Willem II were close to the drop a few times in recent seasons, but when they finished second bottom in 2006 and 2010 they managed to stay up by winning the promotion/relegation play-offs. It seems very unlikely now that the Tricolores will even reach the safety net of the play-offs as the bottom team in the league will always be relegated. This will be a loss to the Eredivisie: Willem II have been playing in the Dutch top flight for 23 consecutive seasons now and were runners-up in 1999. This meant qualification for the 1999/2000 UEFA Champions' League. The Tilburg side also qualified for the 1998/99 and 2004/05 UEFA Cup tournaments. The fans have remained loyal and the game against Roda was still visited by 12,000 supporters.
As there are still quite a few grounds in the Netherlands that I have not visited I tend to prefer Roda JC away games. Travelling to Eredivisie away games is different from away days in Scotland however. For most games you cannot just hop on a train or drive to the away team's town, visit a few of the local pubs and walk to the ground. Instead you have to get a so-called combi ticket: you book a seat on a supporters' bus and you will get you match ticket when you are on the bus. The bus will then drop you off at the away end.
Again I travelled by 'combi' bus two weeks ago. Eight buses filled with Roda fans made the journey to Tilburg. This is an unusually high number as these trips are not everyone's cup of tea. You are not exactly treated like royalty upon arrival at the away ground, although some clubs are friendlier than others. I remember being treated to free coffee and rolls at Heracles Almelo but the reception at Willem II was unwelcoming even by Dutch standards. Kick-off was scheduled for 7:45pm and we arrived at the Koning Willem II Stadion at 7:30pm. Plenty of time to get everyone in in time you would think however all Roda fans were supposed to enter the stadium through a single gate and everyone was being searched (normal in the Netherlands), one person at a time (not normal, especially considering the number of stewards at the gate). The steward, or rather 'stewards' as I was searched twice, did not appear to be able to speak and did not even give me the obligatory 'Enjoy the game.' All this carry-on meant I was in my seat ten minutes after kick-off. No programme sellers to be seen either, which is a certain way to get me really annoyed. However Willem II redeemed themselves here when I was sent a programme through the mail last week after I had sent the club an email about it.
Luckily I had not missed much much of the action but there was plenty to come. After half an hour Roda defender Pa-Modou Kah fouled Jan-Arie van der Heijden. Referee Richard Liesveld did not hesitate and pointed to the spot. Andreas Lasnik converted the penalty and the home team were 1-0 up at the interval.
In the second half both teams really went to town. Only minutes into the second half Kah redeemed himself and scored the equaliser. The Norwegian could consider himself lucky he was still on the pitch at that time as Liesveld had not booked him for the second time after a reckless foul in the first half. Eight minutes later Bart Biemans scored 2-1 and Willem II were in the lead once more. Five minutes later Morton Skoubo equalised again. Another two minutes later Ruud Vormer put the men from Kerkrade in the lead for the first time on the night. Dave de Fauw scored 4-2 with 15 minutes left on the clock and Roda seemed to have secured the three points. However Lasnik pulled one back for the Tricolores: 3-4. Ruud Vormer then scored his second of the night before Maceo Rigters scored the final goal of the night 4-5.
This result meant that Willem II could not escape the bottom-three anymore and some of the Willem II fans turned out to be bad losers. Objects were thrown into the direction of the away end but we now know that the large netting is not just there to obstruct the away fans' view. Somehow however some 'supporters' managed to open a fence and got access to the away stand and missiles were thrown once more. A few of the Roda fans were hit and, typically, a few of them were young girls who will probably not be allowed to go to an away game again. After the game I heard some of the Willem II fans had felt 'provoked' by taunts from the Roda fans referring to what now seemed like certain relegation for the Tilburg side. Apparently they had forgotten about their own chants two years ago when Roda were staring relegation in the face.
After being pelted with pointy metal objects at FC Den Bosch a few years ago I had already decided I will never take my wife to an away game in Holland again. Police and stewards were nowhere to be seen and it cannot be a surprise that away games in the Eredivisie are basically only visited by young men (I still count myself amongst them...) as families, women and people who, probably rightly, feel they are to old for this s*** will not bother. It is often said: 'if you treat people like animals, they are more likely to behave like them.' I think that definitely holds true in these circumstances. Some individuals, on both sides, would have embarrassed the monkeys at Edinburgh Zoo.
Still, you make the best of it. Roda had won another three points and are now on their way to the play-offs for a Europa League spot. I also had a great time with my Dutch mates, whom I do not see that often, the weather had been great and I am already looking forward to the next away trip, perhaps in six months' time or so.
This picture of me being welcomed by the Willem II stewards was taken by my mate. Note how only one person was searched at a time. This did not prevent the next steward from apparently not noticing I had already been searched and I was submitted to the same procedure once again.
I had not come across this on my travels before but not all stands at Willem II have names. I call this one the 'South Stand.' Note the large netting.
The Kingside Stand is the stand populated by the more fanatical supporters. Stands in Dutch stadium are often called 'sides' when they are in fact 'ends', see also the Bunnik Side at FC Utrecht.
Saturday 2nd April 2011
Willem II 4 Roda JC Kerkrade 5
Willem II: Lasnik 30 pen, Biemans 57, Lasnik 80, Rigters 90.
Roda JC: Kah 49, Skoubo 62, Vormer 64, De Fauw 75, Vormer 83.