The Spakenburg Derby
363 days a year, Spakenburg is a quiet and unremarkable little village in the north of Holland, known mainly for beautiful scenery and fishing. Amongst the fishing boats, cafes and small shops, the village has two amateur football clubs, SV Spakenburg (the blues) and IJsselmeervogels (the reds). When they meet, everything changes.
Don’t let the low-level at which this fixture is played put you off, the rivalry and intensity of the Spakenburg derby is up there with many of the elite games in world football. I was first invited to the game last season by a regular reader of the website who is a dedicated SV Spakenburg fan, but had been unable to make it. Still, the idea of such an amazing derby being played in the amateur leagues intrigued me enough to do some research into previous instances of the game to see if it could be as good as he said.
It turned out that this was one instance where you really should believe the hype, with incredible support every season, huge tifos, pyro displays and ingenious stunts. Take the time for instance that the game was delayed due to the IJsselmeervogels away fans releasing a pig on the pitch of their neighbours. It took several minutes for the stewards to capture Porky the Pitch Invader, much to the delight of the red fans.
The Blues also had a number of triumphs of their own, including one which was highly topical for the day in question with the ‘Moyes Out’ banner being flown by plane over Old Trafford by disgruntled Man Utd fans. SV Spakenburg fans had also flown a plane over the stadium in the past, but it was for a very different reason. As the aircraft flew over their rival supporters it released scores of inflatable toilet brushes, making it pretty clear what they thought of the red side of the village.
The actions taken during this game have not always been as good-hearted, with fighting in the past leading to a ban on the sale of alcohol around the entire village until the final whistle blows. It was not always punches that were being thrown, with the linesman of one game being injured by a home-made bomb that had been hurled by a fan of the reds. If you know me at all, you’ll know that when a game can include pigs, toilet brushes and bombs in its history, well, I simply have to be there.
Some Feyenoord supporting friends of mine were also planning to attend the fixture, and were kind enough to give me a lift to the stadium from Amersfoort train station. As we headed further and further into the countryside and left behind all traces of city life it became very clear how different this experience would be to the other fantastic derbies I’ve experienced, all of which had been in busy and modern cities, and perhaps it was this that made the fixture so special to the people of Spakenburg. When derby day comes around in Milan, Belgrade, Rotterdam and Sunderland it is a big deal, but there is plenty going on for the rest of the year to capture the imagination of the public. With Spakenburg being a sleepy village most of the time, it is perhaps no surprise that they relish to chance to go absolutely barmy every so often. And believe me, they do.
If I went to watch my local village team play back in Wales, I would arrive five minutes before kick-off and stand in a field with roughly four fans, a man pretending to walk the dog and some of the players mums. Here, I was warned that I should arrive at the ground at least an hour before kick off if I wanted to secure a good place on the terrace. We heeded the warning and made our way to the stadium at 1:30, taking in the atmosphere which was already starting to build. The away end was already almost completely full, an absolute sea of red taking over around a quarter of the stadium. They were busy putting up several large banners, covering their section in stickers and waving a number of giant flags which looked like they belonged in an ultras section at a Serie A game, never mind an amateur village clash.
The blues were not to be outdone, and the atmosphere got better and better the closer we got to kick-off. Stewards came around the edge of the pitch, hurling giant blue mohican wigs into the crowd. At most games I’ve been to this would have been pretty weird, but it seemed fitting here that an extra unique dose of madness would be handed out.
This was just the start of things, with the full force of the madness not being revealed until it was time for the players to make their way on to the pitch for the game to get underway. If I had any doubts about how good this was going to be, they soon melted away in a sea of Spakenburg insanity. A group of around 15 home fans climbed on to the roof of the main stand to unfurl a gigantic flag which read ‘You smurfed into the wrong village, pussies’, accompanied by a number of angry looking smurfs brandishing swords. I told you this game was a bit mad, didn’t I?
The appearance of this flag triggered a pyro show the likes of which will rarely be beaten anywhere. Of all the games I have attended, only Red Star Belgrade vs. Partizan Belgrade had featured more pyrotechnic devices than this, surpassing even Inter vs. Milan. The pitch was completely covered in smoke for several minutes, as opposing fans took to the pitch to wave their gigantic flags at each other.
Smoke bomb after smoke bomb flew through the air and landed on the pitch, sending up gigantic clouds of blue smoke which must surely have drifted across the entire village. With over 2/3 of the population of the village at the match, you had to hope that none of them had left their washing out.
