing, we were (after having breakfast in the terminal), through and onto a train, earlier than planned.

The trip to Nijmegen takes about three hours, and so once we emerged into the French sunshine at Calais, we hit the motorway and headed east to the Netherlands. Continue reading

On the twelfth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best game


Seeing over 100 games in 2012 means we have seen a few corkers.  And what better way to finish our 12 Days of Christmas than with our best three 90 minutes.  Well, in fact two of the three were only 45 minute games technically but made up want to stand up and cry “We love this beautiful game”.  Two of our favourites were international games, which was very surprising, and our winner only had two goals in, just to prove it is not always about the number of goals but the passion, drama and incident in the rest of the game.

So, thank you dear readers for coming with us on the past twelve days as we have waxed lyrical about all that was good (and bad) about our footballing adventure in 2012.  Same time, same place next year? Oh go on then.

3rd Place – Boston Town 4 Loughborough University 3
sam_3567Boston who?  You might say but United Counties Premier League sides Boston Town and Loughborough served up an absolute feast back in September.  I only arrived at half-time after watching the more famous Boston (United) play but the 22 players were obviously waiting for my arrival before putting on the real show.  The visitors were 2-0 when I made my appearance, and by the sound of it were running away with the game.  ”Bloody students…when you want them to be hungover from last night they bloody turn up looking like whippets” a local told me when I asked what the score was.  Over the next twenty minutes the score went 1-2, 1-3 and then 2-3 with just a minute to go.  The away keeper who had been in fine form then had a 90 seconds to forget.  First he let a simple shot squirm under his body and then with the last kick of the game Boston took the lead for the first time in the game when he was beaten with ease at his far post.  Just a shame there was only 55 people there to see it along with me.

2nd Place – England 2 Netherland 3
6797039632_aae5b301ec_bAn England game?  Are you mad?  Good old London Underground did their best to ruin the evening by delaying every possible route to Wembley and we didn’t get into the stadium until well into the first half but fortunately all the action was reserved for the final 33 minutes.  The Dutch showed their sheer class with three outstanding goals, whilst the English showed some true grit.  This was supposed to be the game that welcomed ‘Appy ‘Arry but a week is a long time in football, whilst a minute can sometimes be even longer as we saw in the 90th minute of this game when Ashley Young equalised for England then with the very next attack Robben curled an absolute peach into the top corner.  If all England games at Wembley were half as exciting they would be sold out every time.

Best game in 2012 – Egypt 1 New Zealand 1
7671833872_53594da8a5_bOlympic football in Manchester wasn’t supposed to get the general public on the edge of their seats, but the 60,000 who witnessed this warm up game to Brazil v Belarus on a sunny, but bloody cold day in late July saw one of the best games of football in decades.  Sure, there was only two goals but it simply was end to end action for 90 minutes.  Both, yet neither team deserved to win due to their attacking intent and last gasp defending.  Both keepers were heroes and to a man we all rose to applaud their efforts when they finished doing battle after an hour and a half.  Brazil may have been billed as the stars, but the extras but on an Oscar performance.

Harry’s game


Boredom has been responsible for many things in history. Some say that the reasons the Vikings invaded England was out of boredom of the long Nordic nights and lack of Marmite. Others say that Michelangelo only ever meant to touch up a bit of plaster in the Sistine Chapel but was bored on that Sunday afternoon, and six years later he had finished his masterpiece, the Last Judgement. My story is not really a game-changer, or a milestone in history. Back in December when work was slow I was surfing the FA’s website and noticed an advert for the game versus Holland. Two minutes later I was the proud owner of two tickets for the game, my first visit to Wembley for an England game since 1st April 2009 when Ukraine were the visitors.

There wasn’t one particular reason for my absence. I had actually been to a dozen away games since then. But England and Wembley had never been my favourite couple. Despite a relatively simple journey to and from the stadium (about an hour and one change from home), good ticket pricing (£35 for a good seat), a great stadium (still one of my favourite in the world) and being able to watch some of the best players in the world it just didn’t float my boat. Whether it be the poor public transport organisation that sees fans queueing for an hour plus to get into the station post game (more of that later), ridiculous priced food and drink, or the stale atmosphere which is only made worse by stewards who can barely speak English, let along understand the English fan mentality I was just not in love. But perhaps the major issue had been the fact that neither the team nor the management ever appeared to give a toss. Continue reading

The great EU bailout


It warms our hearts when we hear about some of the trips people make to see football around Europe. This week our beloved Brian Parish and Dagenham Dan teamed up with long-suffering Wolves fan Neil Shenton and hopped across the Channel to fit in an astounding four games in four countries in just over 48 hours.  Jealous?  Who would be:-

It was during half time at a home game towards the end of last season (which Dan assures me was the Easter fixture at home to Plymouth Argyle) when the ideafor this trip was first formed. Having not done a non-Spanish league game for a while, we decided that we should try and get to a couple of games in Europe over a weekend, just by way of a change. The Bundesliga was the unanimous choice, and so we set about thinking about where in Germany we would like to visit.

Within a couple of days, the trip had been increased to a two game trip, with the notion that we should try and get to a game on the way to Germany. Soon it was three then four, and then the best selling point of all. Four games, in three days, in four different countries.

Of course, we had to wait until the fixtures were announced, and so while we had all these ideas of where we would like to go whirling around, it was all pointless until we could see who was playing and when. With three of us (Dagenham Dan, Neil Shenton and myself) making this trip, we would have to wait to see if there was a weekend where we wouldn’t miss a home game for any of our teams. Continue reading

We’re on the march with Ally’s Army


1978 – Argentina
Has there every been a World Cup for drama and intrigue than Argentina in 1978?  I was 8 years old and with England failing to qualify I was beginning to believe that we were above such tournaments, especially as the Scots were there again.  By the age of 8 I was into my football big time.  So much so that I spent every waking hour playing the game.  My bedroom had been converted into a stadium where all of the games each weekend would be replayed with a slaz ball (a yellow foam ball made by Slazenger which over time you would simply pick chunks out of) and the goal being my upturned bed.  The whole pain of England not qualifying thanks, according to my Dad, to “that Yorkshire traitor” passed me by, but as soon as Panini World Cup 1978 hit the stores I was hooked. Continue reading