Bearing the yellow and black from the flag of the surrounding province of Gelderland, the largest in the Netherlands, Vitesse Arnhem are the oldest professional club currently competing in the top-flight Eredivisie. Frowned upon in Holland for being the first Dutch club to have a moneyed foreign owner, Vitesse have a long history more linked to England than the former USSR.
Capital of Gelderland, the railway hub of Arnhem is best known for its Bridge Too Far, the scene of war-time heroics made famous by Richard Attenborough. Its football club has long ties with England. Originally Vitesse were a cricket club that played along Rijnkade by the Dutch branch of the Rhine, near the bridge that would later become so famous.
Drawn from the middle-classes, these boys chose ‘Vitesse’ because it sounded French and high-brow. Soon football became their winter sport, and then their only sport.
Their first big match came against… Maidstone in 1895. Moving pitches with alarming regularity, Vitesse continued to win regional competitions in eastern Netherlands. Five times in these early years Vitesse would take runners-up spot in the national play-offs – they would never get so close to a Dutch title again. Star of the team was Java-born goalkeeper Just Göbel, the first Dutch keeper who caught the ball rather than punch it away – and who helped the Netherlands gain their first major honour, a bronze medal at the 1912 Olympics.
Arnhem’s last serious crack at the crown, in 1914-15, involved two notable English managers, Edgar Chadwick, who played the first and replayed FA Cup finals for Southampton in 1902; and John Willie Sutcliffe, the last man to represent England in football and rugby at international level.
The club had just become more settled in the northern districts of Klarenbeek and Monnikenhuizen when a fallow period set in between the wars – and Operation Market Garden saw the ground destroyed.
With post-war enthusiasm, a new ground was built in the same area at Monnikensteeg, famed for its sloping pitch. Vitesse attracted a record crowd, the crush even causing several injuries – but the yellow-and-blacks gained promotion that year.
The post-war period saw few further celebrations on Arnhem’s Korenmarkt but by the late 1980s, change was in the air. Reaching the Dutch cup final in 1990 and at last finishing high up the Eredivisie, Vitesse had outgrown Nieuw Monnikenhuize. The brave and expensive decision to build a state-of-the-art stadium in Arnhem South not only ushered in a long European era for Vitesse – it put the city onto the international stage as a major venue.
While Nikos Machlas was scoring record goals for the club, the city could prepare as one of the hosts of Euro 2000. The pioneering GelreDome, with its retractable roof and convertible pitch, witnessed Pippo Inzaghi convert a penalty for Italy against Turkey, and Bon Jovi and Britney Spears strut their stuff that same summer.
Although Vitesse missed out on a Champions League spot in the last minute that same year, the GelreDome later served as home ground for FC Twente and PSV when competing in Europe’s premier trophy.
The Yellow-and-Blacks, meanwhile, sank lower down the league and deeper into major debt. A constant saga of near bankruptcy gained the club the unwanted nickname of FC Hollywood and eventually brought in Georgian businessman Merab Jordania, a former midfielder during Dinamo Tbilisi’s golden years.
Although Jordania built a new training centre, the financial background was again shaky, and things got very messy when current owner Aleksandr Chigirinski stepped in. A mate of Roman Abramovich, Chigirinski created close ties with Chelsea and sacked managers willy-nilly.
With their first major silverware after 125 years of activity, the Dutch Cup in 2017, Arnhem remain a major player in the domestic game, with regular European football. How they’re perceived in Holland is another matter – the arrival in 2018 of new owner Valery Oyf, formerly linked to Gazprom and Abramovich asset managers Millhouse Capital, hardly met with much enthusiasm outside Arnhem.
Arnhem is a rail hub and has no airport. Eindhoven’s is 90km (56 miles) away, Amsterdam’s 106km (66 miles). As Eindhoven requires a bus from the airport into town, then changing trains at ’s Hertogenbosch, Amsterdam Schiphol is the best option, with direct trains every 30min (1hr 15 journey time, €17 single). If you’ve just missed one, changing at Utrecht barely alters the overall journey time.
The Dutch train network runs with the OV-Chipkaart (€7.50), also valid for local transport in towns and cities. Arnhem’s consists of trolleybuses, unique in Holland. Arnhem Taxis can be contacted on +31 26 260 2626.
Conveniently situated near the station, the Best Western Plus Hotel Haarhuis is named after the family who ran it a century ago. Destroyed in World War II, it was rebuilt then reopened in 2013 as part of an international chain, with a new wing. Nearby is the Hotel Old Dutch, a friendly guesthouse with a bar-restaurant.
Stylish B&B Vesting 10 sits in a grand property on the corner of Coehoornstraat, also near the station.
Nearby comfortable three-star Arnhem Centraal was closed by the authorities in December 2018 for alleged tax fraud. It remains to be seen whether it will reopen under new ownership in 2019. With no hotels near the stadium, the Holiday Inn Express Arnhem on the south side of the city centre should be a reliable choice.
There’s a bar zone around the focal Korenmarkt, where you’ll find party-centric, evening-only Murphy’s Home. Games are shown here on a big screen. Mick O’Connells shows TV sport daytimes and has a sister establishment in Utrecht. Music-oriented The Move is a rare case of a bar being named after a Roy Wood group and is decked out in photos of pop bands.
In the centre of town, the landmark Café Meijers is a lovely old-school Dutch drinking spot, with tables outside. Locals also gather at De Wacht, an intimate bohemian bar with a savvy, regular clientele.
Best of the bunch, though, is the Heeren Van Aemstel on a corner of Kortestraat, an atmospheric hang-out for old Vitesse fans – note the early version of the vuvuzela over the bar.