Once the blue smoke began to drift away, the away end took the chance to turn the stadium red. They began a hugely impressive pyro display of their own, delaying kick-off further still as the referee waited for things to not only calm down, but for visibility to improve enough so that he could actually see what was going on.
The build up to the game had been enough to fool you into thinking you were at a Champions League match or a title decider…right up until the point it kicked off. The players appeared to be a mixture of overawed by the atmosphere or too fired up to play properly, as the first half was riddled with mistakes and frankly ridiculous challenges. It was apparent that it was not just the fans who fully buy in to the rivalry here, as the players spent much of the opening period of the game throwing themselves into challenges and sending their opposition numbers flying. If you can’t score a goal, the second best thing you can do in a derby to get the fans going is a brutal challenge, and there was plenty of that going on here.
Despite the action not being particularly skilful, the fans did not let that stop them from putting in a wonderful show of support. The noise was constant, with a mixture of songs in both Dutch and English. My favourite of these (if you’ll excuse my poor knowledge of Dutch) went along the lines of “if you don’t bounce you’re a red”, accompanied by the terrace leaping up and down as one to ensure that nobody accused them of having a love for red. Vincent Tan would have absolutely hated it.
So far it had been a great day purely for the atmosphere, but with the score 0 – 0 at half time it looked as it the entertainment was going to be limited to the stands instead of on the pitch. Thankfully I was wrong, as the action second half proved to be just as wild as the work of the 8,000 supporters inside the rocking stadium.
The change was noticeable immediately, the managers had obviously had a word and reminded them that as much as the fans appreciated their efforts to cripple each other, they should at least try and score a goal as well. The blues responded best to the increased tempo of the second half, bombarding the goal in the early stages of the second half. They won a string of corners and forced the keeper into a number of good saves. The excitement was all too much for one blue midfielder, as he took a shot from 35 yards which went wide by at least the same margin. If he showed such inaccuracy when sailing one of the many boats around the village, he’d have aimed for Rotterdam and ended up in Australia.
With around 30 minutes to go, the reds were able to break through the blue barricades and create their first truly dangerous chance of the half. The ball bounced around the box wildly, with the keeper able to make an initial save from the attacker. However, the ball was squared across the face of the goal, where a red player was on hand to smash the ball into the net – causing pure delirium for the visitors. The away end exploded with red flares and smoke bombs as the fans surged towards the pitch, the players running to meet them as they went just as wild. Every player other than the goalkeeper ran to join in the celebrations, as they pumped their fists and gestured to the Spakenburg fans to be quiet.
The only problem was, it wasn’t actually a goal. The reds had been so busy celebrating that they hadn’t noticed the flag was raised on the far side for a foul in the moments before the ball ended up in the net. The dejected blues were the first to notice, roaring with delight as if they had scored themselves. IJsselmeervogels finally realised they hadn’t taken the lead after all, reacting with a mixture of blind fury and embarrassment. The problem with smoke bombs is that once you set them off, there’s no way of stopping them. Have you truly known shame until you’ve stood in an away end holding the remnants of a smoke bomb as the home supporters bombard you with abuse for how wild you were going roughly 20 seconds ago? Unlikely.
Sensing how close they had been to going behind, the blues increased the noise they were making further still. The increased urgency for the blues and the sense of injustice felt by the reds was a dangerous combination for the visitors, and it was a warning they failed to heed. With 25 minutes left, the goalkeeper fails to hang on to a shot, allowing the rebound to be gleefully smashed into the roof of the net.
1 – 0 to the blues, and the stadium reacts as though they have just won the World Cup or caught a 50 foot long fish. The players run the length of the pitch celebrating in front of their supporters, showing as much joy as the thousands of blue shirted (and wigged) fans. The temporary stands which were erected specially for the game looked as if they might be dismantled again a little early by the strength of the celebrations.
Not only were they 1 – 0 up in the derby, but news had spread that the other result today had been favourable to Spakenburg. Victory would be enough to send them top of the league with just a couple of games to go, and they made sure that both their players and the opposition fans knew it.
It was all too much to take for the IJsselmeervogels players, who had still been seething about the goal that never was even before they went behind. One of their players flew into a tackle with a little too much aggression, leaving a crumpled blue body on the ground. It sparked what a Sky Sports commentator would describe as a 22 man brawl, but in reality was a 22 man shoving match. Still, it did appear that a number of actual punches were thrown by at least two players, and chaos reigned for at least 30 seconds.
