Rotterdam, or anywhere
With the 2015/16 season ending in a disappointing 5th placed finish alongside an overdue cup final win, it meant United were once again bound for the Europa League. Winning the competition would guarantee entry to next years Champions League, a feat we couldn’t manage after being knocked out last season by Liverpool, though of course we’d hope for at least a top 4 finish this year. This season has started well (defeat to City aside) with Mourinho and exciting new signings largely looking good, whilst the first taste of European football takes us to Feyenoord in Rotterdam.
United visited the Netherlands last season, a defeat in Eindhoven which saw Luke Shaw suffer that bad leg break, the only 2015/16 European game I missed. It’s a country we’ve regularly visited, my last trip being the 2012 game against Ajax in Amsterdam whilst United last met Feyenoord in 1997, by all accounts a fairly moody night. Given the group stage draw has treated us to some interesting and complicated trips to Turkey and Ukraine this represented a much cheaper and painless excursion to start the season.
The Travel & Ticket
I’d managed to get bit too excited in the build up to the draw, largely because of the number of new countries and teams that United might possibly face and the logistics of a getting to each. With the dates of the games confirmed about two hours after the draw was made I had my finger on the trigger to book the travel to Rotterdam, a flight to Amsterdam the most attractive option. Whilst there were direct flights from Manchester to Rotterdam itself, Amsterdam was slightly cheaper, just £56 return, and provided a few more flight times. The train between the two Dutch cities just an hour, around 45 miles. This seemed to be the most popular route for most United fans I spoke to or saw, I can’t imagine too many opted for the 12 hours overnight ferry from Hull which I’d taken to Bruges last year, even with the lure of the onboard cabaret.
In terms of the match ticket, thanks to United’s transparency on European away game information I knew I was one of 471 fans with 10+ credits and therefore guaranteed. The new rolling system of match credits over 3 seasons also means I shouldn’t have much trouble for games over the next few years too, which should really help when planning future travel. The actual match allocation however was a bit less clear. UEFA rules mean away clubs are entitled to 5% of the capacity, which at Stadion Feijenoord (or De Kuip) is 51,000 therefore around 2,600 for United. What we didn’t immediately know was that Feyenoord were facing a potential ban due to crowd trouble in Europe last season, the result being a voluntary reduction of their own capacity to 26,000. Despite disputes from United we ended up well short with just 1,400 tickets for the game. It was certainly likely to be busy in Rotterdam all day of the game…
The City of Amsterdam
With a short afternoon flight from Manchester I had an evening in Amsterdam, a city I’ve visited plenty of times, for the football, stag dos, onward trips to Europe, and more. I’d opted for 1 night here before travelling onto Rotterdam the next day for the match, enough time to catch up with various reds who were mostly stopping in this Dam for the duration. Heading through Manchester airport security I was passed by Sir Bobby and his wife Norma who still make it to every game approaching 80. Had I not dawdled at the lounge bar I’d have seen the whole United team boarding their private aircraft, parked up just opposite our easyJet flight.
Amsterdam is a unique city, it’s both picturesque and full of scenes that catch your eye for other reasons. As per most of my recent trips I was in a hostel; 22 quid a night at the ClinkNOORD Hostel which was just north of the main station, an area of Amsterdam I’d not really seen but one that was more picturesque than grotesque. This was situated across the main canal that separates the two sides of the city, which looking at the map provided very few options for crossing. It didn’t take too long to notice that droves of people were cramming into small ferries with bikes and all to make the short trip to the other side, a slightly novel (for me at least) but pretty convenient service. On the other side I was greeted with great views of the sun setting just behind the central station. The hostel itself was a great choice, the location aided by the ferry crossing and the bar providing the cheapest pint of the trip at €4.
With plenty of trips to Amsterdam under my belt I’ve seen the majority of the city’s attractions; the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, the Heineken museum, Dam Square and Amsterdam Arena. With just an evening to make the most of I met up with a few other reds and drank in the bars (where pints are as much as €7!) and canals around the Red Light district, the whole place is certainly something when it comes alive at night. Although there were small groups of United about the streets were full of Irish fans of Dundalk who were due to play the same night as us at AZ Alkmaar, just north of Amsterdam. Thankfully, unlike my last trip to Amsterdam in the summer, there weren’t songs about Will Grigg all night.
The City of Rotterdam
My quick-fire trip continued with an early train to Rotterdam the next day for the match that evening. A slight mishap meant I got stung with having to pay extra for a supplement ticket. It wasn’t too obvious which of the ‘Intercity Direct’ and ‘Sprinter’ options was the more expensive quick train (it was the ICD) but at least it got me there half an hour quicker (around 40 minutes). I’d also booked the King Kong Hostel, which seemed like a good deal at 21 quid, but later cancelled when the option to split a hotel room came up, a slight upgrade.
