I will be the first to admit that when I trudged away from the St Jakob Park following FC Basel’s 2-1 win over United, a result that sent United crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage, that the prospect of the Europa League was not one that I relished. The limp performances in Europe had led United there, unquestionably, but the idea of having the taunts of “Thursday Nights, Channel Five” that we had gleefully forced down the throats of Liverpool and City fans alike coming back to bite us on the proverbial was one that I never thought I would encounter.
But then it all changed.
It was the early afternoon on Friday 16th December. UEFA was in the throes of their drawn out, grandiose version of drawing balls out of a hat for the knockout stages of the Europa League (the Champions League draw having been done earlier without any notice or attention from yours truly). Ajax came out of the draw followed swiftly by United. Unbelievable! Text messages went back and forth, all reporting a similar message “Amsterdam!”. United forums, and varying social networks were ablaze with the idea of taking a trip to Amsterdam that would also incorporate seeing United play…what more could you ask for? We quickly booked flights, a hotel and decided we would spend a few days in Amsterdam for the game.
We were to fly out on the Wednesday morning before the game and had previously come to the decision that we were going to start our trip in the right manner. This meant holing ourselves up in the executive lounge at Liverpool airport and taking advantage of the open bar despite the time still being in single figures. We landed into Schiphol airport for lunchtime (local time), and passed by David Gill and a throng of other United staff and security (no players I might add) as we swaggered through the airport, buoyed by the prospect of what lay ahead. We travelled via the train through to Amsterdam Central Station and then on to our hotel, which provided one disappointment to the trip. A tiny room populated with two small thin single beds did not scream ‘luxury’ to us, but then again we figured we’d spend very little time in there anyway…after all, you don’t have to try very hard to entertain yourself in Amsterdam!
We set straight out for the afternoon and spent a few hours in what was apparently “the smallest bar in Amsterdam”, which to be fair you could not argue with. The ceiling was adorned with plenty of scarves of various teams across Europe, no doubt given up by visiting fans as a memento but this also allayed to how big the bar was – essentially as wide as two scarves! The stairs to the toilet were so steep it was almost like climbing a ladder. But the beer was good, the atmosphere relaxed and we got talking to another group of United lads that had also travelled over that morning. We enjoyed a few beers there before moving on to the infamous Red Light District. Now, for the benefit of anyone who has never been, the Red Light District in Amsterdam has plentiful bars to enjoy! We enjoyed a few beers around there before deciding that we could not come here and not sample some of the ‘culture’ which in this instance meant going into one of the numerous shows. Luckily entrance included a few drinks with the price. I won’t go into too much detail but the seedy element within our group now satisfied we headed back to the hotel for a quick pit stop before eating.
Now, in a slight change of topic I have to mention the restaurant that we ate at Balthazar’s Keuken. I had read reviews on the internet previously and it did not disappoint. The idea here being that the restaurant does not have a menu available and creates one daily from the ingredients that they purchase and for a very reasonable price for three courses of outstanding food. The starters are canape like, a number of small dishes but each one in itself amazing (even something as simple as halved boiled egg in mayonnaise was topped with truffle shavings). You then have a choice of just two main courses, meat or fish, which we chose the Angus beef course. Again it was amazing. The dessert of baked apples was equally full of taste. If you ever take a trip to Amsterdam I encourage you to visit this place…if you can get in that is! It’s quite a small place, with an open plan kitchen and with no shortage of demand. I drew comparisons to a Michelin starred meal I had enjoyed and to be honest there was little difference in the taste and quality of the food served here. After our meal we called it a night, with the day of the game looming it was as sensible an idea as you can expect yourself to have when in Amsterdam!
We rose early on the Thursday morning as for some reason the official ticket pick up point for United fans was not in the city centre (as on previous European trips) but at the Amsterdam ArenA itself. This meant an early start to get the train to the ground to pick our tickets up, this had one positive as it meant we could see the ground in the daylight with the height of the stadium being of particular note. We journeyed back into Amsterdam to meet up with the remaining member of our travel party who had taken the option of the day trip which meant we would have to repeat the adventures of the day before again. It’s a tough life following United! We joined up and headed back into the Red Light District, stopping off at a few of the bars we had frequented the day before and discussing our plans for the day. We popped in and out bars that were now full of the United Faithful and it was plain to see that there were far more there in number than the 2,500 or so tickets that United had been issued, with these numbers contributing to the atmosphere of the day. As the morning turned into the afternoon more and more Ajax fans also joined the area and to join in with some of their own songs, adding in to the banter between both sets of fans. It was then decided that we would frequent yet another show for a bit of a change of scenery…so to speak! A few more pubs followed by some food and we were ready for the game.
We headed to the train station to make our way to the Amsterdam ArenA and arrived in time for kick off. We did not however factor in more European riot police spoiling for trouble by herding United fans into a line and not allowing anyone contained within into the ground. We finally got into the ground just after kick off. I’m afraid I cannot provide any kind of match report as we struggled to find a spot in the stand to watch the game from, made worse by the view in what is reported as the third most steepest stadium in Europe. But United won and that’s all that mattered. We headed back to our hotel for a final night on the tiny, lumpy mattress before rising early again on the Friday morning for our trip home.
“Amsterdam eh? Bloody hell!”