Once it all calmed down enough for the referee to speak to the players, I waited to see how many red cards would be shown. I was sure there would be at least one, and there could have been as many as three. The referee took his time, thought about it, and brandished two yellow cards. Well, what’s a few punches in the face between neighbours anyway?
However, the IJsselmeervogels players were not to be denied in their quest to get sent off, with a red seeing, er, red, just a short time later. Without wanting to sound like Arsene Wenger, I did not actually see the incident which led to the dismissal, but it seems as though one of the Spakenburg players was kicked while lying on the ground following yet another tasty tackle. The referee certainly saw it, and it would be 11 vs. 10 for the rest of the day.
It seemed as if victory was assured for the blues now, as the fans went into party mood. “If you hate ****ing reds clap your hands” was chanted with much delight, and once again the three stands filled with blues bounced up and down as one. For the first time today the noise in the away end decreased in volume, but only slightly. Despite the fact they were facing an impossible looking situation, the superb away fans were not ready to leave the blues to their party just yet. They continued to wave their large flags and urge their side on, choosing to ignore the increasingly desperate situation they found themselves in.
A fantastic chance to go 2 – 0 up was wasted as the official put the board up for the added time, which showed that there would be an extra four minutes to play. With the reds throwing men forward, it looked as if there was a good chance to round off the party in style for the blues. They made use of the extra space, broke into the box and smashed the ball beyond the keeper, the reds only saved by the ball rebounding off the inside of the post and somehow coming out and clear. An extra couple of inches in the right direction and it would have been 2 – 0, but instead the reds were able to break away.
Carnage in the penalty area as the blues defend with everything they have, while IJsselmeervogels gave one last push to ensure that they did not sacrifice local bragging rights and allow their mortal enemies to take the top spot, a position they are more used to filling themselves, having been national amateur champions seven times. It looks as if an equaliser could be forced against all odds as a Spakenburg defender is beaten easily, only for a tremendous save from the keeper to put the ball out to the relative safety of a corner. 93 minutes on the clock.
Red players pour into the box, with only the goalkeeper not going forward. The ball is whipped in accurately, somehow finding a path through the crowd of bodies on to the head of a IJsselmeervogels attacker. The goalkeeper claws at thin air, but it is already too late. The ball nestles in the back of the net, and the away side go absolutely beserk. There was no flag from the linesman to stop the party now, and the result was genuinely one of the loudest and most passionate goal celebrations I have ever seen. The manager sprints on to the pitch to jump on the goalscorer, while some of the fans also make their way on to the field to join in the celebrations. Red smoke fills the air for one final time, while a flare is waved around a little unsteadily in the middle of red mosh pit.
The game is stopped for several minutes due to the nature of the celebrations, meaning that the goal would not be the last action of the match after all. In fact, I think the referee got a little bit carried away with all the excitement, with the action still going on with 100 minutes on the clock. There was still time for a little more drama, as a red shirted player almost scored one of the greatest goals I have ever seen live. Perhaps too tired to keep running, he fired a shot on goal from ridiculously long-range. It swerved wickedly through the air, beating the goalkeeper, smashing the underside of the bar and eventually being cleared away. The blues would also have a chance to win it, winning a 101st minute free kick on the edge of the box. It looked as if it may just find the top corner, but flew just over the bar with what would prove to be the final kick of the game. A good-natured pitch invasion followed, as fans from both sides saluted their players and thanked them for their efforts.
It may have been one of the lowest level matches I had ever attended, but it was also one of the most unique and enjoyable. If the hype of modern football is driving you away from top flight football, the Spakenburg derby is the perfect example of how football should be. An electric atmosphere, a closely contested game and enough fireworks to celebrate New Years Eve a hundred times over.
With the game finished, the blues made their way to their clubhouse, while the reds made the short journey across the road to their own party venue. The drinking ban had very much been lifted, and the party would go on into the early hours, techno music pounding out across the village as night fell. Somehow, I very much doubted that there would be very many early morning fishing excursions on Sunday.
My first experience of the derby was over, but it certainly will not be the last. When people ask me what matches around Europe they should attend, SV Spakenburg vs. IJsselmeervogels has become a definition addition to the ‘must see’ list.
Madness? This. Is. Spakenburg!