As I have mentioned here before, one of the main reasons I continue to line Setanta Sports' pockets to the tune of a tenner a month is that they have excellent coverage of Dutch league football. I say "excellent". To clarify somewhat, their coverage is extensive and fulsome although their commentary is decidedly ropey (one such eejit spent an entire NAC Breda match calling them "Roda" just because they both wear a yellow strip, for example).
Anyway, having seen some Dutch league football before, a return was long overdue and so the wife and I picked a great weekend to go - when Spurs were in town. Thankfully, our trip included a couple of nights in the fine Belgian haven of Antwerp and so we escaped the worse of the North London invasion.
This time, I plumped for a Friday night match from the Dutch Jupiler League - their equivalent of the Championship. A short train ride from our base in Eindhoven took us to the pretty market town of 's-Hertogenbosch and a 158 bus carried us to the de Vliert Stadion on the outskirts of town.
FC Den Bosch are not that famous a club. Their previous incarnation, BVV, won the League in 1947 but since they became Den Bosch in 1965, the odd promotion to the big time has been the limit of their success. Oh, and the odd big player passing through onto bigger and better things (one Rutgerus van Nistelrooy figured for a short spell).
This was a top of the table clash though - third place FC Zwolle were the visitors with fourth place Den Bosch looking to avenge their 4-1 thrashing in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
After a trip to see Marion in the friendly fanshop (they only had away shirts in anything approaching an adult mens size, but for your €25 they did throw in an authentic pair of away shorts also) we bought our tickets (a reasonable €13) and headed for the bar.
Well, I say "bar". The reality was that the function facility for the home faithful was a small Portakabin at the back of an untended grassy bank containing a couple of lavvies, a beer keg and some faded pictures of bygone glory days. It also contained any number of dubiously aged kids sloshing Bavaria to no-one's concern and some of the worst sweatsuits this side of a Sports Direct firesale.
Anyway, 8 o'clock duly arrived and to far to grand a fanfare we got started.
To be fair, there's not much to write. The away support was (like every Dutch game I have ever seen) pretty pitiful, although the large minibus load that turned up did their best to make themselves heard. Den Bosch fielded a stray Irishman named Barry Maguire who, despite being tidy enough, I couldn't help think had missed out by a different vowel and a different consonant on being the best monikered footballer in the world game. "Help me, help you!" (etc).
Zwolle's shirts were also by some distance the busiest I have seen for a while - no room for the players names you'll notice as there's more than enough going on with the sponsors...
All time Macedonian international goalscorer Georgi Hristov (famous only in the UK for claiming all the women in Barnsley were "dogs") showed why he has found his level in European football (over 200 games for Den Bosch) by turning in a mediocre performance and missing the home side's best chance from open play. Their best chance of the night though came when a dubious first half penalty award gave Koen van der Biezen the opportunity to dribble the worst penalty I have ever seen in the flesh miles wide of the keeper's right hand post. I have also never heard such an uncharitable cheer when a player is substituted as greeted the sign of the number 19 trudging disconsolately towards the dugout.
The home fans - a total of 4381 of us braved the match - were loud enough albeit in a tuneless and slightly gruff way. It consisted of not so much singing as neanderthal grunting for most of the game, although I do appreciate that "you're going home in an apostrophe S hyphen Hertogenbosch ambulance" doesn't scan all that successfully.
Still, everyone happy with a point (actually, no. No-one happy with a point) and off we headed back into the dark of a brisk Brabant night all the richer for seeing the genius of Nyron Wau in action.
These kinds of trips seem like the football equivalent of metal-detecting. What treasures will be unearthed - Marion? Wau? The errant Irishman?...
'...neanderthal grunting...' - to my surprise, that was the overriding impression from my first trip to leafy Shrewsbury. My second trip saw me in the away end with Darlington fans - a much more civil affair. I think this is what's meant by 'counter-intuitive'.
I'll have to fire these off early again, not having the net at home and such.
Aston Villa v Sunderland, 2-2
Blackburn v Wigan, 1-0
Bolton v Man City, 1-2
Everton v West Ham, 2-1
Middlesbrough v Derby, 2-0
Newcastle v Fulham, 3-2
Reading v Birmingham, 3-3
Tottenham v Portsmouth, 2-1
Chelsea v Arsenal, 1-2
Man Utd v Liverpool, 0-0
anything else 2-1
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