Go Ahead Eagles 1 VVV Venlo 0 (16th May 2013)
Along with the currently floundering Be Quick Groningen, Go Ahead Eagles have one of weirdest and most evocative names in European football, at least to me. It was therefore with a quite irrational amount of delight that I realised I discovered just a few days before departing for Holland, that I had a chance to go to a Go Ahead match the night after the Europa League Final.
There were two obstacles first, however. First was that they had to get past Dordrecht to reach the 2nd round (of four) in the Dutch 2nd division play-offs (duly achieved with a 3-0 win on Saturday evening) and the 2nd was that I had to get a ticket.
Normally that wouldn’t present a huge problem. Go Ahead’s De Adelaarshorst ground might only hold 6700, but crowds are usually considerably lower. Less simple was the fact that the Dutch football authorities deem all play-off games “high-risk” and state tickets can only be sold to clubcard holders. Not surprisingly, I don’t have a clubcard for any Dutch club, let alone one in the Dutch 2nd tier, so this was potentially a problem.
Mixed info suggested it was possible that if I presented myself to the club offices, with my passport, some sort of arrangement could be made, so it was with that weak promise that I found myself making an early afternoon trip 80 miles from Haarlem to Go Ahead’s home town of Deventer. “DAY-venter?” the woman at the Haarlem railway station asked, seemingly questioning the idea that people would go there at all, as well as my English pronunciation.
The ground is pretty close to the station, with the floodlights clearly in view, reached in a 10 minute walk through distinctly continental housing estate, all pointy roofs and bold window frames – ordinary, yet still unlike anything in England.
Rather less of a flourish adorned the Go Ahead Eagles offices, a three-storey 70s box, where inside I found a couple of harassed looked ticket office staff, who could offer no more than to give my passport details to the ticket booth later, and with bit of luck I’d be able to pick up a ticket there later, an hour before the match.
With that, I headed back into town. I had about three and a half hours to kill, and I thought I could do that easily in a nice looking town, and with getting a bite to eat. I’d made it as far as the main square before deciding to eat first. Rather that the more usual Grote Markt etc type names common for similar squares around the country, Deventer’s central square (more of a bent and squashed at one end rectangle really) delights in the name “The Brink”, which I was sure I’d be able to shoehorn into my write-up somewhere.
Well off the usual tourist route, the cafes didn’t possess English menus, so I had to spin the wheel of fortune, playing “guess the food” for a beer and a light snack of a broodje (Dutch sandwich) with mango chutney, purely because those were about the only two words I could read. Light snack it certainly wasn’t. Broodjes use thick bread, and while my mystery goat’s cheese, walnuts and mango chutney sandwich was huge, and hugely tasty, it left me feeling like I wouldn’t need to eat again for a couple of days, let alone later on that evening.
If that was unexpectedly nice, less welcome was the increasingly heavy rain that had started to fall almost as soon as I’d sat down. Dashing indoors to the bar/cafe’s interior, it struck me that there are worse places to be marooned on a wet afternoon than a nice bar, with decent beer and a pretty and pert-bottomed waitress rushing round. She seemed happy enough, greeting every arrival with a “Hejjjjjj!!!”, as if only two upturned thumbs away from reliving The Fonz’s Happy Days glory.
Less happy were the hardy tourists, trudging round The Brink and beyond, determined not to let a little spot of atrocious weather distract them from their sightseeing. Amusing as it was seeing them hunched up and wondering why kagools are so useless, it did occur to me that I had about a 20 minute walk to the ground from the bar, and the time I needed to leave, four beers after arriving, was approaching fast.
The rain didn’t let up. If anything it got worse. It had progressed from “this is annoying me” when I set off, to “this is taking the piss” by the time I reached the ground, and it occurred to me that if I didn’t get a ticket and get in now, I would be rather unhappy.
In the forecourt by the ticket booth there was sanctuary of a bar under the main stand, and several tables with umbrellas. Naturally though, the area where you had to queue for tickets, was completely open. I presented myself at the ticket window looking like I’d spent the day in the Tiswas cage, and 12 euros 50 later, I had that vital ticket in my hand, already starting to misshapen as splats of rain landed on it.
