After driving from Bad Kreuznach, Germany to Venray, the place we were staying for the bulk of our time in the Netherlands, it would be a further 60-90 minutes by train to get to Eindhoven on match day.
For our third match of the trip, an incredible fact considering we’d only arrived in Europe seven days earlier, PSV Eindhoven were hosting SV Zulte Waregem of Belgium. It was the first leg of the UEFA Champions League qualifying round.
Eindhoven was unlike any place we had visited to date. In fact, the uniqueness of each city was rather interesting. Munich was slightly old-fashioned, Dortmund was rather industrialized and Eindhoven was a more contemporary, urban setting. It was suggested to us later on that this is a direct result of bombings during the Second World War, as Eindhoven had been hit hard.
Getting off the train, you must first pass are parking lot, of sorts, which houses hundreds of bicycles. As you head toward the Centrum, while the buildings get taller, they never disturb the rustic atmosphere like a more Western metropolis might.
There are pop-up shops under tents along the side of the street, as well as food carts and trucks selling snacks here and there. As you walk through further, past the ticking crosswalks and careful not to tread too far into a bicycle lane, you reach a point where things become slightly less commercialized.
On the right, you pass a single-story building. It is far from fancy, mostly brick and cement. The exterior is covered in club graffiti and regionalist posters and phrases. Out front, a PSV flag flaps in the wind. This is the PSV Eindhoven supporter’s home.
Across the intersection, diagonally from the supporter’s home, is the Philips Stadion, home to PSV Eindhoven. Unlike the two stadiums we visited in Germany, this venue is built as part of the urban landscape. Cars and busses occupy roads on all sides, and people can walk past without the sole intention being to view the stadium. This is arguably a more traditional design for club football stadiums. It isn’t necessarily a destination, as much as it is part of the beating heart of Eindhoven.
From the outside, the stadium has an interesting design. Out front, there is a large, symbolic gate featuring the club’s crest. From this vantage point, you can get a slight view of the seats inside. Each corner of the ground is rounded at the top, an affect created by these vast, metal structures. However, along the sides, the stadium blends in like any of the other buildings we had passed to get there.
As we were doing some video work in a side street overlooked by the stadium, a busload of the opposition’s fans crossed the street between the Philips Stadion and us. Of course, I was in my Netherlands sweater and Bram was sporting his PSV shirt, so it was evident we weren’t going to be in the same end of the ground that evening.
A couple guys spotted our gear, and began to boo. That caused a bit of a stir, as the rest of the group came past the corner and joined in. Thankfully, though it was a bit of an edgy moment, PSV and Zulte Waregem aren’t huge rivals. So, with a couple fingers pointed at us, and other arms in the air, they continued towards the city center, singing songs as they went down the street.
We could hear their echo as we eventually found our way in the same direction, as we still had a while until kickoff. Getting further from the train station, and closer to the true city center, the commercial offices and metal towers disappear. Instead, there are brick-lined streets and a bit more of a village created out of shops and bars.
Here, as dinner hour approached and more football fans came out, was when it really started to feel like match day. We passed a gathering of men in black outfits, PSV Ultra’s, saw a bunch more children and adults sporting PSV shirts and scarves, and also found the Zulte Waregem supporters once again, shouting and chanting in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant.
I’d be lying if I said we went straight to the stadium from here. After stopping to eat, we took an inadvertent tour of Eindhoven, ending up on the other side of a pond had stopped to take a picture of 30 minutes earlier. However, we did eventually manage to make our way in the right direction, and got to the Philips Stadion moments before they opened the gates.
Inside, we asked a steward to take a couple pictures of us, this guy was awesome! He took the camera and guided us around the section he managed, in order to get 3 or 4 of the best angles. He even guided other people towards their seat as he was taking our picture. When we got all the photos we could, we then went to find our seats.
We were in the lower tier, near the goal line on the side behind the bench. 20 rows from the pitch, it provided a great sightline, and also situated us as close to the PSV supporter’s section as you can get without actually being in it.
At 35,000 seats, it is one of the smaller venues we will see a match in on this trip. That is certainly not a negative though, as that added a certain something to the evening. The Bayern Munich match was a spectacle. In Dortmund, it was basically a night of fanaticism. Here though, not being in the supporter’s section, it was the first time we could sit back and enjoy the football.
In a way, this was the true match day experience for the majority of supporters. Only small portions of fans spend the 90 minutes at the foot of the pitch jumping and singing. Not every team plays in a venue that breaks capacity records or is less than a decade old. This ground had a certain quality born out of tradition and grassroots support.
While PSV have had their fair share of success, the current generation is working to steer the club back to the top, to compete with Ajax for the Eredivisie title, and to once again be a force on the continent. These fans were in the seats not because they wanted to see an expensive new signing or to jump on the bandwagon of a powerhouse club. They were there because this is their team.
All in all, for a trip that’s entirely about travelling foreign environments, our first Dutch stadium brought everything back to the football. Our post-match discussions had more to do with the match than the others, where we analyzed the venue and city instead. Again, this is not a negative or positive per se, unless one or the other is the specific reason the sport interests you.
For us, this trip is about exploring all aspects of the game. Though this may not have been the spectacle other football fanatics are interested in, it was a great evening of football. Next up, Amsterdam and the Eredivisie season opener!