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Official Review by Sander Kolsloot, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Zwolle, a medium sized city of 125,000 citizens in the low country of Holland, sits along the beautiful, meandering Ijssel river. The town itself has a long history dating back to Medieval times, when it was part of the then well-known Hanseatic League, a trading ‘union’ that stretched across great swathes of Holland, Belgium, Germany and parts of modern-day Poland.
The local football team, PEC Zwolle, was founded a little later, in the year 1910. The club’s name was derived from PH EHN Combination (PEC) because it was a merger of the Prins Hendrik and EHN football clubs. The club found its first home on the west side of the city (Theetuin Thijssen). During the first 13 years, the club called it home and during this period, it remained in the second division in Holland.
After several moves (most notably a ground swap between local clubs, which had the hint of a big scandal written all over it), the Eredivisie, 1st and 2nd divisie started, with PEC playing at a ‘municipal sports park’. Over the next 20 years, the Zwolsche Boys (who were going down) and PEC swapped home grounds twice more. But after Zwolle landed in the Oosterenk Arena (the municipal sports park) in the 1970s, the ground underwent several improvements. The Oosterenk stadium was now being created and in 1973 a standing area (Berkum stand) was built, with the addition of more facilities in 1974 bringing the total capacity to 12,000 at that point.
In 1978 a new lighting system was installed and the corners of the Berkum side were closed, increasing capacity to 14,000. In 1983, more seats were added behind the goals, further improving capacity by 3,000, only for the main stand to burn down in a fire in 1985. This lead to the building of the Johan Cruijff stand in 1987, which had 2400 seats. Eventually, in 1997 the stadium was turned into an all seater, with a capacity of just 6,800. Zwolle barely had a sell out during those years. At the beginning of the 2000s, there were already plans to replace the outdated Oosterenkstadium. In 2005, the final decision was made by the city council to actually start building.
Ground was broken in 2007 in a ceremony performed by the Major, the Zwolle Chairman and the MD of the development group. It took them a total of almost 2 years to get the stadium done. In the end, a state of the art 10,500 all-seater stadium was constructed. During the years since then, the stadium has undergone several upgrades and expansions, most notably bringing the north side stand down to the field and converting several seats into all standing areas. The stadium capacity has now increased to 13,250.
Ever since the erection of the new stadium, Zwolle has seen an increase of fans flocking to the ground. It now has a steady 10,000 season ticket holders, 3,200 more than the old maximum capacity at Oosterenk. The stadium also provides several commercial units on the outside, with a casino, bars, shops and fitness centre among others.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
In the stadium you can get your normal sports food and drink fare, but by using a slightly different system. First you have to buy special coins, but the system allows for small amounts of coins to be bought every time. You can even use your debit card. Coins are only €1,25, so a beer or soda only costs you €2.50 euro.
Hot drinks are also available, at the same price as beer, with some hot cocoa, coffee and tea on offer. For food options, you can buy a meatball sandwich, a burger, hot dogs and so on for 3 coins (€3,75 euro). Snacks and sweets are available for 1 coin.
Inside the stadium you can expect a pleasant and supporting atmosphere. You can expect the fanatic side to provide you with supportive songs for the whole duration of the match. Regularly, as was the case during the latest visit of your correspondent, the supporters' club organizes special actions to support the team. These special events will mostly be accompanied with big, artistically beautiful banners and of course professional fireworks. This adds greatly to the atmosphere. Also, the way the stadium has been built and extended with people close to the pitch adds to the already good atmosphere. You can get tickets to the area with the fanatic supporters fairly easily, especially when it's a rather low level opponent.
The neighborhood around the stadium is industrial, which is not very likeable. In the vicinity of the stadium, you can find at least two places to eat, one being the Asian Wok inside the stadium and 'The Bleufinger' restaurant, also in the stadium. Furthermore, there are a lot of shops incorporated in the outside ring of the stadium, but they are mostly closed during games. Its industrial surroundings do not make this place worth a detour when you are around.
Fans of the local PEC Zwolle football club are nicknamed 'Blauwvingers' (literally 'blue fingers'). The nickname dates back to an old story during a siege between nearby Kampen and the city itself. Citizens of Zwolle sold the old bell tower to Kampen and in exchange the citizens of Kampen could decide how to pay. It turned out they paid the amount in pennies, 4,000 in total. The locals had to count it all, and therefore all had blue fingers, due to the counting.
The fans themselves use it now with pride. They have a stronger and stronger fan base, regularly selling out the 13,250 capacity stadium. The most legendary moment in recent times was when Zwolle reached the Cup Final, drawing 17,000 people to Rotterdam. Supporters are very much involved in the game and there's quite a strong fan group section behind the goal.
Access to the stadium is really easy. It's location in an industrial neighborhood comes with advantages. There's plenty of parking space, even for the Dutch bike craziness, and there's a bus stop with 3 bus lines (3, 8 and 70) connecting the stadium with the city centre and the main railway station (Zwolle). Furthermore, the location of the station is a stone's throw from the A28 highway (take exit Zwolle-Noord). Within the stadium, there are designated wheelchair spots close to the field, so even those fans in need of such access are taken care off. There's even a special stand for the blind, who are catered for with braille signs and sound during the game!
Tickets will cost you between €19.50 and €31.50 euro for a seat anywhere in the stadium. Expect prices to take a hike when the big 3 (Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV) and archrival Go Ahead Eagles come into town. Please be advised that you do need a Pec Zwolle clubcard (costing you €7.50 and valid for4 years) to actually get the tickets. The atmosphere, the fans, the level of football and the amount you pay make for a reasonable return on investment. It's too bad you will not get any nice extras, but what is mostly the case with these new stadiums is that history is just lacking.
There are tours of the stadium which will set you back €7.50 euro, taking you into the dressing rooms and such, but they are not available all the time. You can pre-book a guided group tour. Of course there's a fan shop with your standard memorabilia, while a funny addition is the hotel that is located in the stadium. Around the stadium, you have several outlets where you can get food, but that's it. There are no statues of any significance.
If you ever want to make an interesting trip in which you combine several not so well known teams, you could do part of the original 'Hanze-city' route. Cities in Holland include Zwolle, Deventer (Go Ahead Eagles, with which Zwolle has a more than fierce rivalry), Arnhem (Vitesse), Nijmegen (NEC) (Nijmegen and Arnhem have a strong rivalry as well), Venlo (VVV) and Groningen (FC Groningen). Cities in Germany include Bremen (Werder Bremen), Cologne (1. FC Koln, Victoria Koln, Fortuna Koln), Hannover (Hannover 96), Munster (Preussen), Dortmund (Borussia) and Hamburg (HSV and FC St. Pauli). This would be an interesting trip for every Journeyman.
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