Paul Whitaker on everything you always wanted to know about sc Heerenveen* - * But were afraid to ask....
This would be my first visit to Heerenveen or indeed the province of Friesland and to be honest my knowledge of this part of North East Holland, was limited to three things I had learnt at school. I had read in geography that this independent-minded province was unique in Holland in having its own language and apparently the Frisian dialect sounds more like our very own English and less like the ‘throat-clearing’ tones of Dutch. Of course I would never be able to confirm this during my short visit to Heerenveen as with the rest of Holland, the Frisians I met there spoke better English than me. During a brief respite from Shakespeare in English literature, I discovered the landscapes of Friesland through the narrative and drawings of Erskine Childer’s novel, ‘The Riddle of the Sands’. This classic tale of adventure of yachting, espionage and German imperialism amongst the Frisian islands and coastal marshlands, read like an 1910 tour guide to a part of Holland that is a popular tourist stopover, today. Finally this mainly agricultural region is home of the famous black and white Frisian cow that is now a common feature in the English countryside and an iconic one on Inspiral Carpets album covers.
Accommodation in Heerenveen is very limited and the guide books suggest you base yourself either in Friesland’s provincial capital, Leeuwarden or Amsterdam. Direct trains run every half hour from Leeuwarden to Heerenveen. Journey times are only 20 minutes and 2nd class day returns are €10. From Amsterdam Central to Heerenveen, you have to change trains at Hilversum or Amersfoot. Journey times are about 2 hours and 2nd class day return will set you back about 42 euros. If you have access to a dutch friend with an OV chipkaart , you should get up to 40% off this ticket price. Note the trains from Hilversum split into two at Meppel. The front part of the train heads to Groningen, whilst the back part goes on to Heerenveen and finally Leeuwarden.
Heerenveen’s VVV or tourist office is at Minckelersstraat 11. Its weekend opening times are Saturday 10am-4pm and closed Sunday, which is handy when you are visiting arguably Heerenveen’s main tourist attraction, sc (sports club) Heerenveen. Away from football, if you fancy watching extraordinarily athletic dutch men and women, whose legs are as thick as Frisian calves, bent double and sweating in latex suits. Then do not go to Amsterdam’s infamous red light area, but head instead to Heerenveen’s famous speed skating ice stadium, called Thialf. Located at Pim Mulierlaan 1, the ‘Maracana’ of the ice skating world has a capacity of 12,500 seats and annually hosts numerous dutch, european and world championship tournaments.
My first impression of Heerenveen was walking out of the train station into an eerily quiet and deserted centre. Which is a bit unfair considering it was a Sunday and I spent the previous 24 hours celebrating Queen’s Day, with friends back in Amsterdam. Now Queen’s Day or ‘Koninginnedag’ is not some annual transvestite get together, but instead Amsterdam’s very own Oktoberfest and Rave, all rolled into one big orange street and canal Mardis Gras .
Amsterdam and the whole of Holland celebrate the official birthday of Netherland’s reigning monarch, Queen Beatrix every April 30thand I can imagine the younger members of our own Royal family would prefer a p#ss up like Queen’s Day, instead of sitting through “the Grenadier Guards Trooping the Colour for Granny” again.
A few minutes walk from Heerenveen train station we found friendly and welcoming locals enjoying a post-Koninginnedag/pre-match ‘Pils’ at a number of cafes and bars. There were plenty of visiting Ajax replica tops spotted outside Cafe de Wereld or Cafe Bak at de Koemarkt. Sc Heerenveen’s most fanatical supporter group, Nieuw Noord (New North) were happily being filmed by police spotters, drinking outside Cafe de Skoffel at de Nieuwsstraat.
NIEUW NOORD OUTSIDE DE SKOFFEL
There is not an sc Heerenveen fan shop in the town centre, but some shops did sell a small amount of football shirts and scarves. If you are after an unusual gift to take home, then on the way back from the match, pick up a bottle of ‘Heerenburg’ from any of the bars at de Koemarkt. It’s the local ‘fire water’ and at 30% volume alcohol, probably explains why some Frisians like to pole vault over water (called Fierljeppen) and participate in marathon 220 kilometre ice skating races, in their spare time. Locals advise mixing ‘Heerenburg’ with coke (cola) like bacardi & coke, so as not to get drunk too fast.