I’d travelled to Rotterdam a year before when heading on the train to Bruges but with little time to stop and take a look around, other than the unique station building itself. With much of match day spent moving between bars and meeting up with other reds, it was the day after that I finally managed to spend some time looking around the city. Even with a few thousand United fans in town it seemed a fairly quiet place, certainly nothing like Amsterdam. Aside from the river, one main high street and a shipping precinct there was little else to really look around, I did manage to make it to all of the notable places though. One day there was more than enough time.
Rotterdam is one of three cities that make up Holland as a region of the Netherlands, the other two being Amsterdam and The Hague. Rotterdam is the most southern of the three and sits at the mouth of the Rhine, surprisingly it’s also met by the Rotte river. The city is Europe’s largest port and as such most of the city’s sights are based around the harbour and river through the centre. On this sits the Erasmusbrug bridge, an impressive structure suspended from one end and one of the few bridges connecting the north to the south of the city. Close to this was one of a number of boat based museums, the Maritime; there was an entrance fee for the main building but I managed to walk around the boats moored up outside, including a few bar boats which we’d unfortunately missed during our pre-match drinks.
A short way up from the river was another worthwhile sight in the form of the oldest building in the city, Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk, the St. Lawrence Church. At over 500 years old it’s apparently all that remains in terms of medieval buildings in the city, with much destroyed during bombings in WW2. In contrast, two sets of buildings across a square from the Church were much more contemporary. The Market Hall, a magnificent arch shaped apartment building with a well-decorated high ceiling and market place inside. It was full, as you’d expect, of stalls selling tulips and cheese. Adjacent was something even more abstract, the Cube Houses. This a set of a dozen or so yellow cubes perched at an angle on top of flats, a little bizarre and probably difficult to live in, I found one listed on Air BnB for £120/night though! If I’d wanted to see much more of Rotterdam I’d have taken a trip up the Euromast tower on the edge of the city, but it was such a dull day that it would probably have offered little in terms of views.
Having got into Rotterdam around midday on match day there was plenty of time to sit in the sun with a few pints (or half pints, as the Europeans seem to prefer). There were a couple of bars close to the station as well as a ‘fanzone’ organised by the local police which didn’t sound too entertaining. We did eventually head down that way as most reds were flocking there, but instead to an industrious pop-up bar next door, pints around 5 euros. The venue didn’t go unnoticed by the police who fenced us in and then stopped the bar serving a few hours before kick off, rounding us up to get on buses to the ground.
United had warned about potential trouble with the local fans, warning us to “dress conservatively”, and the police seemed keen to avoid any encounters at all. 20 minutes later we were at the ground which was about 4 miles from the city centre, completely fenced off with a tunnel leading directly to the away end. De Kuip was nothing spectacular from the outside, the bowl-shaped ground covered in scaffold and staircases snaking up the exterior. Inside it was a little more impressive, particularly the massive old school floodlights, even if the away end was a bit run down. Our end was surrounded by netting, with another netted fence all around the pitch, this and the reduced allocation part of their voluntary crowd-control sanctions. Despite what we’d heard though, the capacity was way more than half with only the lower tier appearing to be shut.
Feyenoord’s fans certainly didn’t live up the reputation we’d been led to expect. There was a small section of loud fans behind the opposite goal to us but they certainly didn’t seem close to any ultras we’ve seen around Europe. Aside from a few green smokebombs and the odd flare they didn’t offer much of a display, it was nauseating how often they sang YNWA. United made 8 changes from the previous game and it showed, half the team hadn’t played all season so we were pretty rusty and up against a Feyenoord team who’ve not lost yet. Martial wasted a good chance in the first half and our shooting in the second was terrible, so it was inevitable that Feyenoord finally got the games only goal in the last 15 minutes. It’d of perhaps been better if the smokebombs has obscured our view all game.
A train directly from behind the away end back to Rotterdam central was certainly welcome after the game. It meant we were back in the city with a good few hours to find a bar and think ahead to the rest of the season over a few pints. Although it was good to get back into the swing of Euro away trips, this the first proper trip since Midtjylland in February, it felt a little ominous. Given Mourinho has suggested the tournament isn’t a priority for him or the club we might end up with no European football after Christmas. We haven’t actually won away in Europe since the qualifier at Bruges 13 months ago so something definitely needs to change, the games in Istanbul and Odessa could be all we have left this season and neither are going to be the most straightforward. Either way, there’s no beating a trip to the Netherlands. Even if I only saw one windmill all trip it was great to see a new city in Rotterdam and enjoy the sights of Amsterdam for yet another time, a real double Dutch experience.
Total travel costs: £90
Miles travelled: 704
Accommodation: £22/night (shared dorm)
Match ticket: €42 (£35.50)
Average cost of pint: €5.50 (£4.70)
United allocation: 1,400
Result: Feyenoord 1 – United 0
Match played 15/09/16