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Official Review by Jordan White, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
SBV Excelsior was founded on 23 July 1902 and was formerly known as "Rotterdamse Voetbal en Atletiek Vereniging Excelsior" (Rotterdam Football and Athletics Union Excelsior). Excelsior was considered to be one of the first working class clubs in the Netherlands with football having been seen as an elite sport at the time.
The club had two short spells at different locations. For the 1907-08 season, Excelsior played on the 'Afrikaanderplein.' After returning to Woudestein, Excelsior played at the Toepad terrain between 1922 and 39. When the Dutch government decided to build marine barracks on the Toepad area right before the start of the Second World War, Excelsior moved back to Woudestein, where they have remained ever since.
In the early 1990s, SBV Excelsior had emerged from a period of financial hardship. It was thought that one of the best ways of ensuring long-term financial security for the club was to own their stadium. All kinds of plans were discussed, including a proposal for a joint stadium with Sparta Rotterdam, their city rivals.
These cohabiting plans were provisionally approved but after prolonged procrastination, Excelsior decided that they could no longer wait. So, two new stands were built with money provided by both the board and the municipality. On 31st July 2000, the new stadium was opened with a match against Feyenoord.
Financial struggle continues to ensure that the club live within their means. The no-frills, four stands stadium is testament to that, as is the Astroturf pitch, which was laid as the club could not afford the undersoil heating system which is now mandatory for grass pitches in the Dutch Eredivisie.
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".
Refreshments are clearly not a priority for the club, at least not when it comes to the regular fans anyway, as I found it impossible to locate any form of concession stands.
In the Henk Zon grandstand, there were no food or drinks available to those who had not booked catering packages. As I was unable to access the other stands due to the compartmentalised nature of the stadium, the food and beverages available there remained unknown.
The atmosphere is very family friendly and there are a lot of kids and women present, although this match was actively promoted by the club as a family day so the relative proportions may have been anomalous. The flip side of this is that you had around 50 die hard fans behind the goal in the oasis of terracing in the Robin Van Persie Stand, drumming and singing away but minimal fan interaction from other parts of the stadium. With a capacity of 4400, you don't expect the decibel levels to infringe Health and Safety regulations and they don't. However, I don't think that's why this club exist and there is a feeling of ownership of the club amongst the fans. Very few original chants or, for that matter, chants of any kind, reverberated around the stands.
The laid-back atmosphere perhaps contributed towards a lack of observable tension or nervousness among the crowd, somewhat diminishing the drama in spite of the entertaining football on display. The seats are fairly standard and mostly plastic, with sufficient legroom for most. The quality of the construction feels slightly more 'Billy Bookcase' than bespoke but it you don't fear for your safety during a stiff breeze it shouldn't bother you. The Astroturf pitch, while lurid in its greenness, did not detract from the match or the atmosphere.
The stadium is situated in the shadow of Erasmus University but doesn't benefit from the type of discounted facilities one might expect in the vicinity of such a place. The university campus itself is more functional than attractive and is a model of concrete cuboidal pragmatism. There are a couple of Astroturf training pitches immediately adjacent to the stadium but otherwise the area is low on things to do or see.
The area is residential and some apartment blocks are served with precious few amenities. However, the stadium is close to the water meaning that a pleasant twenty minute stroll along the waterside to the Spansekade, which is an area dense with bars and cafés, is easily achievable for most and a further ten minutes walk brings you to the city centre's many pleasures. Anyone considering a couple of pre-match refreshments would be well advised to do so in the city centre before arriving at the stadium.
There is a charming conviviality in the stands and the feeling of friendliness is ubiquitous. The Excelsior choir in the Robin van Persie stand were doing their best to be heard but at no time were they intimidating or disorderly. In fact, their behavior was exemplary leaving a sanitized aftertaste to all songs. These are the type of fans who would ensure that any pyrotechnical displays were carbon neutral and far from children.
When they started to chant "everywhere we go oh, people want to know oh," one had the sensation of being transported to a Brownie treasure hunt in the woods. There are those who enjoy this civilized and relaxed approach to fan participation but I found it somewhat sedate. Perhaps my vision is somewhat skewed by the fact the home fans had little to sing about, having watched their team lose 0-1, but the closeness of the teams in level should have ensured that defeat-induced apathy was not an issue.
Stadion Woudestein is the easiest and most central of Rotterdam's three Eredivisie stadia to access via public transport. Either 14 minutes on the number 21 tram - or around 35 minutes' walk from Centraal Station - is sufficient to traverse the city centre, and the tram stops directly across the road from the stadium.
Taking the car is a different story as there are only 200 car-parking places at the stadium and there is little on-street parking nearby due to the population density of the nearby apartment blocks. While the A16 motorway exit is nearby, the lack of parking and the urban nature of the location lends itself to public transport access. That said, Rotterdam is remarkably bicycle-friendly. Anybody who is not Dutch cannot fail to be impressed by the provision made for bicycles and there were perhaps as many bicycles parked at the stadium as cars, with plenty of railings to chain them too.
At the ground itself, access to three of the four stands is via the road-side entrance. My seat was in the Henk Zon tribune, which was accessed from the car park. Once in this stand, there was little scope for movement around, although given the relative proportions of the corporate catering for the size of the stand, I'm guessing that's by design. The stadium looks unfinished - artists' impressions of 'filled-in' corners add to this - and feels like a house where the new occupants have started various odd jobs in different rooms, completing them when they can afford it.
In an era where slogans such as #twentysplenty and #againstmodernfootball protest against fans being exploited as consumers, funding exponentially increasing player salaries and agent fees, Excelsior seem to have the balance between retaining and encouraging support and generating ticket revenue about right. Tickets along the side of the pitch in the Albers Stand cost €22, or €17 for students and €9 for children. Behind the goals in the Robin van Persie stand, expect to pay €17, €14 and €9 euros for the same category of fan as above.
Bearing in mind that this is a top-tier match and that in nearby England, fans are charged more than this for fourth-tier matches of inferior technical quality, the return on investment is excellent for a fan of good football. This is also cheaper than nearby Feyenoord, although the atmosphere coefficient there would augment its return on investment. The caveat, of course, is that you are paying not a lot for a good-quality match but the tepid atmosphere fails to make it the magical escapism it could be. All views are excellent as, even from the back of the stand, you're almost pitchside.
The match programme is given out as fans enter the stadium although it is sparse in readable content and is a fairly colourful collection of advertisements. Other than this, it is essentially a 'no frills' stadium. With your cheap entry, don't expect much else. This isn't the kind of stadium you arrive at a few hours early with the intention of browsing the club shop and having a drink. There is a members bar adjacent to the Henk Zon tribune but, for the occasional visitor, this is inaccessible.
Excelsior is a lovely club and Rotterdam is a fine location. They could be a good team to support as a local. That they have their own stadium and that they remain competitive must be considered to be a huge positive but, as a neutral, it's not a stadium I'd have near the top of my bucket list. Pragmatism has triumphed over ambition and creativity in Woudestein Stadion's design, making this a pleasant but forgettable venue.
It would perhaps make for an interesting contrast, for a weekend visitor to Rotterdam, with De Kuip, the home of better known neighbours, and nominal rivals, Feyenoord.
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Rotterdam, South Holland 3011 ML
+31 10 270 9001
Rotterdam, South Holland 3062 NX
+31 10 233 0166