KNVB, Senioren 2E Klasse A
S.V. Nootdorp 2 v V.V.Valken’68 2
Saturday, 9th November 2013, 11am
Sportpark’s – Gravenhout
Entrance free, No Programme (but I did “acquire” the Voetbalclub Presentatiegids)
Distance 346 miles, Attendance 20+rising
Fine, it’s far from the noteworthiness (or worthiness) achieved by his long walk but, little could Nelson have known that four months later, he’d be landing in Amsterdam Schipol with its arguably even longer walk to freedom. By the time we’d attempted the same expedition – 23 years later – we certainly felt like we’d achieved something.
Rising far too early, I was off again, on another groundhop to track down some weird and wonderful yellow teams. I’d done all the preliminary checks; Passport, Fixture Lists, Clean Handkerchief, Phone, Wallet, Camera, Brother, and thankfully managed to persuade the latter to drive to Gatwick North.
Terminal fact 1 – For the lovely Dutch folk who may eventually read this, the “London Gatwick” airport terminal of Gatwick North is nowhere near London. At best, it’s only marginally closer to the city than Gatwick South, which sits next door to the large town of Crawley, in deepest Sussex; a county which incidentally doesn’t even border London. Without even the correct O Level, it’s fairly apparent the terminals should be renamed with some sort of geographic accuracy; Gatwick North West and South East.
Terminal fact 2 – For my fellow Brits who may be attempting a similar daytrip, know that Gatwick North Long Term parking – at under £13 for a day – is far cheaper for two travelling than both, a cab and/or that Gatwick Express, which starts nowhere near one’s house nor stops near Gatwick North (West).
Keeping an eye on the departures board, we breakfasted on the poached eggs and bacon at £2-A-RASHER. (On the bright side, at the last time of trying, one couldn’t even get a bloody poached egg in Heathrow Terminal 1 or Terminal 5 – Terminal fact 3) before strolling down the central spirally thing towards Gate 59. With the flight bound for Amsterdam, many of our fellow passengers were a tragically predictable bunch; some clearly hadn’t come equipped with the necessary social skills for the storage of hand-luggage let alone their planned window shopping. Thankfully with the flight mercifully short, soon we were free of them and walking in the footsteps of Nelson.
Having seemingly landed a few miles from any terminal; the distance to first the passport control, customs, tourist information and then the car hire desk was at best exhausting, and at worst irksome. We had two plans for the first game of the day; 11am, Scheveningen 2 v Quick Boys 3 or, 11.30am, Nootdorp 2 v Valken’68 2. Equidistance from Luchthaven Schipol, both afforded us time to reach the day’s main event, so the casting vote was always going to rest with our long walk to airport freedom (Terminal fact 4).
(Eventually) Chatting at the desk with Mavis Slowprinter there was still hope but, at the far end of the distant and half deserted car park – once Parkinglot Tim had dispensed with the tom-tom wisecracks – any chance of reaching Scheveningen’s pitch 2 in time for kick-off was sadly cast asunder. In all the planning, I’d worried about our airport clearance time for weeks; going to see a reserve game was one thing but dropping down two divisions to do so was new experiences beyond my wildest er… dreams.
The planned Double Dutch had included back-to-back Topklasse (Level 3) clubs, with game 1 between Scheveningen’s second string team and the 3rd team of Hoofdklasse (Level 4) Quick Boys. If that wasn’t confusing enough, its replacement game was a top of the table reserve team clash between Zaterdag 1E Klasse B (Level 5) side “SV Nootdorp” and 2E Klasse C (Level 6) “V.V. Valken’68”.
As we left the airport car park, the heavens opened and maintained that stance until we pulled off the very orderly A4 motorway. Just north of Den Haag, we headed the short distance west-southwest(ish) on the A12 before, admiring the stunning rainbow and gawping at the anything-but-stunning brown building-blocks tower near the exit slip road. Three roundabouts later we’d arrived.
Walking up to the entrance, camera in hand, my excitement was only tempered by both the game we’d missed and the possibility that this one might also be on a distant pitch and then, I saw something truly wonderful.
Out on the main veld (pitch) our teams of choice were going through their paces, and beyond laid a sight I’d only ever witnessed at Bowdens Park, the home of Harborough Town FC. From where we stood, at the railings by the bike ample racks, one could see at least two other bustling pitches. Nipping inside the busy clubhouse, players of all ages carrying kitbags of all shapes and sizes rushed to and from fixtures. Below were changing rooms and a well maintained sports hall; above were darts, pool and an array of club notices in a large bar with equally spacious terrace overlooking Veld 1. Beyond that stood a one full size 3G and two grass pitches.
Without any real applause, the players emerged. Some strode manfully from the corner, others demonstrated their prowess by vaulting the perimeter fence; soon however, all were cowering in the centre circle. Introducing ourselves before enquiring what was amiss, one of the home bench informed us that before every game the referee comes over all Brain Glover and, takes the register. Being 2nd v 1st in the league this game had, he also added, every opportunity of being a fine contest. Momentarily I considered referencing some cup finals between our top clubs… but thought better of it.
