Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The 2016 Pre-Season Tour to Holland

As everyone knows the tour was to entail two friendly matches in Holland but a week before we were due to set off, Dutch Police put a spanner in the works. As it turned out, by not being allowed into the PSV game, the day eventually became one that will go down in QPR fans folklore.

DAY ONE: Friday 8th July
Up at 2am to get to Luton Airport via Shanks’s pony, a night bus and Easybus. Easyjet departs Luton on time at 6am and I slept all the way.

The train from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Arnhem should’ve taken 75 minutes but took double the time as Dutch Railways decided to divert our train to the town of Almere. The fact they decided after the fourth stop en route to divert and didn’t make any announcements on the train just added to the farce.

It was quite amusing to sit back and watch disgruntled commuters screaming abuse at the train conductor. So two trains later I arrive in Arnhem via Weesp and Utrecht and book into the Best Western Hotel opposite Arnhem Station at 11am.

Dumping my bag in the room, I then headed off on another train to the village of Driel, which is a stones throw from Arnhem. Driel was the original venue of the PSV game.

Arriving by bus from the nearest train station a mile away, I couldn’t help but think what a beautiful setting for a QPR game the village was. It was a tiny picture postcard type place that reminded me of Camberwick Green, they even had a windmill.

The bus stop dropped me outside the entrance to RKSV Driel’s tidy little ground. It was a typical non-league ground with a tiny clubhouse.

I ventured in and started taking photos and the only company I had was a group of about eight men in their 50’s constructing loads of beer tents around the perimeter fencing.

One came over and asked me what I was doing, when I told him I was a QPR fan he apologised and added that RKSV Driel were gutted about the cancellation as they could really do with the revenue.

Having hung around for about 45 minutes, I was about to leave when the bloke said ‘hold on, my friend has gone to get you a present’ and he then appeared and presented me with a Driel FC pennant.

Having already explained that I would return the following day to watch the Vitesse Arnhem v Oostende friendly game I was told ‘we will have a beer tomorrow’.

I then took the hourly No.53 bus back into Arnhem, then took yet another train one-hour north to Amersfoort where the PSV game was being shown online in a pub! Surreal doesn’t even cover half of it believe me.

Rendezvousing with Martin Percival and Steve Smith at Amersfoort train station at 3pm, we hopped in a cab for a short ride to the final destination of the ‘Long John’ pub.

On approaching the pub a warm glow came over me as I recognised ‘one of our own’ resplendent in a QPR shirt. It was 12 hours exactly since I’d got out of bed.

Entering the pub we spotted QPR CEO Lee Hoos giving a very passionate speech about the way the Dutch Police had treated the 150 or so of us who had bought tickets for that night’s game.

Getting the first round in, we found a table near one of the four screens and listened in to Lee Hoos. A few questions were thrown at him from the audience and I thought he handled them all very well.

At one point, one bloke really had a pop at Lee Hoos and was coming across a bit aggressive when two women in the audience named Lorna and Jo more or less told him that he was out of order.

Lee Hoos then got a rapturous applause from the 60 or so of us who were in the pub when he said ‘the drinks are on me’.

We settled down to watch the game but to be fair the majority of people were too busy chatting to friends old and new. The only time I recall any reaction to the game was when Onuoha was on the end of a hefty challenge and the goal of course.

Even then, a couple of us glanced up at the screen and watching the replays of the foul on Grant Hall we were moaning ‘it should’ve been a penalty’. Then we realized that it was a penalty, followed by ecstatic shouting all over the pub, then total silence as we waited…..and we waited…..then utter pandemonium as Seb Polter slotted the ball home. This led to very loud renditions of the BFG song and the inevitable ‘We’re the Rangers, the Mighty Rangers, We’re Gonna Win Away!’

The rest of the afternoon/evening was a bit of a blur due to Lee Hoos and his credit card. Apart from the Dutch Superhoops who organised the pub meet-up, there were many familiar faces around us, including the Norway R’s and Irish R’s.

About an hour after the game my two friends Paul Bogalski and Andy King (he of ‘Jesus, We Need a Miracle’] fame from that Man. City away game in 94/95) arrived in the pub. Luckily for us Paul was our chauffeur back to Arnhem as I could barely walk by now.

