WEST BROMWICH TO REUVER – AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP

Afgelopen week kwamen we in contact met WBA watcher en journalist van de Birmingham Mail, Danny Wright. Hij kwam er per toeval achter dat supportersgroepen van West Bromwich Albion en VVV-Venlo een vriendschapsband hebben. Hij vond het zo interessant dat hij het tijd vond om er een artikel over te schrijven. Om meer over de vriendschap te komen te weten kwam Danny bij ons terecht en hebben we wat vragen beantwoord. Dit is het resultaat. Een mooi positief verhaal over twee clubs, twee supportersgroepen en een liefde.

They’re a second tier club from the South-Eastern province of Limburg in the Netherlands, 356 miles away from West Bromwich, so what has VVV Venlo got to do with the Baggies?

It’s the pre-season tour in the summer of 2010 and Albion are preparing for their first season back in the big time.

It was a summer where we fans decided that we were going to finally establish ourselves as a Premier League side under the stewardship of Roberto di Matteo. And after a resounding 3-0 win at Aggborough over Kidderminster Harriers, the Italian’s team were off for a training camp in the Netherlands to get ready for the upcoming season.

Whilst in the Netherlands, West Brom had a pre-season fixture against the then top-flight side VVV Venlo at the De Koel stadium.

De Koel Stadium, home of VVV Venlo

VVV Venlo were founded in 1903, and are one of the oldest clubs in the Netherlands. The ‘VVV’ stands for Venlose Voetbal Vereniging, which loosely translates to Venlo Football Association. They are known as the Good Old or Pride of the South to their supporters who watch their team at De Koel stadium, and 8,000 capacity stadium which is also known as the Seacon Stadium.

De Koel has been home to a few well-known players in Europe such as current AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda and Nigerian international Ahmed Musa. Current Southampton and Japan defender Maya Yoshida also broke into European football via VVV.

Around 400 Baggies fans made their way to De Koel in anticipation of getting to see more of the attractive football di Matteo had them drooling over the season before. However, what they got out of the trip was much more than seeing their team win.

Albion won the game 2-1, Ishmael Miller opening the scoring and new singing Gabriel Tamas got his first goal for the club, but what was more fascinating than the result is the bond that was created between both sets of supporters during the game. Di Matteo even pointed out that it was a great occasion for everyone who had made it to the game and praised the travelling supporters for their behaviour: “The fans have been unbelievable today. There was so many here it felt like we were back home,” he said.

“I think the beer helped them enjoy the occasion. I’m sure the bars inside the ground had a high turnover,” he added.

After many drinks, plus some routine photos and signing, the Dutch and the Englishmen swapped contact details and Albion fans invited their hosts to come to watch West Brom at the Hawthorns. To this day Venlo supporters make the 712 mile round trip to cheer on the Baggies.

Albion and VVV Flags side-by-side

They also bring banners to their home games sporting the blue and white stripes and ‘WBA’ graffiti can be found around the Dutch city.

Daniel van den Berg, who runs a Venlo supporters website, thinks that the culture of football in both England and the Netherlands is key to the friendship: “The club cultures from VVV and WBA are very similar and that is why, I think, the friendship is very close,” he said.

It will be five years this summer since the friendly and van den Berg would like to see the two sides commemorate that anniversary: “All of the VVV fans hope that there will be a friendly in the future.

“Actually last summer we hoped that they arranged it, but West Brom went to the USA to have a campaign abroad. We hope that it can be arranged next summer for the fifth anniversary,” he said.

Later that season a group of Venlo supporters came to watch the Black Country derby at the Hawthorns to see Roy Hodgson’s first game in charge and they weren’t disappointed thanks to loan-signing Carlos Vela scoring a late equaliser to silence the away support. And yes, they did ‘boing boing’.

“The Venlo fans feel like they’re home at the Hawthorns!” Daniel van den Berg, Venlo supporter.

After that game Albion only went on to lose two more games that season and achieve their then-highest finish in the Premier League in 11th place and, well, you know the rest. However Venlo suffered a different fate and that season the Good Old diced with relegation, but ulitamtely earned survival in the Eredivisie by winning the relegation play-off. They were, however, eventually relegated back to the second tier of the Dutch league pyramid, known as the Jupiler League, in 2013 after losing a relegation play-off to Go Ahead Eagles.

Venlo find themselves in 11th position after 26 games this season and are currently on a five game unbeaten run.

Albion and VVV fans continued to visit each others games. Most recently the supporters of Venlo witnessed Craig Gardner’s winning goal against Aston Villa this season. Also around 120 Albion fans watched Venlo’s derby game against Fortuna Sittard.

Over 100 Baggies fans are also believed to have membership cards with Venlo.

As well as the similarites of English and Dutch football, Van den Berg also spoke of the differences: “The atmosphere is very good over there, especially in derbies, and it’s a beautiful stadium [The Hawthorns].

“The only thing that they didn’t like is the fact there aren’t any grandstands where you can stand, there are only seats.

“Also in matches you cannot drink a pint! In our stadium where you can stand where ever you like and drink a couple of beers if you want,” he added.

He also managed to get the club the play the Liquidator before home games at De Koel, something which is starting to creep back in to the Hawthorns every week.

Collaborations between two sets of supporters aren’t uncommon in the Netherlands, as well as other European countries. Juventus and ADO Den Haag fans share a similar friendship. Supporters of Polish club Legia Warsaw and Belgian fans of Club Brugge do too, but these alliances aren’t publicised too often, which is why I only found out about this last week and I presume that most of you are finding this out just now.

The Venlo supporters must be a friendly bunch, as they also have a tie with German club KFC Uerdingen, which sounds more like a fast food restaurant than a football club.

It’s a great thing when two sets of fans come together in unity for their love of football. The closest thing we have to it here in England is when there’s a mutual hate towards rival clubs, but even then there’s still rivalry during games and all friendship and allegiances go out of the window.

Personally, I’ll always be looking out for the VVV results from now on, hoping they make their way back into the top flight of the Eredivise and establish themselves as a top club, just like when we began in 2010.

Bron: Albionsday

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