Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Monday, February 8, 2016

Willem II (Holland)

Willem II is a professional football club from the city of Tilburg in North Trabant, Holland who were formed on the 12th August 1896 as Tilburgia after Gerard de Ruiter, a student at the MTS in Amsterdam, managed to get twelve people together for the inaugural meeting at cafe Marinus.

Two years later the club took on its current title, after Dutch king William II who, as Prince of Orange and commander of the Dutch army, had his military headquarters in Tilburg during the Belgian uprising of 1830.

The club were members of the Brabant Football Association. In 1904 Willem II finally joined the Dutch Football Association (KNVB). A year later the club began to play their home games in the field at the Koningshoeven, with the club more a social than serious football outfit.

The ground was approached by a muddy road called 'Voetbal-weg', with the land owned by the Van den Bergh family, who introduced the blue, red and white colours to the club. In 1916 Willem II were crowned champions of the Netherlands after victory over near neighbours Go Ahead Deventer. Thousands of fans celebrated, as football was extremely popular, with Tilburg having more football clubs than any other Dutch city.

In 1920 Willem II moved to the new Goirleseweg het Roomsch Katholiek Tilburgsch Sportpark, provided by the Roman Catholic church to encourage youth to pursue sporting activity. The ground was shared with another local side; NOAD. Both clubs signed a ten year lease in 1924.

Willem II began to play friendly games against established foreign opposition, while they won the Brabant championship in 1923, 1930 and 1934. The side were relegated to the Tweede (second) Klasse in 1935, as they vied for prominence in the city with TSV NOAD and TSV LONGA.

The war years were difficult, but Willem II were popular in packed stadiums, with their patriotic Dutch national colours. Groene Ster were hammered 9-2 as the KNVB Cup was lifted at the Jan Louwers Stadion in Eindhoven in 1944.

Following the war, the Het Tilburgsch Sportpark association had no money to repair the badly damaged stadium. The new Gemeentelijk Sportpark on Goirleseweg in the south of the city was opened with a game between teams representing Tilburg and Surinam. It was finally completed in 1957. Willem II had spent a season sharing with NOAD during construction.

In 1949 Dr. František Fadrhonc had become the club trainer and he led the side during a golden period in their history. Willem II became Dutch champions for a second time in 1951-52 when the team didn’t drop a point. The title was secured with a 2-1 win against Ajax in the Olympisch Stadion.

In 1954/55 Willem II won the Dutch title once again after the play-off rounds against EVV Eindhoven, NAC and PSV. It was around this time that professional football was introduced to Holland, with the three major Tilburg sides all represented. Willem II soon struggled and were relegated soon after their championship win.

In 1958, the first of many public discussions took place as to whether Willem II, NOAD and LONGA should merge, but the suggestion was declined. In 1959 the star Brazilian side Botafogo played a friendly at Sportpark in front of a packed house of 18,000. Thew visitors included Garrincha, Didi, Paulinho, Zagallo and Santos in their line up, a year after helping Brazil win the World Cup.

The club were struggling financially in 1963, when the Foundation Willem II was formed to acquire funds from the local community and businesses. The 1962-63 season saw mixed emotions for all at the club.

The team were relegated from the Erste Divisie, but the KNVB Cup was lifted for a second time as ADO Den Haag were beaten 3-1 at Zuiderpark in The Hague thanks to goals from Frits Louer, Kees Aarts and Willy Senders.

The big reward was a UEFA Cup-Winners Cup tie with Manchester United the following season. The home leg was moved to De Kuip in Rotterdam as the Sportpark had no floodlights. United went through 6-1 in the Old Trafford leg after a draw in Holland.

Willem II played in the top flight for a sustained period, aside from a two year spell between 1965 and 1967 as financial sustainability was secured.  The 1973/74 campaign was somewhat of a disaster as the team were relegated, with gates dropping into three figures. The debt built again, but amongst the gloom new coach Henk de Jonge led the team to promotion through the play-offs back to Eredivisie.

The financial crisis became more severe by the year. Willem II were threatened with bankruptcy in 1982. An interim Administration was formed to put a deal together to pay creditors, which was accepted with the assistance of the municipality of Tilburg.

