Monday, March 30, 2009

Songs, joints and a share of the points

ADO's lucky charms

ADO Den Haag 1:1 NAC Breda21st February 2009
The Hague

There are a couple of things you should bear in mind before visiting ADO Den Haag.

Firstly, take some form of ID. They will insist on photocopying your passport or driving licence with your ticket. I didn’t have any, obviously, and had to beg to be let in.

Secondly, if you are given the option of "loud" or "quiet" seats you are a victim of Dutch understatement. Quiet translates as mental. Loud translates as even more mental. You can take your pick from there.

The ground itself is brand new. It’s not massive and it wasn’t full for what was a potential relegation tussle with NAC Breda. It is in the middle of an industrial estate a few tram stops and a bit of a walk away from, well, anywhere really. You get the feeling that the football fans are tolerated and no more by an urbane, international, royal city.

That rules out pre match drinks and you’re then given tantalising glimpses of beer and wine in the stadium kiosks. Unfortunately you can’t buy it until after the game so you’re kind of stuck if you need a drink. Thoughtfully Den Haag take your mind off your thirst by employing the man who may – or may not – be All Holland Karaoke Champion to treat the crowd to some songs of yesteryear. Standing in the centre circle mugging for all he was worth he truly inspired the masses to new levels of being almost interested.

When you take your seat (there are numbers on the ticket but these seem to be disregarded – which makes you wonder why the night has to start off with a complicated ID related debate) you soon realise that the lack of alcohol is merely a discouragement rather than a total deterrent in the battle against drunk fans.

This being Holland the coke bottles full of vodka are augmented by joints of all shapes and sizes in mind boggling quantities. Truly there was something in the air.

This was particularly prevalent in the "loud" section which seemed to be made up by the "young team" of one or more of Den Haag’s more partisan supporters groups. It would be too much to say that greasy mullets and dirty leather jackets were de rigeur but they would certainly help you blend in.

This is an all seater stadium where actually sitting is frowned upon – although the woman in front of us rather quaintly covered the seat in tissues before sitting down. If not for sitting, the seats do serve the valuable purpose of allowing fans to vent their frustration by kicking them repeatedly until they fly free of their bolts and collide with the backside of whoever is standing in front.

The game itself began badly and then clung grimly to the idea of mediocrity throughout the first half – this was lower half of the SPL stuff at best. The pitch seemed to have been liberally covered in sand which inspired the players to play like camels.

With some Laurel and Hardy defending giving Breda the lead the only moment of brevity came when the visitor’s centre forward did his hamstring. Not that you want to laugh at an injured player but the whole crowd chanting the A-Team theme tune when the medics trot on is seriously worth importing to Scotland.

The second half was an improvement as both teams remembered how to control the ball and play a pass. This coincided – but was probably not inspired by – the introduction of a full back who appeared to be some sort of cult hero for Den Haag. He was also one of the slowest full backs I’ve seen since about 1985. Physically imposing, to see him trundle up the flank was like watching John Regis run the 200 metres in frame-by-frame slow motion.

At this point I became somewhat distracted as the young gun next to me began to dispel any fears that a huge drug and alcohol cocktail might have a detrimental affect on your balance. As he teetered on the tiptoes of one foot at the very edge of his seat he displayed all the gravity defying qualities, if not the grace, of a ballerina. That he could do this while rolling a joint in one hand could only be applauded.

A cute free kick from one of their more experienced players brought Den Haag level and brought a new intensity to the crowd who when they had finished celebrating – mainly drunken stumbles and man to man hugs so physical that there would have been homoerotic undercurrents but for the lingering suggestion of violence – they began to scent that this could be one of those nights when Den Haag nicked one of their legendary late goals. It was not to be. A frantic last fifteen minutes ensued but neither side could find the decisive goal.

As unsatisfying as a draw always is we began to get the feeling that our comrades behind the goal, having gone through disillusion, celebration and male bonding, were now looking for something else and a goal either way would have sparked some dodgy scenes. Both teams may have wanted the points but the draw made our tram journey a hell of a lot nicer.

Dutch friends tell me that Den Haag have a reputation for violence and casuals. Having been in The Hague when Dutch internationals have been played I can see that a threat of things getting out of hand is probably always there. But on a cold night in February they were a lot of fun to watch.