Monday, 28 February 2011

FC Twente

Twente/20 Vision

FC Twente 2-2 Rubin Kazan (24:02:11)

Continuing our ever popular Readers' Lives section here at European Football Weekends is Fulham fan, Eddie Fremantle... 

When my friend Kevin suggested in the autumn that we go to FC Twente Enschede's Champions League match at White Hart Lane, I wasn't that keen on the idea but Kevin sold it to me. He'd met a Twente fan, Gerko, in South Africa during the World Cup. Gerko was a great bloke, he said, and it should be a good night out.

So we met Gerko and a gang of around 20 Twente fans in a pub near Trafalgar Square. Chatting to them, we learnt about the problems they have just going to matches in Holland. Many away games are designated 'combi' games which means away fans have to go to their own stadium and travel on official coaches or trains without being allowed near the town in which the game is played.

This has killed much of the trouble that occurred before games but has sanitised the experience for many travelling supporters. For Gerko and many of his friends, there is the extra pain of travelling 50 miles to Enschede from their homes in the town of Hardenberg to join the combi. With Twente's first ever success in the Eredivisie, a Champions League campaign meant Gerko and the rest could let their hair down and have a few beers on away trips.

One of the best aspects of chatting to the Dutch is that there is little or no language barrier as so many of them are fluent in English. One young guy I talked to spoke English with a Scottish accent but he had never been to Scotland. 'I learnt it from my Celtic mates in Spain,' he told me. Despite being beaten 4-1 by Tottenham, courtesy of some extremely dubious refereeing, with decisions that meant the Twente fans were chanting 'Mafia, mafia' at the officials, and despite being soaked both ways on the interminable walk to and from Seven Sisters station, the Enschede entourage had a tremendous time and invited us to come to see them in Holland sometime.

So that is how, several months after the Spurs game, Kevin and I chanced to be at the Eurostar terminal at some ungodly hour on a Wednesday morning to catch the 07.34 to Brussels-Midi on our way to Twente's second leg Europa Cup encounter with Rubin Kazan of Russia. It looked a bit of a dead rubber as Twente had won 2-0 in the first leg, that had to be played in Moscow because of ridiculously low temperatures in Kazan. Mind you, it was minus 15 in Moscow and the game was nearly called off.

-20 (Twente?) degrees in Moscow? Pah! Bring it on for the Dutch. 

Luckily, they remembered to pack the beer goggles.

Fanatics, lunatics or both? FC Twente fans in Moscow. 

Many of you will be familiar with the work of Mark Smith, aka the Man In Seat Sixty-One. The Man's website gives us all the benefit of Smith's lifetime's experience of European train travel. Although Smith has the unnerving habit of saying things like, 'It's easy to travel by train from the UK to the Ukraine' when it comes to travelling from the UK to the Netherlands on the rattler, it really is easy. From Brussels, we whizzed to Rotterdam, stopped for some lunch at the excellent Engels restaurant near the station, and went on from Rotterdam to Zwolle, then on a local train to Hardenberg, around 20km from the German border in the eastern Netherlands and 70km north of Enschede In Hardenberg, we enjoyed terrific hospitality from Gerko, his partner Jenny and his mother and father, Hans, with food and drink galore. Gerko told us that two Irish friends, Paddy 1 and Paddy 2, would be joining us for the match the following day, although they had been delayed en route in Dusseldorf. 'They are always late,' he said, adding 'They are mad.' Not that Gerko and his friends are particularly sane. The previous week, celebrating in Moscow, they stripped off and posed for photos in the freezing night at around minus 20 degrees. There were 27 hardy Enschede fans who made the journey to Russia, including Gerko and his friend Johan. All were presented with a specially embroidered commemorative scarf by the Club. A nice touch.

Twente Enschede are a young team, founded on the amalgamation of two others in 1965. Enschede is the home of Grolsch beer and their relatively new stadium (1998) carries the brewery's name in a sponsorship deal. De Grolsche Veste is a 24,000 capacity ground, low level on one side so there is some development potential. Indeed, some work has started to increase capacity at the stadium that stands, conveniently, alongside the railway station at Enschede Drienerlo, a couple of kilometres or so from the town centre.

Because of a complicated set of circumstances involving people having to work in the morning and something to do with the late Paddies, we set off for the game by train from Hardenberg, missing connections left right and centre. But a late train or two was no problem compared to the happenings in Dusseldorf. The message came through that Paddy 2 had had his jacket stolen. Passport, money, credit cards, driving licence were gone, meaning that the Paddies had too much red tape to sort out to make it to Enschede and they were heading back to Dublin. 'I told you they were mad,' reiterated Gerko as Johan showed us his scarf from Moscow.

Naturally, even though our train was late, we arrived at the central station with a good six hours' drinking time before the 21.05 kick-off. The Oude Markt (Old Market) in the centre provides a square with many hostelries, two of them Irish pubs of the type that have sprung up in just about every European town.

Eschewing Gerko's offer to take us to a cafe for a smoke, we started in Paddy's bar, moved on to the Kings and Queens and it was Grolsch all the way. It wouldn't be my beer of choice but there wasn't much choice in Grolschland and, like any brew, it tastes much better when only a few yards from where it has been produced.

