How I found Feyenoord
As of Wednesday 12th February I will be moving to the Netherlands to start writing my first book, covering the fortunes of Feyenoord Rotterdam and their incredible supporters until the end of the 2014/5 season. I have been lucky enough to experience many incredible football clubs over the last two years since Cardiff City was taken away from me by the actions of Vincent Tan, and a question I am often asked is why Feyenoord captured my heart over the many others I’ve gone to watch around Europe. This article will outline what makes Feyenoord special, and how I found my new home at De Kuip.
Falling for Feyenoord
When I first returned my Cardiff City season ticket I made a ‘wishlist’ of clubs that I wanted to see live. This included Borussia Dortmund, Inter, Austria Salzburg, St Pauli and, of course, Feyenoord. I had heard plenty of stories about this crazy club from Rotterdam and become friends with a couple of members of the Vak W group, founded in 2012 to increase the fanatical levels of support from this section of the stadium further still.
I took my first trip to watch Dutch football towards the end of last season, originally intending to take in Feyenoord vs. Vitesse and VVV Venlo vs. FC Twente over the weekend. Unfortunately, De Kuip completely sold out within five minutes of tickets going on sale, and I was unable to experience Feyenoord for the first time. Instead I ended up in the away end at the Amsterdam ArenA, as Ajax moved a step closer to winning the title by picking up a point against Heerenveen. While the atmosphere at Ajax wasn’t particularly bad, it seemed like large sections of the ground were full of tourists, with only certain areas offering the kind of fanatical support that Feyenoord was famous for. I vowed to return to Holland next season to finally take in match day at De Kuip.
Before the season had even begun, there was a moment which made me certain that I had found the right club. It is a Feyenoord tradition to attend the first training session of the season, setting off vast amounts of pyro and supporting the team in style before they had even kicked off for the first time. However, the first training session of 2013/14 would prove to be even more special, as the club came together as one to celebrate the life of a terminally ill Feyenoord supporter who had become something of a legend at De Kuip.
I wrote in more detail on Rooie Marck at the time, as the last wish of a lifelong supporter was granted in style. Huge flags and banners appeared in the stands in support of Marck, who chanted his name and sung ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ as he used the last of his strength to get out of his wheelchair and salute his comrades. Meanwhile, the players applauded and embraced him like a family member, ensuring the spotlight was taken away from them and put on Marck. As supporters in England become less and less important to the clubs, it was truly touching to see such genuine care and respect for someone who had given his life to Feyenoord.
Three days after this amazing show of respect Rooie died, with his funeral procession attended by hundreds, if not thousands of Feyenoord fans, who silently lined the route and ignited flares as he passed by. As I would find out later, this tribute to a fallen fan was not unique to Rooie, with many other supporters also saluted by their fellow fans. Another terrace icon named Ron Bok was offered a similar tribute at his funeral, while banners in honour of supporters who have passed away often appear at matches, such as this one at a victory over VVV Venlo:
Having become intrigued by the history and tradition of Feyenoord, I began speaking to even more supporters of the club either through social media or my website – learning even more about what made this club special. I was told the story of how Feyenoord lost 10 – 0 away to rivals PSV during times of struggle, an unimaginable scoreline for the former European champions and one of the most successful clubs in the country to endure.
Rather than the supporters turning on the players at the next home game, they were welcomed like heroes. The entire stadium sang as one as the squad was roared onto the pitch, with an atmosphere throughout the game which brought many supporters to tears. Feyenoord won the game 3 – 0 and eventually went on to escape relegation and their financial woes. Imagine the atmosphere at the Emirates or Old Trafford if the home side had lost 10 – 0 to Arsenal or Manchester City the week before, and you begin to see what makes this club so remarkable.
I also learnt more about the biggest fixture in Dutch football, the derby with Ajax. Only if you are a Feyenoord supporter, you do not use the name of their biggest rivals. Instead, the club from the capital are known as 020, named after the city code for Amsterdam. This level of hatred even extends to players and staff, with Feyenoord hero John Guidetti often using 020 on Twitter when talking about his time in Rotterdam. The rivalry between the two clubs is so intense that away fans have been banned for many years, following numerous incidents of serious violence and even death.
I’ve seen some intense derbies in my lifetime, with Belgrade top of the list for madness so far, but I feel as though nothing can compare me for ‘De Klassieker’. Which just so happens to be the first home game after my move.
I was finally able to watch Feyenoord live in September 2013, joining the Vak W boys for a 4 – 2 victory over Den Haag. Several of the Feyenoord fans apologised to me after the game, commenting that the atmosphere wasn’t as good as usual. If this truly is the case then on a good day it must be the best in the world, because I had personally been blown away by the entire experience.
Watching a match at De Kuip is like nothing else I have ever seen. From the ritual before the game of supporters gathering at Varkenoord (the training ground opposite the stadium) for what is known as the PMDS (pre-match drinking session) to the regular tifo displays, pyro and constant intense support – De Kuip is truly paradise for those who like their football old school, their atmospheres intense and their fellow supporters completely and utterly mental.
Even by the high standards set by the rest of the experience, there is one place I have to mention as being particularly unbelievable. Legioenzaal. Rotterdam had a huge part to play in the rise of rave culture, and this type of music remains very popular in the city – with this extending to Feyenoord. The club has granted fans in the South Stand a special section of the stadium with sound equipment, DJ decks and plenty of room to just generally be lunatics. I could go on describing it, but sometimes it’s better just to use a video. Just look at this (it gets going properly 20 seconds in):
The dedication. The history. The madness. The passion. For all these reasons and many more, I cannot think of a better story to tell to the world than that of Feyenoord Rotterdam.