Were it not for local club Heracles, recent if brief competitors in the Europa League, there would be little reason to visit Almelo. A grey former textile town now reliant on the uranium industry, Almelo has been put on the map by football.
In a canny move, the city council, which financed the construction of the club’s Polman Stadion in 1999, renamed the club Heracles Almelo. Now when the ‘Heraclieden’ make the Dutch Cup final, as they did in 2012, or compete in Europe, as in 2016, the world sees ‘Almelo’. Previously, the club existed as AVC, then SC ’74.
Heracles (‘Hercules’) have a history longer than almost any other club in the Eredivisie, and have been crowned Dutch champions twice more than celebrated local rivals Twente Enschede. Yet Heracles still struggle for recognition. The local clash between the two, the Twentse derby, was dominated by the Enschede side until their relegation from the top flight in 2018. Twente have significantly more supporters in Almelo than Heracles have in Enschede.
At a low point in Heracles’ history, there was even talk of a merger, though rather than disappear altogether, in 1974 the Almelo club eventually split. SC Heracles ’74 became the professional outfit. Carrying the club name of yesteryear, amateurs AVC Heracles still sport the same black-and-white stripes as their forebears, and play at the same Bornsestraat ground as Heracles did for most of the 20th century. It was here that Heracles led their two title-winning campaigns, the first shortly after an English-style stand was built in 1924.
Back then, local football was backed by the ten Cate textile dynasty. Well-to-do citizens first played the game in the early 1900s, a team with the regal name of Oranje Nassau based at the Groenedal parkland beside what is now Egbert ten Catelaan. Almelo boys of lesser social standing also formed a team, Hollandia, the first game between the two ending in a 23-0 defeat for the toffs.
Far from disheartened, Hollandia hired a pitch at nearby Beeklustpark and, after meeting at what was the Hotel Schreuder by the railway station, agreed on a new name: Hercules. The date was May 3, 1903.
After joining the regional Twente Football Association and playing teams from Enschede, the club had its name altered to AVC Heracles, to avoid confusion with another Hercules outfit in the main town. Black-and-green shirts were changed for black-and-white ones.
In 1909, Heracles gained revenge with the 13-0 defeat of Oranje Nassau, whose name later cropped up in 1932 when an amateur club was formed. Today Oranje, based at the Sportpark Ossenkoppelerhoek by the Polman Stadion, run seven senior sides and 60 junior ones. The first XI played two seasons in the second-tier Eerste Divisie in the late 1970s.
Heracles began to go places after World War I when textile baron Breuning ten Cate invested in an English manager, one Horace Colclough, the first Crystal Palace player to win an England cap. His career cut short by conflict, Colclough led Heracles to a Dutch Championship play-off win in 1927. A high-scoring Heracles side then took a war-time title in 1941.
The move from Bornsestraat to the Polman Stadion in 1999 kept the ten Cate connection. The Almelo textile company nearly went bankrupt in the 1990s but diversified, creating, among other things, artificial grass. Since Heracles gained promotion in 2005, Ajax, Feyenoord and other top Eredivisie sides have run out onto ten Cate turf at the Polman Stadion.
The nearest Dutch airport to Almelo is underused Groningen 86km (53.5 miles) away. Qbuzz buses Nos.9 and 100 go to Groningen station 30-40min away. From there, a regular train runs to Almelo (€23) with one change at Zwolle, journey time 1hr 40min.
Dutch trains and public transport across the country run on the nationwide travel card, the OV-chipkaart (€7.50). Touch in and touch out at the start and end of your journey.
Amsterdam Schiphol is 159km (99 miles) from Almelo. From the terminal, a train runs direct to Almelo (€23). Journey time is around 1hr 50min whether you get the hourly direct service or change at Amersfoort.
Two stations serve the town: Almelo, a 10min walk to the centre and, south of it, Almelo de Riet, a 10min walk to the stadium. It’s a 3min rail hop between them – it would be a good 30min walk. Local buses also run on the OV-chipkaart.
Taxi Oost Almelo (+31 546 455 755) are based by the main station.
With a theatre and four restaurants attached, the top-quality Van der Valk Theaterhotel on Schouwbergplein has a range of lodging options, from budget with a separate shower to standard with outdoor jacuzzi and views of Almelo. Prices, for the quality and central location, are reasonable. The theatre hosts concerts as well as plays, so you’ll find an interesting mix of people around the hotel bar.
On equally central Marktstraat, the similarly priced Huis van Bewaring offers contemporary comfort in a converted jail. The best rooms come with a roof terrace – one even has its own sauna.
Just outside the town centre but ideal for a weekend’s relaxation, the Preston Palace provides all-inclusive packages, which means access to a family-friendly subtropical water park, games, a cinema and live music.
All B&B options are a fair trek from town.
Almelo’s modest drinking options dot the pedestrianised centre, in particular Grotestraat, where you’ll find The Shamrock, the main pub in town, with TV football and party nights. Alongside, Café de Stam shows Heracles games on a big screen and hosts Doors tribute bands. A pool table gets good use. Over the road, ’t Hookhoes offers prime beers in study wood surroundings plus, bizarrely, an Escape Room game.
Further up towards the main square, Brasserie De Linde provides a nice terrace on sunny afternoons, as does NeilZ on Marktplein. Still on Grotestraat, the landmark Taveerne ’t Wetshuys dates back to 1691, when the ten Cate textile family first set up in Almelo. This courthouse bar/restaurant has seen 330 years of the city’s coming and goings.