Sc Heerenveen’s home is the Abe Lenstra stadium and is an easy 10 minutes walk from the train station or 5 minutes from the bars at de Koemarkt. From the train station, you can either follow a series of white stones set into the pavement, that guide you to the stadium. If you have had too much beer, you could simply jump on a no 15, 17 or 48 bus outside the train station, to take you to the short distance. It will only cost you a €1, but be warned post-match traffic congestion around the stadium normally means long delays or no bus at all.
MR WHITAKER OUTSIDE THE ABE LENSTRA STADIUM. OR IS IT?
The Abe Lenstra stadium may not win any architectural design awards, but you cannot help but be impressed with the sheer size of this modern and functional stadium. Ok, so Abe Lenstra stadium’s 26,800 capacity is certainly smaller than the ‘Arena’ or ‘De Kuip’, but unlike Amsterdam or Rotterdam, Heerenveen’s entire population of 28,000 could almost squeeze into its football stadium. Sc Heerenveen apparently attracts such huge support from all over Friesland, south of Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel and north Flevoland.
The Abe Lenstra stadium is named after the 1950s dutch international player, who led a Heerenveen side to win six league titles in a row. Coincidentally, the visit of Ajax gave sc Heerenveen the perfect excuse to reprint a match programme and newspaper report from an historic fixture that matches ‘1966 and all that’ for Ingerland supporters. On 7th May 1950, an Ajax side containing Rinus Michels went into a 1- 5 lead at Heerenveen, with only about 25 minutes left of the match to play. Then in one of the most noted fight backs in dutch domestic football history, Lenstra inspired Heerenveen to a stunning 6-5 win. No wonder the grainy photographs from that day showed jubilant supporters carrying Lenstra and the other Heerenveen players shoulder high, off the pitch. Sc Heerenveen of 2010-11 were finishing the season in mid-table, whilst Ajax were the in-form team and chasing three points towards their first Eredivisie title since 2004.
Although sc Heerenveen have never won the Eredivisie in reent times, success seems to have come off the pitch with financial stability. This has been achieved by the strong and loyal supporter base, whom ensure the club benefits financially from having the fourth highest attendance in dutch football. Sc Heerenveen also seem to operate an excellent player scouting network, that has regularly produced (and sold on) many great players. These include Ruud Van Nistelrooy (PSV), Jon Dahl Tomasson (Newcastle), Afonso Alves (Middlesbrough), Miralem Suljemani (Ajax), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Ajax), Daniel Pranjic (Bayern Munich) and Georgios Samaras (Manchester City).
Before you rush into the Abe Lenstra stadium, check out the sc Heerenveen fan shop which is located under the main (west) stand. Here you can pick up nearly anything with the club colours of blue and white stripes, together with those distinctive red water lily leaves (which I initially mistook for ‘hearts’). These club colours are also seen on the club emblem and apparently represent the districts of Friesland. The match programme is called ‘It Pompebledsje’ which translates as ‘the lilypaper’, costs a reasonable €1 and can be found on sale by vendors inside and outside the Abe Lenstra stadium.
The sc Heerenveen supporters club bar can be found under the east (oost) stand. If you hear German or Welsh accents around you at the bar, this is because of sc Heerenveen’s friendship with supporters of the Bundesliga club Hannover 96 and the Wales national team. I understand the latter was developed after bumping into each other at a European supporter football tournament in Ukraine. Please note that you have to swap your euros for sc Heerenveen club tokens, if you want purchase drink or food inside the stadium.
Inside, Abe Lenstra stadium’s steep, two-tiers of stands, its canter-levered roof and a passionate sc Heerenveen support, combine to make a great matchday atmosphere. The Abe Lenstra stadium is also one of the few football stadia in the Eredivsie (Heracles and NAC Breda being the others) to have a standing terrace section, in the north (noord) stand. SC Heerenveen regular Mechiel Zantema, explained why terraces are a rare sight in the Eredivise:
“In the period when a lot of dutch clubs rebuilt their stadium, the rules were very strict. That is why many clubs do not have terrace sections like the Bundesliga. Rebuilding the stadiums were also expensive, and clubs can earn more revenue with supporters in a seat than standing. Also the football culture is different in Holland. Here, there is also more aggression between supporters, than in Germany. Many clubs are thinking. ‘lets play it safe with seats’.”