Arriving at our Arnhem digs at 11pm, what did we do? We headed to the bar. As you do.

Finally, six trains, three buses, two cars and about 15 pints later, I got to bed at 1am. I’d spent 15 euros on beer.

DAY TWO: Saturday 9th July
Finally raising our head above the duvets, we had breakfast, packed our bags and waited for Andy King to arrive as he had caught a train to Eindhoven last night, a city some 90 minutes away from Arnhem. As I came down to check out of the hotel, Andy was stood outside.

As anyone knows, Arnhem is world renowned for one thing, WW2. If you’ve never seen the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’, do so. The city’s emblem has a parachute on it. Coincidently, Driel FC’s badge does as well. To say British people are welcome in Arnhem is an understatement.

Paul drove the three or four miles outside of Arnhem to the town of Oosterbeek. Here lie the 2,000 British and Polish airmen who perished in September 1944.

First we visited the cemetery and suddenly all five of us were in total silence. It’s at times like these that you think ‘Brexit? Who gives a flying fuck. Just get on with it!’ Those airmen certainly did.

We then visited the museum and one of the things that hit me was seeing black and white pictures of the battle in the very same streets we had just walked down five minutes ago.

One funny but poignant exhibit was a scrap of paper. Some British soldiers were holed up in a house and had written on the wallpaper ‘fuck the gerry’s’ and underneath was a list of how many German soldiers they had managed to kill before succumbing themselves.

Meanwhile, Steve Smith and I decided to stay one more night in Arnhem while Martin Percival was heading off to Den Haag to stay with friends. Paul Bogalski and Andy King were flying home in the evening. But first there was a football match to attend.

So we headed back to Driel by car. We had enough time to have a photo of the five of us outside the entrance with our QPR flag before Paul and Andy headed to Eindhoven.

They hadn’t seen even one second of football be it live or on TV. They did manage to find the players hotel and grabbed some photos with the squad. A very long way to travel just to take a photo though.

Anyway, Vitesse Arnhem v Oostende, pre-season friendly. Eight euros and we were in. Walking round the ground we had never seen so much security for such a low profile game. We had about 50 club staff/stewards wearing red polo shirts.

There were about ten ‘suits’ wearing earpieces coming out of their breast pockets and about ten armed men with ‘Politie’ on the backs of their all-black uniforms. This was for a friendly football match with just over a thousand people in attendance!

I was wondering if I could recognise the ten groundsmen I had met the day before, when within minutes I heard the first shout of the day of ‘Chris, you made it’. The person would then proceed to buy us all a drink and a pattern emerged.

At one point, a man wearing the club polo shirt offered us a drink at the bar. Turned out he was RKSV Driel’s club chaplain. Having bought us drinks he then gave us a lecture on the dangers of drinking too much alcohol!!! Where was he last night, eh? You couldn’t make it up.

The game was played in scorching sunshine and Oostende scored a last minute goal to win 3-2. There was a total of five Oostende fans in attendance having driven for just over two hours. Six QPR fans turned up.

When the game ended we hung around by the many beer tents outside the clubhouse. I kept getting offered free beer by men I think I recognised from my visit the day before but turned it down politely of course.

We were just about to leave when one of the blokes said ‘Chris, there’s a man who is dying to meet you’. Leading us into the clubhouse he also informed me that the man was an Arnhem hooligan.

We were greeted by the sight of a man who must have been 6 foot 6, about 3 foot wide, skinhead haircut and wearing a jet black t-shirt with Arnhem FC written in Germanic/Gothic type writing. He had Neo-Nazi written all over him.

His opening line was ‘are you the QPR fan I’ve been hearing about all day?’ Answering him he hen shouted ‘I love Loftus Road and the Springbok pub’. I did say earlier surreal didn’t cover even half of this story. He then bought us drinks. About three times.

We made our excuses and headed to the bus stop. It was here we met the three other QPR fans and we recognised each other from the ‘Long John’ pub. One of the blokes told us ‘it was great Vitesse lost in the last minute as they are part owned by Roman Abramovich. Every cloud has a silver lining!

