The ties that bind?

by Rick Johansen

Long ago, when I was still an innocent schoolboy spending the summer holidays in Rotterdam with my mum and her mum, my only Uncle, Jacobus known as Koos, took me to De Kuip, home of Feyenoord. I sat high among the Gods while I became familiar with football Gods like Wim van Hanegem, Wim Jansen and Rinus Israel. They beat Utrecht 4-0 and my long distance love affair with Rotterdam’s finest was cemented. Due to geography, Feyenoord remained a long distance love but yesterday I put that right by going to another game. Yet again, the memories didn’t come flooding back, as they have failed to do throughout this alleged voyage of rediscovery, but weirdly I did feel a connection. I desperately wanted ‘us’ to win.

‘We’ were playing Go Ahead Eagles from Deventer, a small city around 100 miles to the east. I arrived far too early, making no allowances for the ruthless efficiency of Dutch public transport and found myself with time to kill before the 4.30pm start. I killed time by buying a T shirt I didn’t need and – yes, you guessed it – watching the expresstrains thunder through Feyenoord station. And there was De Kuip, a 51,000 capacity State of the Ark stadium, in all its elderly glory. I was in awe, as I would have been 50-odd years ago, not least because it feels like a football stadium, not one of those modern identikit monstrosities (I’m looking at you, Spurs, among others).

I reached my seat which had less room than your average Ryan Air flight. When someone went by, and it happened frequently, not only did you have to stand sideways to let them through, you had to squeeze hard against the rigid seat.

One of the first things I noticed was the net separating fans all round the ground from the pitch area. This would have been to prevent people throwing fireworks and flares onto the pitch, which is what caused the abandonment of last week’s game between Ajax and Feyenoord. I thought this would be a real nuisance but I soon forgot about it.

The pre match music routine was presumably the same as it is at every game because it felt like everyone was singing along. The three songs that stood out were:

  • Sweet Caroline. Although it wasn’t sung by Neil Diamond and the words were completely different, apart from the “uh oh oh” bit, the fans knew it well enough.
  • Daisy Bell. Older readers may be familiar with Harry Dacre’s 1892 song which goes, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half-crazy all for the love of you.” I was quite startled when the song struck up – the crowd sang it on numerous occasions during the game itself – but it soon became clear the lyrics had been changed to be all about Feyenoord. It was still very, very odd.
  • You’ll Never Walk Alone. The stadium belted it out with gusto, but it wasn’t Gerry and his Pacemakers’ version. This grossly inferior interpretation was performed by the wonderfully named Tony Towers.

Having not been to a professional game in at least five years, it was a joy to be back among the one-eyed fans. The referee was terrible, giving every major decision to Feyenoord – no, sorry, that can’t be right (it was) – and at first awarding the home team a goal despite the most obvious handball I have ever seen, only to have VAR overturn it, then not sending off a Go Ahead Eagles player when he should have done, because all away team players must be sent off by rights; even for next to nothing.

Anyway, Feyenoord trotted out easy 3-1 winners with the brilliant Santiago Giminez confirming why he won’t be in the Eredivisie next year. What a player. And the manager, Arne Slot, probably won’t be here either because the Premier League needs as many shiny-headed bald blokes as it can get.

Despite the slightly ramshackle stadium, with its inadequate toilet, bar and food facilities, arriving and leaving is a doddle. I left after the game and went to the nearest tram stop where I immediately boarded one which then left, depositing me at Maashaven for the Metro which then arrived immediately and I was in the heart of Rotterdam within literally minutes. By the way, trams, buses and the Metro are free for Feyenoord fans for the three hours before and after the game. Bargain.

Today is my last full day in Rotterdam, I suspect my last for a very long time. It will be a final sweep of all the places I knew and quite a few I didn’t. I needed to scratch the itch of Rotterdam and now it’s done. I always felt Rotterdam to be home, or something like home. That feeling’s gone now, though not in a bad way. I will always love the place and its people but memories of the city are all I have. Everyone I was related to is long dead and there are few, if any, ties to bind me here.

It’s taken this trip to remind me that there are plenty of other places I need to see before I shuffle off my mortal coil. And time isn’t going to wait for me.

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