TERRACE AT ABE LENTSRA
Our tickets were for the terrace section and I am pleased to report that like watching football in the Bundesliga, standing on the sc Heerenveen terrace was a very safe and enjoyable experience. About 1200 sc Heerenveen supporters can stand in this section for Eredivisie and domestic cup matches only. UEFA’s ongoing campaign to alienate the traditional football supporter includes insisting seats have to be installed into this terrace section, during European competition matches. Thereby reducing the capacity and increasing ticket prices. UEFA have also banned the Frisian national anthem from being played before European competition matches, which I am pleased to report that the sc Heerenveen supporters duly ignore and sing it anyway. For our visit, both sc Heerenveen and Ajax teams lined up like at a international match, as the Frisian national anthem was played by the brass band and sung passionately by the crowd around us.
LINING UP FOR THE FRISIAN ANTHEM
Standing in the terrace section meant we were also in the middle of an impressive and well-planned pre-match choreography (that can be seen on the link http://www.feanfans.nl/fotos/1011/heeaja/heeaja.htm ). The display was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Nieuw Noord supporters group. The choreography is apparently funded by the subscriptions of Nieuw Noord’s 1100 members, club sponsors and €8000 generously donated by sc Heerenveen itself. Although Nieuw Noord have to email details of displays to the club’s security staff, there seems to be little interference from the club. Nieuw Noord also used the choreography to highlight the ‘Tegen het Moderne Voetbal’ or ‘Against Modern Football’ campaign.
TEGEN HET MODERNE VOETBAL
This supporter-led protest is active at clubs throughout the Eredivise and Jupiler leagues and the central aim is to get football back to its supporters through normal kick-off times , lower ticket prices and better aways sections. In particular, the campaign wants to end the draconian travel restrictions that currently seem to hinder many dutch club supporters. If Ajax, Feyenoord, FC Twente or local rivals FC Groningen want to support their team at the Abe Lenstra stadium , they can only purchase a match ticket in combination with organised travel by train, bus or car. So for example if Ajax supporters wished to drive, they can only collect match tickets some 2 hours before kick-off at a petrol station, en route to Heerenveen. I am still mystified that the dutch have the ingenuity say, to have kept the North Sea from flooding large parts of its country for hundreds of years. Yet they seem unable to deal effectively with the far simpler problem of dealing with a few hundred football hooligans, without restricting the matchday experience of the majority. Anyway, I wish the ‘Tegen het Moderne Voetbal’ campaign at sc Heerenveen and other clubs all the success for a cause many of us supporters over here can relate to.
HEERENVEEN – AJAX
As for the match itself, sc Heerenveen got off to a great start on 18 minutes with Vayrynen’s speculative 30 yard shot, beating Ajax goalkeeper Vermeer. Immediately Ajax equalized when former sc Heerenveen player, Sulejmani chipped over Stur-Ellegaard. Ajax then took the lead at the start of the second half, when the highly-rated Dane Eriksen slotted the ball into the bottom left corner of the sc Heerenveen goal. Despite the continuous “heh , heh , heh” shouts of encouragement from the home support, sc Heerenveen missed countless opportunities to not only equalize, but win the match themselves. How they could have done with an Abe Lenstra or a Ruud Van Nistlerooy, to finish the many chances given to them by a hesitant Ajax defence. Instead, the final score remained 1-2 and the three points went back to Amsterdam, as did we.
Sportclub (sc) Heerenveen
Address: Abe Lenstra Stadion, Abe Lenstra Boulevard 19 , 8448 JA Heerenveen . Netherlands
Supporters Website: www.nieuwnoord.org
Getting a ticket for sc Heerenveen:
To buy tickets for sc Heerenveen matches, you will need to purchase a member card. Applications and online ticket sales can be found on the club website HERE.
Match tickets go on sale about three weeks before and unfortunately tickets for the terrace section are only available with a season ticket. Ticket prices are cheapest at the hoektribunes (corners) and the most expensive seats are in the main stand. I understand ticket prices do not increase for particular fixtures.
When the Abe Lenstra stadium is not sold out, you can purchase tickets on match day at entrance E, between north and west stands. To collect reserved tickets, go to entrance B at the main stand. Unless you have a soft spot for a particular opponent, the matches played on Saturday evenings tend to have the better atmospheres than Sunday afternoon ones. Although that could just be down to the ‘Heerenburg’.
Thanks to Stephane Lievens for the ticket contact, Mechiel Zantema for the tickets and telling me everything about sc Heerenveen, Ajax Paul for the continuing my education in dutch football and Winnie Halpin for pointing out the spelling mistakes.
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