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With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.

These next two articles serve two purposes, first to document the one country of the 25 I’ve visited for football, that’s never been covered in this blog- The Netherlands. Secondly this was my first footballing trip abroad as an independent traveller.

Friday 11th February 2011 ko 20.00

Dutch Erste Divisie

CAMBUUR LEEUWARDEN 2 (Schepers 21 Türk 59)

F.C. EINDHOVEN 1 (van Boekel 83p)

Att 5,950

Entry €20

Programme €1

Pennant €7

With this tale, it’s important to set the scene. Three-and-a-half years had passed since that first footballing trip abroad to Sweden, and since that time I’d added no further countries to my experiences. The reason was straightforward, my then wife was claustrophobic and would neither fly, nor go on a cross-channel ferry. I could plan, but I knew that anywhere I went would have to be without her. That I wasn’t prepared to countenance.

But we’d split during the previous November and an unintended consequence was that I was now free of the most obvious block to exploring the game outside of the UK. I still knew precious little, so when well-known hoppers Peter Ford and Chris Berezai phoned me to ask did I fancy a 3 country weekend in Belgium, Holland and Germany, I didn’t need to be asked twice!

The thing is, I still knew very little. I’d travelled independently back to Sweden, so having Peter organise the Channel Tunnel crossing, show me how to book the hotels, and do the driving was a godsend. I’m not sure I quite saw it that way though when my alarm went off at 3.30am in Banbury on that Friday morning!

We ended up staying close to Edam, which seemed appropriate for a trip to the Netherlands! That did involve a beast of a drive for Peter, 400 km and 4 hours in fact. We had time to get into our rooms and go for a stroll, and in my case climb the dyke separating the reclaimed land the hotel was on from the Markermeer lake and take in what I was doing.

If you’ve ever travelled with me, you’ll be aware of the silly grin I wear when I’m thinking “… ‘ell look where I am!” That feeling is the main reason why I travel, and against normal practice I’ve included a photo of myself on that dyke. I may have be going through a separation that ended up being a divorce, but for the first time I could see part of what I could re-invent myself as.

We headed north, with the added bonus of crossing the Afsluitdijk bridge that separates the Zuider Zee (North Sea) from the Ijsselmeer Bay before arriving at city of Leeuwarden for a game in the Dutch second tier. Looking back, any professional game in the Low Countries does come with the risk of there being restrictions on ticket sales. On this trip Lierse refused to sell us tickets claiming it was a restricted game.

So it was a pleasure to call in at the club offices find a friendly club, buy our tickets with no difficulties and even organise team sheets for nearer to kick-off. The club has produced no end of famous players, probably the pick being midfielder Michael Mols (Rangers) and Jaap Stam (Manchester United).

With an hour or two to kill before kick-off we found a bar close by. Now there’s no way the barman could have realised we’d been up for 15 hours but he did remark that it was the first time he’d ever served 3 British football fans 3 coffees rather than 3 beers! He did have a point to be fair to him!

The ground, Cambuur Stadion is interesting in the sense it has no concourses rather like Hamilton Academical’s New Douglas Park. It makes for excellent sight lines, but queuing for your chips and mayonaise a potentially cold and wet activity! But the 10,000 capacity looked about right, but since we’ve mentioned a Scottish ground, there’s the Auld Firm factor to consider. A club like Cambuur will spend time in the Eredivisie and that means having the spare capacity to cope when the likes of Feyenoord and Ajax come to town. The tiny away end here might explain why they’d looking to move.

As I type this in 2020, Cambuur are planning a €35 million new stadium on the west side of Leeuwarden. I suspect other than planning for extra capacity, the value of the land on which the current stadium stands may be reason enough to move! I wonder what will become of our friendly barman?

But then there was the game, we’d all rather rather fallen in love with Cambuur, the huge pennant on my office wall being testament to that. Cambuur won to the chagrin to Eindhoven’s  (not to be confused with PSV) tiny band of fans, caged in one corner. I remember leaving after the final whistle wearing that grin again, I knew that despite everything that had happened the previous year I’d found a purpose.

We headed back towards Edam, but suddenly Chris exclaimed “I’d better phone Jen (his wife) I haven’t spoken to her for 3 hours!”

My response was  “I haven’t spoken to mine for 3 months!”

The point being it was a joke I was able to make, I’d drawn the line and began to move on.