So, after our excursions to 's-Hertogenbosch for Friday night's Jupiler League fixture, we had a day of rest (just as well, as we ended up spending it at Eindoven's Maxima Medisch Centrum). Sunday took us back to the Eredivisie and to the pretty central city of Utrecht, Holland's fourth largest.
It was a rotten day, frankly. Persistent rain bounced off the gloomy, ghostlike town centre as we ploughed our way through the deserted shops to the museum quarter. We walked under Utrecht's "Dom tower" (Holland's tallest ) and eventually found the Centraal Museum and, beside it, the Dick Bruna Huis, a colourful and entertaining exhibition of the work of the creator of Miffy and his friends.
Then, back to the city centre, we hopped onto one of the multitude of free buses to the Stadion Galgenwaard.
FC Utrecht are an even newer team than Den Bosch, being founded in 1970 by the merger of three local clubs. They hold the distinction of being the only club outside the "big three" never to have been relegated since its formation in 1970 although in recent years they have been mired in the middle of the Eredivisie - always too good to go down but never a serious challenger for the title.
This season is no exception. Utrecht came into the game on the back of a pretty poor run, despite their 3-1 victory over PSV in their last home game. Opponents AZ, however, are having the season from hell. Having gone into the last match of the 2006/7 season needing a win to be the first club outside the "big three" to win the title since 1980 they lost 3-2 at Excelsior and finished in third place.
This season, they have been a model of inconsistency as their respected manager Louis van Gaal has been unable to capitalise on last seasons success and they have spent the whole campaign in the bottom half of the table (losing top scorer Danny Koevermans to PSV clearly didn't help).
Michel in the ticket office had reserved us good seats ("next to the fanatic side", as he put it) but when we got there, we realised we were in the second row. Great view, but we got absolutely drenched as the stand offered us zero protection from the elements.
AZ had much the better of the first half as Utrecht's 4-5-1 formation failed to penetrate (getting serious for a minute, this system relies heavily on midfield runners supporting the lanky lone striker (amusingly coiffeured Dutch legend Robin Nelisse) but other than tricky winger Leroy George and the superbly monikered youngster Randy Wolters (a career in country and western eschewed to play on the Tiger's right wing) there was precious little support.
So, half time arrived and the match remained goal-less. As I stood in the pouring rain with 21899 others, freezing cold, I began to worry that my weekend excursion was going to result in a goalless debacle (Friday's game ended 0-0). Thankfully, eight minutes into the second half AZ midfielder Barry de Zeuuw rifled a right-foot shot into the top corner and the match came alive. Utrecht, whilst not the strongest collection of individuals have a great team ethic, and talented midfielder Cedric van der Gun nodded in George's corner just after the hour. Substitute Kevin Vandenbergh then slotted Utrecht ahead and it looked like Utrecht's endeavour was going to win them the game. That was until they failed to clear an innocuous corner in injury time and El Hamdaoui rifled in a last-gasp equaliser.
A fair result, I guess. I have to confess to be leased to get out of the Galgenwaard, bearing in mind I have rarely been as soaking wet in my life. Perhaps next time I'll go to some August or September fixtures, eh?