The costs were cut, but unfortunately it led to relegation in 1984. The club decided to put faith in its youth system, while a new clubhouse was built for supporters. In 1987 Willem II returned to the top tier Eredivisie amid joyous scenes under coach  Piet de Visser. Marc Overmars was amongst the young players to flourish at the club.

On May 31st 1995 the revamped modern Koning Willem II Stadion is opened to replace Sportpark on Goirleseweg to give the club a chance to progress professionally. In 1996 Willem II celebrated their centenary with a series of grand events. The departure of star young defender Jaap Stam put a slight dampener on proceedings.

The 1997-98 season saw Co Adriaanse arrive from Ajax to lead the team. After an absence of thirty five years Willem II qualified for European football, by courtesy of a fifth place finish. The run in the UEFA Cup saw a win over Dinamo Tbilisi before Real Betis ended the run.

In 1998-99 Willem II went even further domestically and qualified for the following season’s Champions League with a side containing the likes of Sami Hyypiä, Clyde Wijnhard and Bert Konterman. Ten thousand season tickets were sold for the foray into Europe’s elite competition.

‘de Tricolores’ faced Spartak Moscow, Girondins de Bordeaux and Sparta Prague in their group, which ended in elimination. After a fifth place finish was achieved in Eredivisie Adriaanse departed to be replaced by Hans Westerhof.

Westerhof lasted a couple of average seasons before he was replaced by Mark Wotte in July 2002. André Wetzel and then Robert Maaskant followed in the managerial hot seat as the club tried to reclaim former glories. In 2005 he took the side to the final of the KNVB Cup, but the big day at De Kuip was to end in disappointment following a 4-0 defeat to PSV.

The 2005-06 season saw Maaskant depart in November, before the team preserved their top flight status in the play-offs. Several coaches came and went as the team put in some poor end of season results. Fans disenchantment began to grow. In 2009-10 the team saved their place once again in the play-offs, while a three man committee was appointed to see what was going wrong. They concluded that the club was living beyond their means.

The inevitable happened in 2010-11 as Willem II dropped down to the Erste Divisie, but they returned at the first attempt under the tutelage of Jurgen Streppel. A 7-0 victory away to Helmond Sport helped as de Tricolores reached the play-offs. Sparta Rotterdam were dispatched to set up a decider against FC Den Bosch at Koning Willem II Stadium, which was won 2-1 to seal a return to Eredivisie.

However their spell in the top flight last just one campaign. Despite the set back Streppel led his charges straight back up as Erste Divisie champions in 2013-14. In early 2015 it was claimed that some Willem II players led by Ibrahim Kargbo had fixed matches in 2009. The KNVB took legal action as well as involving UEFA and FIFA.

Willem II will play in Eredivisie in the 2015-16 season.

My visit

Willem II 0 Hercules Almelo 0 (Friday 29th January 2016) Eredivisie (att: 13,100)

It was time to have a proper look at Tilburg. My visits to the town’s amateur club’s TSV NOAD and TSV LONGA had gone exactly to plan, with a lovely walk thrown in for good measure. I headed back into town to find The Heuval; an area advised by my pal Andy Crossland who was formerly a resident of Tilburg.

The bars were rather quiet, so I unadventurously had some chicken to keep me going as well as a fine meat croquette. My research had told me that Café Kandinsky was the place to head for to enjoy some pre match libation.

As luck would have it I found a stool at the bar as I looked at the extensive drinks menu. There was up to two hundred bottled beers as well as eight on tap to choose from. Initially I went for safe option of a glass of Han Hertog as the pleasant staff put down a bowl of nibbles to go with it.

The place was busy with all the tables being occupied. The three members of staff were courteous, helpful and very hard working. I asked the youngest fella for some advice regarding hoppy ales. He put me onto two excellent IPA’s from the bottle. Both were a bit stronger than I intended to go for, but most enjoyable. I was given a nice sample of the ultra strong local brew, which had a stunning taste but would have had me nodding if I’d had much more. I went back to my first selection to end a very nice little session in brilliant surroundings. I recommend the bar on Telegraafstraat to any visitor to Tilburg.

