Gouda, Olympia v. Kocatepe, 3:1
Take the 12:52 intercity in the direction of Utrecht, get off at Alphen aan den Rijn, then take the 13:12 sprinter to Gouda. Do not get off at Boskoop or Waddinxveen Noord or Waddinxveen. As the train slows to a halt, a candidate passenger spits at the train. He has a fresh haircut; a V is formed at the top of his head. He has the look of someone looking for a fight, or at least some kind of confrontation. Three men, probably in their 40s, dressed in their smart casuals, too get on the local train. A day out for them in Gouda, it seems. There are some large apartment blocks on the outskirts of Waddinxveen and this almost seems like a rough area. But, the landscape quickly returns to Dutch semi-suburban semi-urban blandness. There is the usual greenery of polders and canals. It’s all very orderly, managed and planned. The architecture is standard and conformist; neat, clean and plain. But, there is comfort and respectability. The ticket inspectors are cheerful and greet each passenger with a good-day and thank you and have a nice afternoon. At the Gouda terminus, a man wearing an Ajax peaked hat spends some moments staring out the window before one of his friends jokingly interrupts his pause. By the train station is an Albert Heijn supermarket, on the side of the road is the Gouda cinema. I meet my friend Reinaart, a Rotterdam-based researcher and artist, and we get in his troublesome automatic car to get to the ground.
It is a five minute drive from the station to the ground. The town is quiet; after all it is a cold, windy Sunday afternoon and we have exited via the back-side of the train station. We turn a corner and there are road works where otherwise would be the road taking us directly to the ground. Reinaart guesses from there on and then asks a man dressed in a blue tracksuit, looking like some sort of footballer, where the ground is and the best spot to park. I’m not imagining that this is a game with a crowd, but, there seems little available public car parks. The roads are empty and then a man does a U-turn in front of us, urgently taking a car park that would have been ours. We park soon enough; I ask Reinaart some basic questions about the game and then we see one of his mates. His name is Kees and we walk to the game together. He is dressed in a grey overcoat, has a scarf on and has thick grey hair. Reinaart says that he is one of the club’s administrators. His role is to welcome the away-team when they come to play at Kocatepe’s home ground. Reinaart says to him, ‘this is an important game’ and he replies, ‘they are all important games’. We walk through the gate and what seems to be a ticket booth, we mingle with the already present ‘crowd’ – a mixture of players and club officials and probably friends and family. Children, who might have played earlier, kick balls around on the concrete. A few kick at one end of the main pitch, which lies beneath the grandstand.
Olympia has a newly renovated clubhouse which provides a sheltered viewing space and bar for watching games that are played on the main pitch. But, on this day, the pitch is considered to be in poor condition, so, our game is moved to the neighboring pitch of artificial grass. Kees orders a couple of one euro coffees, and although it is ostensibly spring, I order the winter drink of hot chocolate. The players and their mates who have finished their games are drinking their beers. There is the usual socialising and loud chatter; there is excitement, but, I doubt much of it, or any of it, relates to the game that is about to take place. Reinaart says that he joined the club after he was invited to join them for training; he had met some of the players while working together at a restaurant. Reinaart had been looking for a club, and, up until that point had been brushed off; either being told to ‘come back later’, or that there were few opportunities. Reinaart was looking for the chance to be a first team player and to play regularly. He is a stocky defender, a centre-back, is his preferred role, but he often is played on the left-back. Reinaart still knows a few of the current players, but his attachment to the club is diminishing. He wouldn’t normally be attending an away match and he has done so to show some local, amateur football. Kocatepe, named after an area of Ankara, is in the Eersteklasse of the Dutch football league. The Eersteklasse is divided into regions; some play on Saturdays, others on Sundays – a practice derived from religious beliefs.
The Olympia mascot, the players and the referees lined up for the formalities. The teams shook hands and the mascot jogged off the field. We stood, leaning against the perimeter fence, directly behind the Olympia technical area. Three middle-aged men shouted instructions at the players and joked frequently. There were quiet moments, as well as times when the balding coach made scribbled something in a notebook. Reinaart serviced my bland questions and now and then offered comments; mentioning who he thought was good and who was well, not up to it. It was essential for the team to win to stay up in their present league and he regretted not seeing enough fight and hunger in the team. He was disappointed with the coach, too; who didn’t seem to have very high expectations of the team. During a lull in the game, Reinaart asked who I would bet on, if I had the chance; given the proximity of the teams at the lower end of the table, it wasn’t pretty. I told him that I would prefer to bet on an own-goal. A moment later, one of the otherwise focused coaches, joined in, stating that he could arrange it if we liked. And laughter took place. But, the own-goal didn’t eventuate: one of Olympia’s players made a quick dash down our wing and then fired in a cross which was half-volleyed into the back of the net. 1:0.
At half-time we returned to the cafeteria, bar, clubhouse. Olympia members were watching the Eeredivisie games between Groningen and Feyenoord and Ajax and Zwolle. The chatter was louder and the bodies were packed in more densely. The snackerie was getting a work out; fried-somethings served on paper plates. And this time a tosti; ham and cheese. The usual. The bread was paper thin and white, the cheese was like glue and the ham was apparently ham. Reinaart: chips with mayonnaise. The second-half started too quickly and by the time we had settled into position on the other side of the pitch, with our backs to the wind and away from the shouting (yet sense-of-humored coaches) Olympia had scored and Reinaart’s mood had taken a turn for the grumpier. The cool temperature, the gentle breeze and the persistent lack of tension (Kocatepe were playing the role of walkover) and the lack of strong coffee was making me feel sleepy. And then Reinaart did some shouting and Kocatepe scored. Reinaart shouted at the players to stop arguing with the referee and to pass the ball properly. He bemoaned the introduction of an overweight substitute. For a good twenty minutes of the second half; probably from the 60th-to the 80th (there was no scoreboard), Kocatepe was in with a chance of making it 2:2. An off-side ruling prevented it from happening, once. And then the metaphorical towel was thrown. The last kick of the game gave Kocatepe probably what they deserved, 3:1 to the home side.
Back at the bar, the watching of the Eeredivise games was becoming more focused. Alcohol probably fuelling some excitement and tension. Reinaart had a beer and then we went down the stairs to see his friends. This was his club. A club he feels detached from; his empathy is now diminishing. I told him of ‘my club’ in Melbourne – sometimes referring to Richmond, an Australian rules team and sometimes referring to Melbourne Victory, a football team. I realised the gap in what ‘my team’ means. Football for work or football as a hobby based on watching and detachment. It’s no fun watching imminent demotion unfold in slo-mo on a windy day by an almost empty field, but it was still football.