As is customary with kit clashes at this level of Dutch voetbal, the home team always changes. In doing so here, Nootdorp Reserves were now off the yellow tour. Coming out, Valken’68 donned yellow shirts and socks with RED shorts; Nootdorp turned out in all black. As Eric would’ve said, there were all the right colours but not necessarily in the right order.
The teams changed ends, Nootdorp kicked-off and within a few minutes, of the hundreds of people on the premises, about twenty were actively tuned into the match; eleven with us in the colour-coordinated stand admiring the fare dished out before us. A sight my brother suggested he could’ve seen on the local common, the evenly contested encounter was a blend of pleasant touches interlaced with challenges of another wonderful era. Despite my probing, actually pinpointing a player on the park he thought he could measure up to was as amusing as it was hard.
Clearly both sides were marginally hampered by theatrical elements that were quick to remonstrate with the ref, who wasn’t being very assisted, by the players running the line or their seemingly limited knowledge of the offside rule. One or two others would have been better suited to rugby and, a couple looked like their best friends might be virtual but, there wasn’t a player before us who wasn’t trying to play for his team. That said, without a team sheet, actually accrediting players for their positive endeavour was becoming more than just a language barrier.
Though my highlight came moments later when the ball landed in a neighbouring canal, a swift numerical account of the first 45 began when the Valken’68 captain, number 5, hit a free-kick from the corner of the 18 yard box which his number 10 could only steer towards the waiting keeper. On the fifth minute a second ball splash-landed, followed by another ten minutes. Each time it happened, a sub ran off with a net to fetch it.
Between the ongoing canal-ball amusement, the cagey game continued apace. Valken’68’s keeper collected nimbly after Nootdorp’s (clearly offside) number 10 was waved on when put through by number 3, then he (N10) had the first real shot on target. Shortly after the home captain who – according to my brother – had modelled himself on Steven Segal powered an effort over the bar, following a decent corner. Having put the strength of his shot down to his martial arts training, nothing could help him prevent the move of the half; one which should have tipped the tide in the visitor’s favour.
Valken’68’s number 8 controlled and turned brilliantly before deftly feeding his strike partner (V9) who got a shot off just before being flagged offside. Then V11’s (just imagine how this could’ve been transformed had I known the names) turn and run was even better but, approaching the box he ended up on his behind; nothing was given. Up the other end, against the run of play, Valken’s defence weren’t so lucky. I might not know the scorers name but I sure had his number (N11), which incidentally was eight more than the number of Dutch Non League Dogs I’d seen.
By the time we stopped for a chat with the barman, who’s English was naturally better than my Dutch (or my English for that matter), we’d seen more shots over, more balls in the canal (and another in the main road), a few manly tackles, an attractive physio dressed like a spectator (I didn’t ask) and, the important numbers round-up at halftime read: SV Nootdorp 2 1-0 Valken’68 2.
With no warning of the restart, the sight of the ref jogging past the terrace sent a ripple through the bar and me heading for something I’d seen over my coffee cup.
“You were off taking a photo… I’m sure it was a header from a corner… The lino waved for offside then changed his mind” affirmed my brother later that day. Of course I could make an educated guess but it matter not. The scoreboard had frozen like the home keeper and Valken’68 were level. Before heading back to the stand I made for the canal, and another photo opportunity.
As we waited for the ball to hit the water again, Segal Jr lost his footing and missed a sitter; V10 just lost his Alice band. Segal Jr then headed a corner over whilst tackles (particularly from the rugby boys) got harder and heavier. From the bar terrace behind us the main event first team, and their opponents Forum Sport, were watching every kick, both on and off the ball. Whilst clumsy play would usually afford some barracking, they stood serenely, just watching and discussing.
Subs entered the fray, first the visitors (V17) giving them a clear advantage, and then Nootdorp trying to stem the tide and, in the end a predictable stalemate was reached.
Though Valken had tested the keeper far more, there had been no change in score. The nearest linesman couldn’t swap hands with the flag, the ref had found his cards all too late, Segal Jr was lucky to stay on the pitch, the net ball sub was made a welcome appearance, and bringing the biggest cheer of the half, N5 was nutmegged by the slick performing speedy winger, V11. The wind was blowing off the North Sea, the game was untidy, I’d seen neither a yellow team nor club colours on canines and, I’d gone without a team sheet and half the goals… but I loved every single minute of it. Rushing off to the car, moments later, I was certain we’d seen perfect pre-match entertainment in a truly wonderful family-friendly setting.
It’s hard to explain how much football activity we found in sunny Nootdorp but I’m told it’s not uncommon; if you’ve ever seen the published club fixtures for Dutch teams, you’ll understand. In England we turn up for the published game (singular), have a beer, chat and go home. Here the games start at the crack of dawn, from Pupillen to Junioren and lastly Senioren. They run throughout the day on four pitches where family and friends can watch whoever they like. The bar stays full, the excitement mounts and sometime mid-afternoon, the main event takes centre stage. Now, why can’t we have this too?
Of course we hadn’t meant to be here, but I guess – humbly making no parity between the two – like Nelson’s our long walk wasn’t in vain either.