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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.

Saturday 12th February 2011 ko 15.00

Topklasse Zaterdag

SV SPAKENBURG 3 (van der Meiracker 45 81 Houwing 53)

KATWIJK 2 (van Ommerton 29 Ten Heuvel 54)

Att 2,300

Entry €8

Programme Free

Press Pack Free

After the previous evening’s visit to Cambuur the night was spent in Edam, before skirting anti-clockwise around Ijsselmeer Lake before reaching the small town of Bunschoten. The town is a merger of two villages, Spakenburg and slightly confusingly Bunschoten. It isn’t a large town, only roughly 20,000 live here, but for reasons unfathomable it supports two reasonably large clubs Spakenburg and Ijsselmeervogels (Lake Ijssel Birds) , and they play at right-angles to each other!

At the outset I ought to explain the set-up of Dutch football at the time. There was a distinct separation between the licensed professional Eredivisie and Erstedivisie, and the amateur ranks below. A club in the Topklasse, the top rung of the amateur game could apply to go up, but in practice few did. There was no automatic promotion.

Below the Topklasse came (and still does) the Hoofd (Head) Klasse with lower Klasse below it. Then just to make life interesting the amateur game was split into the Zaterdag (Saturday) and Zondag (Sunday) based originally on religious lines, Protestants on Saturdays and Catholics on Sundays. The religious side no longer is relevant but the Saturday and Sunday divide is still there, which is mighty handy if you’re a groundhopper!

Since 2011, the professional/amateur divide has been smoothed over with the creation of the semi-professional Tweede (second) Divisie below the Erstedivisie made up of 14 Topklasse clubs and 4 reserve sides. The remaining Topklasse clubs became the Derde (third) Divisie and moved down a level. So what we were watching back then was a Dutch third level game. Hope that’s clear!

The two clubs’ grounds are as close as they could be, imagine Wellingborough Town and Whitworths the configuration is exactly the same, but the grounds are both called Sportpark De Westmaat and both have capacities of 8,000. Even more remarkably the sides seemed to mirror each other’s fortunes, both clubs were in the Topklasse in 2011. It goes without saying that I’d love to attend a derby game!!

We got there early, in enough time to explore the ground, and to enjoy a bonus game on a side pitch, Spakenburg’s B1 (youth) team losing to CJVV (roughly translated as Christian Young People Football Association) of Amersfoort 3-2.  But things were about to get interesting!

We’d decamped to the bar, and with roughly half and hour before kick-off I spotted someone with a teamsheet, and quickly realised the press office was where I needed to be. Now I’m not sure what happened next, but I ended up with teamsheets, press packs, and dayglo press tabbards. We did look a bit daft, but it did allow access to the packed stand, a bonus given the rain.

It was a thumping good game, but an abiding memory was remarking how well the pitch was holding up. I actually made a point of checking the surface at half-time, it was the best artificial pitch I’d ever seen. Then of course it was a quick dash to the press room, the profiteroles were delicious! We were pleased to see Spakenburg win the game, profiteroles clearly are a major encouragement! These days both Spakenburg and Ijsselmeervogels ply their trade in the Tweede Divisie, the nature of these clubs, almost twins is that they’ve worked out that being this close together means they need each other. Perhaps it’s even the case that without one, the other is lessened.

The groundhopper in me will always wish I could have seen back-to-back games at both grounds I suppose that the organised groundhop spoils you in that regard. But leave out the story about the teamsheet for a minute. I learned more about how to groundhop abroad here than perhaps anywhere else.

The fact is, as an Englishman abroad is going to stand out, and I learned that I stick out more than most! The trick is to smile, try and make friends and enjoy the adventures as they come!