Welcome to the first post of my Road to Nowhere blog. I’ll be using this blog to talk about my various football trips to Europe and (hopefully) further afield.
I first had the idea to start this blog a while back after returning from a year abroad studying in Strasbourg, France, where I had a season ticket for Racing Club Strasbourg Alsace. I took advantage of Strasbourg’s fairly central location on the continent to take in other French games as well as games in Belgium and Germany. By the time I returned from my year abroad, I had undoubtedly caught the ‘away day’ bug. I have since gone to games in Portugal, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the surreal principality of Monaco.
Perhaps as a result of the Scottish cringe and other more pressing matters, I had however postponed starting this blog until now. With this in mind, I do hope that my decision to finally start this blog will be vindicated and that you will enjoy this and future blog posts as I recount my trips across Europe. Thank you.
My most recent footballing trip took me back to the Dutch city of Rotterdam and the imposing Stadion Feijenoord. I had first visited Rotterdam in October 2016, when a couple of my friends had been spending their year abroad in the port city. During that visit, we walked out over the Erasmusburg, past an Albert Heijn supermarket or five, and on to Stadion Feijenoord (nicknamed De Kuip), home to Feyenoord. Tickets for Feyenoord games were, and indeed still are, hard to come by, so that particular visit did not allow for a game.
Fast forward to April 2019 and my third visit to Rotterdam. Having attended a Feyenoord game at De Kuip against PEC Zwolle in October 2017, I made plans a few months ago to visit Rotterdam once again and take in another Feyenoord game. This time the opposition was Heracles Almelo from the eastern Netherlands.
We arrived in Rotterdam late on Friday evening and made our way to the quirky and surprisingly spacious boat house that we had rented for the weekend, a stone’s throw from the impressive Erasmusburg. After spending the day on Saturday exploring Rotterdam, we took the Number 12 tram out to the stadium ahead of the late evening kick-off.
The stadium itself is magnificent. There are, in my opinion, few feelings in watching live football like that first moment when you emerge from the staircase onto the terraces and the green of the pitch first comes into view, whether that be the rejuvenated surface at Motherwell’s Fir Park or the glistening blades of grass at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane. That feeling is particularly palpable at De Kuip.
The bowl-shaped design of the stadium allows for a raucous atmosphere to be created. As much is evidenced by the footage from Feyenoord’s final day victory in the 2016-17 season, a victory which allowed them to clinch their first Eredivisie title since 1999. The scenes as Dirk Kuyt bagged an emotional hat-trick that day, both in De Kuip and in the city centre, were demonstrative of the fact that Rotterdam is a city in love with its football.
The game itself
Feyenoord are currently third in the Dutch Eredivisie and well adrift of both PSV Eindhoven and Ajax, the two sides battling it out to be crowned league champions. With the league title now a lost cause, Feyenoord’s closest competitors in their bid for a Europa League qualification spot are AZ Alkmaar. News of Alkmaar’s 3-2 defeat to ADO Den Haag was therefore warmly greeted moments before kick-off in De Kuip, offering Feyenoord a chance to move four points clear in third place.
The game kicked off at 20:45 Dutch time. Feyenoord were led out by captain Jordie Clasie, currently on loan from Southampton. Other notable names in the Feyenoord starting line-up included Tonny Vilhena, Jens Toornstra and Danish striker Nicolai Jørgensen. Former Manchester United striker Robin van Persie started on the bench.
The game started with a slow tempo, with the visitors Heracles Almelo content to sit in and contain the home side. Feyenoord however unsurprisingly took the lead just after the half-hour mark. A botched clearance from Heracles goalkeeper Janis Blaswich was intercepted on the half way line by Feyenoord defender Eric Botteghin, who fed Sam Larsson. Larsson slid the ball through to the otherwise largely ineffective Jørgensen who timed his pass perfectly to pick out the impressive Steven Berghuis on his right. Berghuis composed himself before slotting the ball neatly under Blaswich to give his side the lead.
For all their dominance, Feyenoord were pegged back by their visitors moments into the second half. Swedish winger Kristoffer Peterson turned full-back Cuco Martina, on loan from Everton, inside out before squaring for Jesper Drost to convert into the empty net from all of six yards and bring his side back level.
That goal marked a change in pace with both sides now believing they could go on and secure three crucial points. Heracles manager Frank Wormuth made the bold decision to bring on top scorer Adrián Dalmau. With the game evenly balanced, a moment of madness from Jørgensen had the referee resorting to the oft-maligned VAR. After consulting the video footage, referee Jochem Kamphuis brandished the red card at Jørgensen for an off-the-ball incident. Moments later, Feyenoord had their goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer to thank for keeping them in the game, the Dutch keeper pulling off a stunning point-blank save to deny the potent Spaniard Dalmau.
The game was now flowing from end-to-end and made for an enjoyable spectacle. Sensing that his side were in need of an out-and-out forward following Jørgensen’s dismissal, Feyenoord manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst opted to push Berguis back out wide and bring on local hero Robin van Persie for Jordie Clasie. That decision proved to be crucial. The veteran van Persie may be struggling for pace but there is no doubt that he still possesses the awareness and footballing brain that saw him rise to the very top.
With ten minutes remaining, Feyenoord were handed a huge chance to take the lead again. Following good work by van Persie, Feyenoord won a corner. From that corner, Eric Botteghin was needlessly held back and the referee duly pointed to the penalty spot. Steven Berghuis, once of Watford, stepped up to convert the penalty and score his and Feyenoord’s second goal of the game. Despite a glorious chance at the other end which saw Dalmau somehow contrive to miss the target from six yards out, Feyenoord held out to win 2-1 and secure three vital points in the push for third place.
Full-time: Feyenoord 2 – 1 Heracles Almelo
Man of the Match: Steven Berghuis
Pastures new for Feyenoord
As an aside, Feyenoord have joined the regrettable list of clubs who have announced plans to leave behind characteristic stadiums filled with memories and move to new and often soulless purpose-built arenas. Tottenham’s new stadium, for example, is undoubtedly impressive as a work of architecture. I do however feel that it is yet another reminder of the monster that is modern football. Part of the attraction for me in visiting different stadiums is their individual quirks and unique architecture. Aside from a laughable self-pouring pint apparatus, the only difference between Tottenham’s new build and all too many other modern stadiums (see Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium) is arguably the colour of the seats. Having seen the computer generated images of Feyenoord’s new home-to-be, it seems like the Dutch club too have been unable to resist the lure of blandness. With the new Stadion Feijenoord scheduled to open in 2023, I would strongly recommend paying a visit to De Kuip before the euphoric goal anthem, a gleefully sped up version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, engulfs the famous stadium one last time.