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Netherlands: Book football trips and tickets

Where has packed grounds, a decent standard of football and a matchday experience not massively different from what you would find at home? The Netherlands have long batted above their weight on the international stage and their domestic league is equally impressive. Given the relatively short journey time isn’t it about time you gave Dutch football a try?

How do I get to Holland?

The main gateway, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, is one of the biggest airports in Europe with numerous links to destinations all over the UK and Ireland.

Schiphol is also excellently located on the Dutch train network, so as well as the short ride into the capital you can often catch direct services to many other major cities in the Netherlands.

Alternative arrival options are Eindhoven and Rotterdam airports with a handful of low-cost airline links.

You can now also reach the Netherlands via the Eurostar train. There are a couple of through trains from St Pancras each day, stopping at Rotterdam and then Amsterdam with the total journey time taking around four hours. There are further services that involve a change at Brussels.

There are also ferry links to Holland from Harwich, Hull and Newcastle.

Where do I stay in the Netherlands?

The obvious answer could be Amsterdam, one of Europe’s most lively and popular capital cities and with plenty to occupy you alongside the football. It caters for a wide variety of visitors – those who love the galleries and culture it exudes, with others enjoying the ambience of a city largely built on canals. As night falls, an altogether different city emerges with the city’s world-famous red-light district a rather bizarre attraction – one the city bosses are keen to play down in a bid to improve the city’s tourist reputation.

However, you may want to think of other options. Firstly, Amsterdam can be an expensive place to stay, particularly in the centre. What’s more, there are other cities that are better located should you be thinking of travelling around the wider country for the football. Amsterdam itself is, essentially, a one club city – the major club of course being the mighty Ajax.

One other option could be the charming city of Utrecht, a medieval city located on a number of key train routes. From here you can be in Amsterdam in 25 minutes, Rotterdam in 37 minutes and Eindhoven in less than an hour. Even the north eastern reaches of the country are only a couple of hours away by rail. And of course the city has its own pretty decent club.

Rotterdam could be considered as a base due to its handy location for the Eurostar or Harwich ferry, as well as having a trio of teams to watch: Feyenoord, Sparta Rotterdam and Excelsior, with Den Haag (The Hague) not far away. As a city Rotterdam has done a lot to shed its dodgy reputation as a port city and has been rejuvenated in recent years, with a hip and eclectic style to it. Check out the cutting-edge architecture. Eindhoven has a similarly modern feel about it, and proudly claims to have the longest street of bars in the Netherlands.

The Dutch Eredivisie clubs are actually spread right around the country. To explore a few places less frequented by football tourists in the north and east, the likes of Zwolle or Enschede could be your chosen base.

Other alternatives could include Breda, a very pleasant medieval town to the south of Rotterdam. And the cheese capital of Alkmaar less than an hour north of Amsterdam will sate your dairy requirements, with city side AZ frequently challenging the big three in the Eredivisie.

How do I travel around the Netherlands?

The Netherlands has a fantastic rail system and because of its relatively compact size you can get around the country quickly and easily via Intercity services or local trains. It’s best if you can make your arrangements in advance and book online: is the Dutch rail page. Ticket prices tend to reflect the journey distance, and simple trips between the likes of Amsterdam and Rotterdam can cost all of €16.50.

If you are arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport it’s worth going to the rail ticket information desk. English is widely spoken, and they will be able to advise you on the best ticket to buy – for instance a three-day ticket for Amsterdam that would include your transfers to and from the airport.

Eredivisie kick off times

The Dutch Eredivisie has a total of 18 clubs who play each other twice. What’s extremely useful is that a large number of the season’s fixture times are confirmed at the start of the campaign, allowing you to make plans early with reasonable confidence.

Expect one Eredivisie game to be scheduled for 8pm on Friday night. A further four will be played at staggered times on Saturday evening, with four more played from Sunday lunchtime through the afternoon, and occasionally in the evening.

The Eertse Divisie is the second tier and has 20 teams. Historically most of the matches take place on Friday night, providing the perfect introduction to a weekend of Dutch football. Usually at least one game has been moved to a Sunday or Monday – Monday matches often, but not always, have ‘second’ teams of major clubs at home.

Below this is the Tweede Divisie, the country’s highest amateur league although clubs do have players under contract and the division includes several reserve sides. The vast majority of games are scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

How do I get tickets?

Tickets to Eredivisie games have sometimes been among some of the hardest to source. Dutch football can have restrictions on ticket sales, particularly for ‘high-risk’ games. Online booking is possible for some clubs and, for those that require a fan membership number or something similar, it’s worth emailing the club ticket office. Most will reply and many will endeavour to put a ticket aside for collection on matchday.

Ajax frequently sell out, with Feyenoord and PSV also attracting big crowds. Ticket prices in the top division can vary but you can often find availability at €20-€30. You should have no problems getting into Eerste Divisie matches on the day, and tickets will generally cost around €15.

Nickes.Com has extensive contacts in the Netherlands and can help with ticket and hotel packages to many of the top clubs in the country including Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV. We can also help with multi-trip games.

What’s matchday like?

The Dutch football matchday is probably as close to the British version as you’ll find on the continent.

Firstly, the Dutch love their football more than any other sport and a football club is a defining part of each town or city. Overall attendances in the Eredivisie attract just short of 20,000 and that’s a pretty stable figure over the past decade. The big three – Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV – all have big crowds to all of their games. Numbers at the likes of FC Twente in Enschede, Breda, Utrecht and Heerenveen are all decent, meaning the Netherlands enjoys one of the highest ratios of attendances to capacities of any nation. The atmosphere is often alive in the centre of town before the game and popular matchday bars are rammed on the way up to kick off. With excellent public transport links – and usually shuttle buses laid on from the main city station – lots of fans are happy to enjoy a pint or two.

There’s often a proud march by the ultras to the stadium an hour before the game, bearing flags and flares. Once inside the chants you’ll recognise at many a continental fixture ring round the arena. And, being Dutch, you won’t be surprised to see hundreds of bikes left by the railings outside the stadium either.

Many of the country’s stadiums are fairly modern. A lot have their seats raised just above pitch level, with an open concourse and bar and toilet facilities located below. This creates a ‘moat’ between the fans and the pitch and is just one of a number of methods the authorities have used to avoid trouble inside grounds. Another, very obvious, example is the well-guarded ‘pen’ for visiting fans, usually surrounded by Perspex. Thankfully examples of hooliganism are rare these days.

Catering facilities are what you would expect, with some operating token/club card systems and others usual payments – although note that a growing number of places are now cashless. With most clubs filling their stadium, you can usually expect a decent atmosphere.

The bars in the city will be bustling and noisy post-match, with Eindhoven the pick of the bunch with its strip of hostelries. A match in the Netherlands is a great experience.