Friday, December 29, 2006

Fortuna Sittard-Helmond Sport (22-12-2006)

Less than ten days before the end of 2006, my mates A.H., J.B. and I met up at Leuven railway station to make our last groundhop of the year. But not before we had sampled the goods of Frituur Luc in Holsbeek, definitely one of the best snack bars in Belgium. Full with satisfaction and snacks, we drove the fairly easy 100 km to Sittard in Limburg, the most southeastern province of the Netherlands, where we arrived just in time for the game.

Fortuna Sittard is not a well-known team in Dutch professional football today, but the club has a famous history. In 1968 two clubs from the area merged, Sittardia and Fortuna’54 (from Geleen). Fortuna was the first professional football club in the Netherlands and has twice won the Dutch Cup (KNVB Beker)! The fusion club Fortuna Sittard has played for many years in the Dutch eredivisie (premier league) and has had some famous players – even in the 1990s players like Kevin Hofland (now VFL Wolfsburg) and Mark Van Bommel (formerly PSV and Barcelona, now Bayern München) played at Fortuna under coach Bert Van Marwijk (later Feyenoord, now Borussia Dortmund). But these glory days are long gone. The last years the club has cheated bankruptcy a couple of times, but financial problems remain. Not withstanding the financial problems of Fortuna Sittard, the club moved in 1998 from the destitute De Baandert stadium to a modern 12.500 seater at the outskirts of town. Tellingly, in 2005 the club had to sell the very modern Wagner en Partners Stadion to a project developer to save its existence.

We bought a ticket for Tribune C at 10 euro a piece and took a place at the center of the pitch. There were some 2.300 supporters scattered around the stadium, with an estimated 50-100 from Helmond. Although the “hardcore” home fans were with few, they did show some nice banners.

Around us where some people in the Christmas spirit, which they also really needed that evening.

As Ronse-Waregem the week before, Fortuna-Helmond was a game between the bottom two of the first division, i.e. the Dutch eerste divisie (or in good Dutch “Jupiler League”). The fact that A.H. and I watched the bottom two of the Dutch and Belgian league play within one week also enabled us to compare the two leagues a bit: the Dutch league turned out to be both better and (much) more professional. The Wagner and Partner Stadion, for example, would make many a Belgian Eerste Klasse team jealous. Also in terms of technique and pace the Dutch game was a lot better; in part helped by the fact that both teams had various ex-players from the youth programs of top teams (notably PSV).

While the game was entertaining at times, it was again a fan behind us that made the evening. This time it was a not a voice of irony and nuance, but thé most biased fan I have ever heard. And that, I can assure you, is not an easy job! This guy saw every attack of Helmond as off-side, counted at least fifteen handballs (all for Helmond, obviously), and endlessly called for yellow cards (except the one time a Helmond player got a yellow card, when he demanded a red card :-). He was sitting next to his mother or wife (we couldn’t tell), who not just tolerated him, but actually encouraged him in his overly expressive supportering. My high point was when he, at the end of the game, declared to her in all earnestness, that Fortuna could have been 12-1 up already (in fact, they could have been at best 1-2 down).

Anyway, the game was entertaining, but not really good. Fortuna might have had the better squad, Helmond had the better players. Particularly two of the strikers were too good for the home defenders and created havoc at times. Unfortunately for them, they had little if any support from the midfield, and therefore the 0-0 half time score was deserved. After a cup of weak coffee, but anything hot was appreciated in the winter cold, we returned (to the exact same spot, obviously), to see Helmond unexpectedly score the 0-1. With still 40 minutes to go, everyone still believed Fortuna would come back (our fan behind us disputed the goal and was disgusted by the ‘fact’ that the home team hadn’t scored its many chances). Notwithstanding the last glitches of optimism among the much tormented Fortuna fans, the game remained 0-1.

The last minutes the Fortuna players vented their frustration by fouls and a phenomenal fight on the pitch; which also saw an impressive right hook from one of the
Helmond players).

Directly after the game we made our way to the car for our drive back. Somehow, I feel I would have enjoyed De Baandert more. Still, it would be a shame to see a club like Fortuna Sittard disappear and I sincerely hope they will finally get their act together. At about 23.00 A.H. and J.B. dropped me off in Antwerp. My last groundhop of a very successful year. Groundhop-tally at the end of 2006: 257 clubs in 35 countries. Ambition for the end of 2007: 270 in 36 countries! Watch this space!

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