Last week brought me my first experience of Dutch football culture, in a game between Feyenoord Rotterdam and RKC Waalwijk, both teams in the Eredivisie, the top Dutch league. Feyenoord are generally considered to be one of the top Dutch teams, whereas Waalwijk are more mid-table fare (they are actually an amalgamation of three Catholic clubs). The match was at De Kuip, The Tub, Feyenoord’s ground.
Rotterdam has a fairly strong footballing tradition, with three professional teams in the city, Feyenoord, Sparta and Excelsior. I’m not sure Feyenoord got the best name there, but it’s certainly the best team of the three. Incidentally it used to be Feijenoord, after the district of the city in which it is situated, but was changed because non-Dutch speakers could never pronounce the ‘ij’. It’s a very working class town, being the largest port in Europe, and it looks very different to the quaint canalside houses you imagine a Dutch city to feature. If it helps to get a picture, Rotterdam is twinned with Hull in the UK, although that might be as much to do with the ferry route which connects the two. This feeds into their huge rivalry with Ajax and Amsterdam generally. Matches between the two are ‘De Klassieker’ – The Classic.
The Feyenoord – Ajax rivalry is the pinnacle of what seems to be a football culture more prone to hooliganism, and it seems very severe; for the last six years away fans have not been allowed to travel when the two teams play. At all. So when they play in Rotterdam Ajax fans aren’t allowed into the stadium to watch the game, which is seen exclusively by home fans. In previous meetings the fan violence got so out of hand that this was seen to be the best option, a five year ban which has so far been extended and shows no signs of being withdrawn. The authorities have a new dilemma, which is that the first meeting after the ban is lifted with be one of the most tense meetings in many years, and some hooliganism seems likely. In 1997 an Ajax fan was beaten to death, and in 2005 Ajax fans destroyed the train due to take them home (no idea how that happened), and so were stranded in Rotterdam, prompting the riots which caused the latest ban. You can enjoy some grainy footage of Dutch people stoning police and being taken out with a water cannon here. Any conversation I’ve had about Dutch football normally involves being warned away from mentioning Ajax in Rotterdam or Feyenoord in Amsterdam. Random people in bars have even explicitly told me not to talk about it.
Nothing like that happened at the Waalwijk game, although I enjoyed the tendency of Feyenoord fans to shout abuse and make the apparently universal ‘wanker’ sign at opposition fans who were penned up in a tiny segment of the stands above where I sat. The game itself was good to watch, although the atmosphere in the stadium ebbed slightly in the second half when it was fairly clear Feyenoord were going to win. They were fairly dominant throughout, missing quite a few chances but still coming away with a 2-0 victory. The stand-out performance of the game came from Italian striker Pelle who scored both goals, and was one of the only non-Dutch players on the pitch. Waalwijk boasted Rodney Sneijder, the plonker brother of Wesley.
After the game I enjoyed a moment in the Feyernoord supporters bar in the stadium, Het Legioenzaal – The Legion Hall, names after the collective term for Feyenoord fans, The Legion. This will give you a feel for the place. It was quieter when I was there, but the music was the same. The room was dominated by angry 20-30 year old Dutch guys, and I think I was the only person not in jeans and a black puffer jacket. Honestly, it was pretty intimidating on a quiet day – Not a chance I’d venture inside for a quiet one after an Ajax game.
With thanks to Andrew for the photos.