On the bus to NOAD I had noticed that there was a courtesy bus to the stadium for Tricolores fans. I soon found it waiting at the station. Initially the inspector wasn’t going to let me on as I didn’t have a match ticket, but after he saw my email from the club he was fine.

Next up was trying to collect my ticket. I had been quoted €22.50 behind the goal when I contacted the staff at Willem II, as I was unable to buy one online without a Dutch bank card. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when they only wanted €10. They seemed surprised that I only wanted one ticket, when there was two in the envelope.

I was on my way before they could change their minds. It was only when I was enjoying a Heineken around the corner that I realised the ticket was in the name of K Bernard. Someone with the same surname was about to get into some kind of discussion when he or she went to collect their two tickets!

I headed to the club shop to see if I could get Andy a home team shirt, but the stock didn't have one in his size. I was also hoping to find a match programme, but they didn't seem to issue any.

Once through the gates it was possible to walk around the yard to the correct gate. I bought a beer and then went down to my seat to take photos. When I went for a top up I noticed plenty of fans going in the gate nearer the corner. I followed them, initially to take further photos but then I spotted that there was a few standing behind the back row of seats, so I joined them.

The Koning Willem II stadium was a perfect sized venue for a club of its size. The Kingside was actually behind the goal and housed the most vocal of Tilburg’s finest. Along with the South and East Stands it formed a continuous steep single tier of seating with an undulating roof and large moat at the front. The final side was taken by the West Stand, which was slightly larger and with its own roof. It contained corporate facilities and business seats at the rear of the normal seating deck.

My new position was right next to the away fans and with some characters who could imagine to have seen their fair share of action over the years. It would certainly liven up the evening!

The game was a cagey affair. At least Heracles showed a little more attacking intent than at Ajax a few days earlier, where they did their bit to ruin the match. I thought I recognised the referee, and sure enough it was Mr Jannsen who had been in the middle of the Vitesse v Zwolle game that I was at the previous Wednesday.

I enjoyed a couple more beers and another croquette as the match progressed and spent some of the time in the bay by the exit amongst many other fans. The visitors came close on a couple of occasions in the second half to excite their couple of dozen fans. 

The game was heading towards its conclusion as I headed out for the bus. I had been anxious since planning the trip about the very last leg. I needed to be in Eindhoven for 11 pm to catch my Eurolines overnight coach back to Victoria in London.

Although the ticket was only €19 and offered excellent value, I was a bit nervous about what kind of experience it would be. I guess that's why I'd had a good drink throughout the evening? The bus dropped me at Tilburg station with enough time to buy a sandwich and snacks for my trip back and I was on the train. All was going to plan. And then suddenly it wasn't.

I woke up at 11.15 with the train filling up with a completely different crowd in readiness to head back on the return journey. I had only nodded off a few miles outside Eindhoven but this was really bad news. I ran out of the station, initially going out of the wrong entrance for the bus station. When I eventually got there my coach was well gone.

This was a really tricky situation. I rung my brother Nick and while we had a good laugh, we tried to think of a solution. We decided that the best option was to book an early morning flight back. Fortunately there was a seat left on the 7 am flight to Stansted the following morning for £77.

Nick sensibly suggested that I headed to the airport and got my head down there. The airport bus was familiar to me, and soon I was on my way, going past the Philips Stadion once again without seeing a game there!

More panic kicked in at the airport as it was locked and signs showed that it didn't reopen until 4.30 am. The wind was howling, it was cold and starting to rain. There was only one option. I rang the buzzer of the Tulip Inn airport hotel to ask if they had a room. I was sort of in luck that they had, but it was €80 for the night. There was simply no other choice so I paid my money.

I did have a much needed nights sleep and I did catch the plane back. Unbelievably we arrived back at Stansted early, but there was no ground crew to allow us off. Then the trains were down owing to planned engineering works. Welcome back to England!

My four days in the Netherlands were lots of fun and had plenty of adventure. I would definitely never forget my trip to the match at Willem II!

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