To the untrained eye (of which I can boast two), the world of Dutch football can feel like a confusing and impenetrable place. A place of bafflingly long team names made up of seemingly random bundles of letters and numbers. A place where a large, metropolitan and multicultural city like Amsterdam can often feel like it has only one team. The top end of Dutch football boasts a proud history, but the rest of it feels like a closely guarded secret. Delve below the surface, however, and there is much to take in beyond the glitz and glam of Ajax.
On quite possibly the coldest weekend of the year, I travelled with a bunch of friends to the north side of Amsterdam’s North Sea Canal, to check out the tiny Sportpark Schellingwoude, home of ASV De Dijk. On second thoughts, “tiny” might not be the best way to describe this place. The main stadium is certainly tiny (it has just one very small stand of probably fewer than a hundred seats), but it lies at one end of a sizeable complex where football pitches sprawl as far as the eye can see. On our approach to the ground, we could see that each of these pitches was playing host to several matches, from schoolkid level right up to adult, and there were footballs flying everywhere.
A look at De Dijk’s website reveals that they have a huge network of teams playing underneath first team level, covering different ages, genders, numbers of players and days of the week. If the set-up here is reflected elsewhere across the country, it possibly provides some insight into how Dutch football has so consistently managed to churn out new talent over the years. Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Justin Kluivert and various others all started out round this neck of the woods, and the pics and shirts are up on the clubhouse wall to prove it.
The clubhouse itself is one of the cosiest I’ve encountered at a football ground, with comfy sofas offering views out over the pitch (a huge temptation on a freezing day like this, but one we managed to resist upon kick-off). Sadly there was no shop, so I was denied the opportunity to waste my euros on one of De Dijk’s fantastic home shirts (imagine a Croatia top with some blue checks bunged in).
We headed down pitch-side just in time to catch a few of the home players having a quick smoke by the tunnel – an indication, perhaps, that we weren’t about to watch the Netherlands’ most honed athletes in action. And, as it turned out, De Dijk were no match for their guests from Ermelo, who very comfortably cantered to a 5-1 win.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that, of the huge number of footballers playing on the adjacent pitches, hardly any made their way across to watch the first team in action when their own games finished. The reported attendance was a suspiciously-round 300 (it felt much smaller), but it’s hard not to feel that this club deserves to attract more. As it was, this match had an eerie feel to it, with very little noise rising up to bother the bare trees and heavy grey sky. Maybe even the locals consider the Dutch lower leagues to be something of a mystery.
ASV De Dijk 1 DVS ’33 Ermelo 5
Saturday 2 February 2019