After about three quarters of an hour in the bar, plus one beer, later, I wasn’t going to be dry, but at least I’d stopped dripping. The supporters bar was a welcome refuge, even if the bar did operate the “token system” of buying beers that I’d seen at Lyra a few weeks earlier. The token buying area, with a sign of “Verkoop Munten” did give an impression it was a place you could purchase ugly Dutch women, but I made do with a couple of beer tokens if it’s all the same.
Having dried off, or at least got less wet, I wasn’t thrilled to find I had to walk to a far corner for my turnstile – it was still raining, and there was a substantial queue outside. I was just thinking “for f***’s sake…this is a small game for maybe 5000 fans, where the away team will have about 100 supporters if they are lucky…there won’t be trouble, you don’t have to frisk everyone…” when the queue started to move forward very quickly. The stewards, either mind-readers or not keen on getting soaked themselves, had decided to let everyone in through an exit gate. There were cursory glances at tickets, and the odd quick frisk for some, but most just walked through. Pleased as a I was, it did occur to me that after all the hassle about trying to get a ticket, I could actually have walked in without one.
I was so glad I did bother though. There may not at first glance be anything special about De Adelaarshorst, but it’s a cracking little ground. Three sides are clearly terracing to seats conversions, but somehow they still feel like terraces. The end behind the west goal certainly sounded like one too, making a heck of a racket throughout the game, despite the fact that there can’t have been far more than 1200 people in there.
My ticket was for the end block of the stand at the side. This too was one of the converted terraces, and while it wasn’t as lively as the end, it still possessed that dark and moody terrace feel. This was still a place to come on a Tuesday (or Thursday) night after work and have a shout and be part of the game, not a plastic bowl to sit back and watch from.
The main stand was strangely smaller than the others. It looks modern from the outside, yet sort of looks rather like they put a new shell of a roof over and older stand. At the front was a paddock of terracing converted to three rows of seats. Not under cover, these were understandably not hugely popular tonight.
The previous night’s match in Amsterdam had kicked off under brilliant sunshine, yet this game, which would finish at an earlier time than that one had kicked off, necessitated four floodlights pouring light down from the start, in a battle with the rain and gloom.
The main battle, the one on the pitch, was surprisingly one-sided. Even with VVV finishing a hapless 17th, nine points adrift of safety, logic would still have dictated they’d be favourites against a Go Ahead side who’d only finished 6th in the 2nd tier. Not on this showing. Go Ahead took the game to the visitors from the off, and it was hard to see if VVV were playing for a 0-0 or were just poor.
The good chances just weren’t coming for the home side though. VVV might have been playing as if they had an ASBO banning them from the Go Ahead half, but they were keeping the men in red & yellow at arm’s length. When a good chance in the box could only be snatched at just before half time, with the side foot effort going straight to the keeper, you couldn’t help but wonder if it would be one of those nights.
It was more of the same in the 2nd half. Lots of pressure, but the VVV keeper not having too many scares. Perhaps the worst saw a loose ball spill away, but nobody in a red & yellow shirt was able to capitalise.
It was just getting into “slipping away” territory, with 10 minutes left, that the breakthough came. A good corner was put in, and as the ball arced through the six yard box. A home boot was stretched out to make contact, firing it unstoppably past the defenders on the line.
It probably should have been the springboard to get another goal or two, to put the tie to bed before the 2nd leg, but the raucous crowd would have to be satisfied with just the one. A the team took the plaudits at the final whistle they all seemed happy enough anyway. The rain had at last stopped, and that late thoroughly deserved goal meant they while they might not quite have come back from the brink*, they could certainly go back afterwards for a beer in town, happy, later on.
* ah, I couldn’t resist.
edit – Go Ahead followed up the win with a 3-0 win in the away leg in Venlo. This put them through one of two “finals” for promotion (not a semi as I’d assumed). After crushing Volendam 3-0 in Deventer, they held Volendam to 0-1 in the return leg today (26th May), clinching promotion to the top division for the first time in 17 years!