In the third, and best, bar we went to we ate and I sneaked in a Jupiler for the sake of variety, although the fact that I cannot remember the name of the place suggests that plenty of Grolsch had been taken on board. By this time we were around a dozen strong and we made our merry way to the station to go one stop to the ground.

The scrupulously honest Johan tried to buy us tickets with his credit card from the machine but he too was suffering from the Grolsch factor and failed. We therefore owe the Dutch railway company two Euros each, sorry. Following our leader, Gerko ('they're with me'), we gained entry to the Vak-P bar on one corner of the ground. Vak-P was the block behind the goal at the old ground, the Diekman stadium, and the Twente Ultras group use the name. The Club have set aside the bar for Vak-P and there is a nominal annual membership fee. To get your hands on a beer, you buy a beer token, or several at a most reasonable seven tokens for 10 Euros, at one counter and then queue at the bar, whose surrounds had been waterproofed by another of Gerko's group, Werner. At the final pub, Werner had painstakingly explained the difference between normal grout and the stuff he uses, even taking me on an impromptu tour of the toilets to show me. Yes, the Grolsch factor had got to him too.

It was around six and the place was quiet though gradually it filled up until there were several hundred drinking and watching PSV getting the better of Lille on the many tv screens.

There were a few cheers when Eindhoven scored and everybody seemed happy that another Dutch club had progressed to the last 16. Nobody seemed in the slightest doubt that it would be a comfortable night for Twente and that they would join PSV and Ajax in the next round.

Ajax were not so popular. 'Everybody hates them like Manchester United in England. They are arrogant,' Gerko explained and he also told us that Steve McClaren will hold a special place in their hearts after taking Twente to their first Eredivisie last season before leaving to join Wolfsburg. But Janine, who was there with her partner Jan, wanted all three Dutch Europa teams to win that night as she likes a bet and had put them in a treble.

Gerko was going to have to cancel the hotel rooms he had – just in case - booked in Bern, as Young Boys had been eliminated by Zenit St Petersburg and Twente progressing would mean the Enschede fans faced another journey to Russia.

As we made our way into the ground, through a cordon of extremely friendly stewards, there was the sound of drumming from the Vak-P end. A line of drummers stood near the gangway, led by the most burly of them in a medley of hammering noise.I think I upset Johan when he asked me, with a hint of pride in his voice, whether I liked the drummers and I said, 'Not really.'

As the teams were coming out there was a heartfelt rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' Twente play in red, but if you thought this was in any sort of homage to Liverpool, you'd be wrong. In May 2000, there was a disaster in Enschede when an explosion in a firework factory ripped through the town, killing 23 and injuring nearly 1000. The singing of this evocative song is in memory of those who perished that day.

Kazan k.o. on their way to k.o.

From Russia with love. Johan's treasured scarf. 

Johan and Eddie are ready and Grolshed up. 

Stairway to Heaven. The Vak-P section. 

The game was largely uneventful for 20 minutes with Twente looking comfortable and you began to wonder how this lot – Kazan – beat Barcelona in the Nou Camp last season but then we found out as first Ansaldi lashed one in at Mihaylov's near post and then Twente's star player Bryan Ruiz, tried one impish piece of playmaking too many, lost the ball, which led to Noboa scoring from distance. All the hard work from Moscow had been undone in a minute. Suddenly, there was a football match worth watching as the Russians threatened to run riot and their group of around 50 at the other end of the ground were in good spirits.

Twente weathered the storm and there was a passage of pinball in the Rubin penalty area that came to nothing. Then, shortly after the board had gone up for a minute's stoppage time, Theo Janssen lashed in a piledriver for the home side.

That made the half-time visit to the Vak-P bar underneath all the sweeter for the Enschede fans. As we came out of the bar, plastic beakers of beer in hand, we were given cardboard Pepsi cups in which to pour the alcohol, a novel way of disguising our breaking of the rather silly UEFA rule banning alcohol in the ground.

When Douglas nodded in the equaliser from Janssen's corner as we were coming up the stairs for the second half, the game was up for the pesky Russkis. The drumming got louder and a couple of red flares were set off, breaking yet another UEFA regulation – don't tell Michel - and shrouding the ground in a thick cloud of smoke, but the game petered out as Twente ran down the clock and Rubin ran out of ideas.

By drawing, Twente had let Janine down for her treble but she was still happy, even though she won't be able to go to St Petersburg, as Jan has to go to hospital in Amsterdam. He has a fairly serious eye problem. Some things are more important than football.

A great deal of organising from Gerko had gone on to help make our trip a cracking one and he arranged for his friends Bert and Joey to take us back by car for a late drink in the best pub in Hardenberg, where Johan joined us, still wearing his Moscow scarf with pride. He won't be able to go to St Petersburg, but nobody will keep Gerko away. First, he is off to AZ Alkmaar on Sunday. It's a tricky game for Twente but, as it's not a combi game, Gerko will have a ball.

And if Twente reach the Europa Cup Final, in Dublin in May, we may finally be able to meet Paddy 1 and Paddy 2.

'We're proud to be Twente'

He's two metres, three and he's not scared of thee. The legendary Gerko. 

It's not fallen flat for Kevin. 

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