One night in Rome
Almost 6,000 Feyenoord supporters are inside Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, with the huge travelling legion from Rotterdam (and a couple from Sunderland and South Wales) making an incredible amount of noise. It is a relief for them to be able to do what they do best, after hours of chaos and police brutality in the hours before the game. I’ve covered those events in another article, this article will only talk about the game and the fantastic support offered inside the stadium.
My flag at the back of the stand
Feyenoord have been well supported in Europe this year throughout the campaign, with several hundred making the last minute trip to Besiktas, and all of the group games in Rijeka, Sevilla and Liege selling out (supporters had been banned from attending the Zorya Luhansk game in the playoff round due to the MH17 terrorist attack and political tension in the area). Despite this great support in Turkey, Croatia, Belgium and Spain, there had not been anything like this yet.
Just some of the massive away support
As well as the 5,500 or so inside the official away end, there were also several hundred in the home section, who had taken over one block to make an unofficial away end. These home stand invaders were being saluted by those in the away section with one of the most familiar chants from Feyenoord supporters, one side asking “Do we come from Rotterdam?” and the other side responding “Can you not hear that?!”, increasing in volume each time before jumping around and generally going mental.
The Romans were fairly apathetic about the contest, having suffered the pain of looking set to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, only for Manchester City to finally remember they’re actually quite good and knock them out in the final game of the group stages. The ultras section in the Curva Sud was full of course, and it was still a good attendance, but the thousands of empty seats showed the Roman distain for this competition. Personally I love it, the atmosphere and the away trips in the Europa League are far better than in the money obsessed competition that is the Champions League.
I was not expecting a whole lot from the game in all honesty; Feyenoord’s recent form has been extremely poor away from home including a dreadful defeat to Heracles. All I was hoping for was for the tie to still be alive at full time so we had a chance to turn things round in De Kuip, a Europa League fortress which boasts a 100% record so far.
The game got underway with a tremendous atmosphere coming from the away end and a full variety of songs – I have learnt far more Dutch from attending Feyenoord matches than I’ve ever managed from my Dutch lessons. There was also some very nice support coming from two sections of the home support, with both the ultras stand and a much smaller section to the left of the away end creating a lot of noise and setting off plenty of red and yellow pyro.
The away stand responded spectacularly in the 12th minute of the game, as hundreds of inflatables were launched into the air along with several flares and green smokebombs. Everything from red and white beach balls to flamingos, ice creams, hammers, dolphins, sex dolls and bananas were bouncing around the away end in inflatable form.
Video of the 12th minute madness (for those reading this in a quiet place…you might want to watch this later)
It was the atmosphere which was the highlight for Feyenoord in the early stages, Roma on top of the game and looking to be the strongest side I have ever seen Feyenoord take on. It made it all the more ridiculous that a club that wins their group can be drawn against a Champions League dropout, while the team that finishes second in the same group has a much easier game.
Roma’s strength was shown on 17 minutes, as ex-Arsenal player Gervinho gave the home side the lead. It was an all too familiar story for Feyenoord recently, with poor marking giving the forward so much space that even with his gigantic forehead, he still found himself in miles of space to roll the ball into the net. He ran to the group of supporters to the left who had been setting off a large number of flares a few minutes before, as the Roma fans made a great noise. After conceding so early I was worried we would suffer the worst brutal beating since…well, a couple of hours ago, but it was not to be the case.
Jordy Clasie was in inspired form, dealing with the legendary Francesco Totti with ease. Young Clasie stayed at the club this summer when many of his teammates were completing big money moves following strong performances at the World Cup, and this display showed why he is a hero at De Kuip for his talent, not just his dedication.
The away support did not let up in volume or passion despite going behind, and the score remained 1 – 0 at half time as the Rotterdam squad drew inspiration from their supporters. The reward for their long journey and hardships with the police was coming.
Colin Kazim-Richards is a strange player in that he can look totally uninterested some games and scores some truly beautiful goals in others. If he could play at a consistent level he’d be one of the best in the league, instead he is consistently inconsistent. None of that mattered after 55 minutes, when he was able to smash the ball into the back of the Roma net after good work from Immers. 1 – 1.
The away stand descended into a level of chaos rarely seen in world football, as thousands of people simultaneously lost their minds. Every player apart from the goalkeeper ran to celebrate with the fans, many of them climbing up the security fence to get inside the away end. It was a wise choice. I promise you, there was not a better place in the world to be at 8:07pm on Thursday 19th February than inside Feyenoord Rotterdam’s away end. From the front of the stand to the back, it was completely nuts – people running down the stairs, flying over seats, swinging from the fences, waving flares in the air or simply jumping all over anyone they could find. I think it was the longest goal celebration I have ever been involved in, lasting for many many minutes.
Aftermath of the goal (around 5 minutes later)
Indeed, my new phone has a step counter included, and it later told me that I took 400 ‘steps’ in the five minutes after the goal, although many of these steps were probably actually hurdles over seats, jumps onto every single person I recognised and trying to keep my balance with 20 stone skinheads from Rotterdam on my back. It was a magic moment, and the kind of thing that makes all the expense and difficulty that comes from a European away day worthwhile.
Rather than sitting back after claiming the away goal, Feyenoord continued to charge forward, taking control of the second half. It was a performance which had not looked likely at all after 35 minutes when we had not just been second best, but probably third best behind the linesman and referee. It looked like a completely different team, and the visitors could even have finished with a win, never mind an away goal.
Perhaps that would have been greedy, because there was already a gigantic party going on in the various away sections. It seemed as though every single Feyenoord song from the last 10 years was sung at some point, with ‘We shall not be moved!’ and ‘Do we come from Rotterdam?’ being given the loudest and most regular airings. Another moment of joy came as the ineffective Totti was withdrawn, 6,000 people waving him goodbye and singing the name of Clasie once more. He will of course be a huge threat again on Thursday night for the second leg, but here at least he had been comprehensively dealt with by the flying Dutchman.
In the last minute of the game, Feyenoord almost win it. The ball is in the area for a seemingly impossible amount of time without scoring, but nobody can quite manage to turn it into the net. Had it gone in, I don’t think I would be around to write this report – I’d either still be in the Stadio Olimpico celebrating or lying hungover on the roof of a hotel in Las Vegas wondering how I got here.
I think this goal would have sealed the tie for Feyenoord, Roma would have found it very difficult to win by two goals in the bear pit of an atmosphere there would have been. As it is the Rotterdam boys have a very slight advantage but it’s still all to play for. One thing is for certain – if Feyenoord do continue to progress throughout this tournament they will often be outmatched on the field. However, they will never, ever be out of their depth in the stands. Realistically we’re not going to win the cup, but this dream of a Europa League campaign lives on. And while we’re still in it, well – why not?
Supporters not customers wishes a speedy recovery to the four Feyenoord supporters stabbed in Rome, and all of those who suffered undeserved injuries from the hooligan police force. Oh yeah, and sorry about the fountain.