The Enschede trip was an odd one, as I was travelling alone after deciding to go quite late on. And I’ll admit I was thinking of writing it off as the snow and ice came in ahead of a long journey to what had been described by a Dutch contact as ‘Holland’s version of Blackburn”. But a sense of adventure drove me on, plus the prospect of some corporate tickets at the ground. In the circumstances, the corporates were much appreciated, as much of the rest of the trip did not exactly bring the words “glamour of the Champions league” to mind – something of a recurring theme this season as I’ve observed in accounts of previous trips.
I left for Gatwick at 5am in freezing conditions and aware that Holland was both frozen and fog-bound. But the flights seemed to still be scheduled, so the trip was on. Once at the airport we were herded onto the plane and told almost immediately we’d be delayed two and a half hours because of fog at the other end. The official story was that getting us on the plane meant we could take the first available slot, but as Schipol airport had been closed all night it was unlikely we’d be moved up the queue and I suspect the decision was more to do with avoiding congestion in the terminal and Easyjet wanting to avoid any compo claims.
For fog’s sake
We landed in Amsterdam – the nearest I could book to Enschede – two and a half hours late and with visibility still below 200 yards. What I thought was cloud cover turned out to be fog as the runway lurched up at me. I had to skip my planned meet and drink with a few mates over lunch, book in quickly to my hotel and get back to the train station for another two-and-a-half hour journey. My plane had been pretty full of Spurs fans, and there were plenty more on the train – including three blokes from Yorkshire who told me their plane had had to be de-iced at East Midlands airport that morning.
After a stultifyingly boring ride through a landscape that looked like the Russian steppes – only my Iain Banks novel kept me sane – I arrived at a very cold and icy Enschede at about 4.30pm – almost 12 hours after I’d set out. Next time someone complains about trains to White Hart Lane I will have something to say. Although it should be said that, in the circumstances, Dutch transport was far more efficient than the useless and greedy bosses of the UK’s railways could ever dream of being. I should, at this point, share a joke told to one of the blokes I met later by a Dutch train guard. “In Holland, if you want to commit suicide you throw yourself in front of a train. We hear that in Britain you stand on the platform and wait to die of starvation.” Indeed.
300 Dutch sailors
I found the fellas I was meeting in a restaurant in the small town centre. I was tucking into a much needed plate of lamb cutlets and chips with my back to the door when I missed the sight of large numbers of Dutch fans being chased into the square by police. Evidently the atmosphere had been a bit tense all day, with someone telling us that 300 Dutch sailors had taken a day’s leave to get it on with the Spurs fans and had been drinking in the pubs all day and fighting the police. This news prompted one of my companions to observe drily that “they really must stop selling spinach on match days”.
It also turned out that fellow spurs author Graham Betts was in the same restaurant, so we exchanged a few words before heading away from the lines of riot police and dodgy looking blokes in black hooded jackets yabbering into mobile phones and went off to the ground to pick up the final member of our party and pick up our tickets.
After being directed to five different gates and made to hang around in the cold while Dutch police tried to move us on, we finally got into the Champions League Club. This was a ticket-only room in the ground’s main stand, a quite a bizarre scene. I’m not complaining about being in a warm room with good facilities after the less-than-basic experience of the San Siro, but it was certainly a world apart. Hot and cold buffet, free drinks for the duration, some enormous video game consoles (no football games allowed because of UEFA licensing issues!) and a cheesy cocktail quarter noodling away in the background. All very nice indeed, and very close to the excellent seats which we walked into just before kick-off.
We were unable to take advantage of the post-match hospitality. One of us was on the official flight back and had to catch a coach, and I needed to get on one of the special buses to Amsterdam that had been laid on in the absence of late trains. Despite exiting the ground just 10 yards to the right of the away section where the buses were waiting, the police told us we had to go right around the ground to enter the other side. Very wise considering one of the stewards had said ‘there has been some trouble between the fans” and that the buses were leaving very soon. We just about made it, but no thanks to the ridiculous organisation at the ground.
Asking “Is this bus going to Amsterdam?” prompted the kind of grumpy, everything is too much trouble response you get used to as a travelling English football fan when dealing with anyone in supposed authority. And that’s when they’re in a good mood. But I finally found the right bus, and settled in for the two-and-half-hour bus journey back to Amsterdam. I managed to grab some shut-eye before we arrived at 1.30am, and from there made the short walk to my hotel – a slightly tatty two-star job (late booking again) which was freezing cold due to the fact that the windows didn’t fit properly and the heater didn’t work. My alarm woke me at 7.30am and, with cold radiating from my bone marrow, I decided to give the inevitably awful hotel breakfast a mis and made my way back to Schipol.
The journey back was pretty straightforward and by mid-afternoon I was just another surburban dad on the school run – the sheer glamour of my European tour already fading in the memory. Now, where do I fancy for the next round?