Back to our hotel, Martin Percival picked up his bag and headed to Den Haag. Steve Smith and I decided to go and have a meal, then an early night.

Having fed ourselves, the plan was ‘a little walk around town, a couple of beers then back to the hotel by 9pm’…..what could possibly go wrong? Having had our walk we settled on a quiet little bar and finishing our first pint we paid up and headed to our hotel. It was about 9pm.

We turned the first corner and what do we see? The Arnhem skinhead with about six mates outside a bar. My immediate thoughts were lets go another way but carried on.

We were then dragged into the bar by Robbie the skinhead and were bought drink after drink by him and his friends. Even the barman got in on the act. Robbie was in fact a gentle giant and a really nice guy.

Around midnight I insisted on buying everyone a drink in return but they refused as Robbie was going to bed, as he had to work the next day. Lightweights!

During the evening, Robbie did tell me a fascinating story about Arnhem FC. Since 1944, the town of Arnhem has shown it’s thanks to those airmen I mentioned earlier. As a mark of respect, KNVB (Dutch FA) allow Arnhem FC to play a home game nearest to the date of the battle. Any British people get in for free. The early night we had planned finished at 1am.

DAY THREE: Sunday 10th July
As Sunday is known as a day of leisure, we decided to take it easy. The plan was to meet up in Amsterdam late afternoon with Martin Percival and two of his friends who were driving over from Wycombe this morning.

Steve Smith and I were about to go and visit the famous ‘Bridge Too Far’ on foot when it started to rain heavily, so instead we crossed the road from our hotel and caught the next train to Amsterdam.

Emerging from Amsterdam Central Station we were hit by how busy the place was in comparison to Arnhem and Amersfoort. The tourist office told us that our hotel was a 45-minute walk away as trams weren’t running due to the Amsterdam Marathon taking place. It took us longer as we stopped for refreshments along the route.

Both of us fell asleep in our room for about two hours until Martin Percival woke us up about 5.30pm. On meeting his two friends from Wycombe we immediately recognised each other from reserve games over the last 20 years or so. Hello Darren Clark and his father Brian Clark. I also know Brian from a few Uxbridge FC games I have attended in the last two years.

We then went out for dinner and to watch the Euro 2016 Final in a bar somewhere. We found a ‘Hoopman’ bar, which seemed appropriate. We popped next door for a Vietnamese meal but on the return the ‘Hoopman’ was full up already.

We managed to find another bar, watched the game, had a few beers and an early night again. It was midnight.

DAY FOUR: Monday 11th July
Today we had to head to the town of Veendam, some 30 minutes from Groningen where we were playing Tjaronn Chery’s former club tonight. Veendam is two and a half hours by train or car from Amsterdam.

As our hotel didn’t supply breakfast in the room rate we decided to stop on the way to have breakfast. We chose the picturesque town of Zwolle. Having re-fuelled on rolls and hot drinks we walked back to Darren’s car. It was here the surrealism of the trip reached another level,

We were passing what I thought was a health food shop. It was then we all saw the huge poster on a billboard advertising a ‘Masturbation Masterclass’. Only in Holland! It was ONLY 25 euros as well. Don’t ever moan about the price of Gold seats in the Upper Loft again!

A quick visit to the local football club PEC Zwolle was the next port of call as it was close by. We were greeted by the familiar sight of a blue and white-hooped shirt in the club shop window which was nice.

We had a group photo of us with our new QPR flag inside the ground. A Zwolle club official even took our picture to put on the club’s website and he was true to his word (it’s on their Instagram thingy).

Next stop Groningen. Or should I say their football stadium. Parking the car in Groningen FC’s huge subterranean car park, we emerged into daylight outside the main entrance.

We visited the club shop and then I went to the main entrance and asked if I could take a picture of the inside of the ground as a souvenir. The man said ‘I can go one better than that, how would you like to have a free stadium tour?’ So that’s how we got to walk down to the changing rooms and see photos of Tjarronn Chery lifting the Dutch FA Cup trophy in 2015.

We were shown into the pressroom, the players tunnel and out onto the pitch. All five of us agreed the ground design would be a perfect fit for New Queens Park. The ground is known in Holland as an archetypal English ground. I want one for Rangers.

