With Amsterdam hotel options for the days around Europa League Final being either expensive, shabby-looking, or hopelessly distant from the centre of the city, I opted to stay in Haarlem, a few miles to the east instead.
A very pleasant little town, like Amsterdam but shorter, with fewer canals, and definitely far fewer stag parties – any coming here would find a night’s tour of the red light district occupying little more than a minute of their time, and that’s if they walked slowly – it’s not a bad place to stop off. You can even stay relatively cheaply right on the main square, and even get to see an actual windmill.
What you can’t do any more is watch a game of professional football there, after the town’s club folded in 2010. They have reformed, right down in Holland’s 7th division, but it’s a very long road back.
It’s a surprisingly long road up to the ground from the city centre too. It’s an easy route, but far enough out to make you question whether you’ve missed it, and are about to turn the corner and be confronted with nothing but fields up to Alkmaar.
The ground is still clearly in use, at least partly, although an area under the stand that you suspect was once club offices is now of a small party organising company, and the floodlight pylons stand nude, shorn of their lights, or even the supports for the lights.
Only two stands look to be in use. Both are only perhaps saved from drabness by the red and blue seats in them, but both are functional rather than anything else. An older looking one, occupying about 3/4s of one side, clearly has a converted terrace paddock at the front, with a dark olive green roof not making it the most enticing place.
Opposite is a stand of cut-price 70s/80s functionality, with 18 rows of red and blue seats perched on top of the facilities built below, with a stark expanse of bare wall at the front only interrupted by staircases leading down from the seats.
Both ends used to have terracing, but at one end it’s been removed completely to make way for a training pitch, while the other end looks like it hasn’t seen action for years.
To be fair, a gloomy day isn’t the ideal time to visit a football ground, especially one that you find locked up after a 40 minute walk to get there, but although it’s not an awful ground, it’s not difficult to see how the direct buses to the Amsterdam Arena from Haarlem Station probably added to the club’s demise.
On the other hand, the rear wall of the disused terrace did feature a city street map, about the only one I saw anywhere in the town, but it did give the impression that far more people in the area wanted to go somewhere else, rather than it being a destination.