Twenty miles more and we were in Veendam where the Groningen game was taking place. Yet another picturesque Dutch town (is there any other type?) Its outstanding feature was 50 yards from the hotel in the centre of town. A stretch of grass common land and grazing on the grass were about 15 deer and half a dozen chickens!

The hotel was adjacent to a large shopping centre so we were right in the middle of town. The stadium was on the outskirts, a five-minute walk away. That’s how big the place was.

About 4pm I noticed some ‘lads’ drinking outside our bar hotel. They were all wearing Stone Island jackets. On the short walk to the ground I went past about four bars all with similarly dressed ‘youth’ stood outside. Steve Smith was in one such bar but despite him waving to me I didn’t see him.

As I entered the ground I recognised many faces from Friday night’s piss up and a few faces who had decided to stay in Amsterdam all weekend.

I also met Neil Rowlands who runs the Dutch Superhoops website and also organised the beam back for the PSV game. He was sporting a broken foot since we last met.

There was a turnout of about 140 Rangers fans in a crowd of 4,000 plus in a town nearer to Germany than Groningen. Among them were four Norwegian R’s.

We were posing for a photo by a corner flag when a group of about ten Stone Island clad ‘Ultras’ approached us and one shouted in his best Shhhteve McLaren voice ‘where are zhhheee QPR hooligans?’

The game kicked off in glorious sunshine and Chery got a good reception when he first touched the ball. The cheers turned to laughter when he attempted a shot from 30 yards and the ball sailed out of the ground.

At half-time I got up from my seat and accidently whacked the guy in front of me with the splint on my arm. I apologised and then we had a chat. He told me that he had been at Wembley four months ago watching the Holland game.

I was intrigued so asked him ‘are you a big fan of Holland?’ to which he replied ‘only when my son is playing’. Turns out his son is the Netherlands keeper and also PSV’s and he played the first-half against us four days before.

As for the game? Let’s just say our back four are still a couple of weeks from being fully match fit. This is despite the club’s tour blog claiming the players have never trained so long or hard. Joel Lynch reminds me of Neil Ruddock in his style of play.

Shodipo continues to impress me for one so young and Petrasso didn’t look out of place. At the final whistle 500 locals invaded the pitch.

I went back to the hotel but not before acquiring the huge banner above the entrance telling us we were in the ‘QPR hoofdtribune’. I now had to pass the four bars from earlier containing local ‘youth’.

As my phone battery was dead I also had to locate Martin Percival as I was sleeping on his hotel floor. I quickly checked the first three and as I entered the fourth a bloke outside said ‘are you wearing that for a laugh?’ not in a Shhhteve McLaren voice but more of a Geoffrey Boycott accent.

Turns out he was from Doncaster but ‘Chelsea through and through’. He was pointing at my QPR badge. He was 50 years old if he was a day. One of the Stone Island kids with him demanded I give him my flag as a souvenir trophy for his ‘mob’. I told him I didn’t have one (I lied, I had two).

As I left the bar the twat from Yorkshire started singing ‘Carefree, Wherever You May Be’. Probably tells all the local ‘youth’ how he was a Headhunter back in the 80’s. The thing is they probably believe him.

Back at the hotel, I eventually found my travel companions and they had just got a round of beers in. Don’t mind if I do. As we were up early we had our first early night. I went to bed at 11.30pm.

DAY FIVE: Tuesday 12th July
Up at 5am for the two-hour drive to Amsterdam Airport. We all said our goodbyes as Martin was flying to Southampton, Steve to Birmingham. I was heading for Luton while Darren and Brian headed for High Wycombe by car.

The trip was totally exhausting for me but it turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve done to watch the team. I made new friends and spent time with longstanding friends. We had a lot of laughs and met some very kind Dutch people.

Last but not least, I can now say I once travelled 12 hours to watch a QPR game on TV, in a pub some 50 miles away from the actual match.

All thanks to Neil Rowlands (Dutch Superhoops), QPR CEO Lee Hoos and press officer Paul Morrissey whom pulled out all the stops to make our trip as memorable as possible. It certainly was.