The prettiest town in North Brabant, Breda has a long-established football culture that easily surpasses nearby Tilburg for passion.
While flagship team, NAC Breda, only has one distant Dutch title and a Dutch cup to show for more than a century of activity, the game’s significance here is underlined by the city council stepping in to save the debt-ridden club in 2002.
Having built the FUJIFILM Stadium in 1996, NAC were struggling with the €13 million construction cost. The club duly sold the ground to the City of Breda, which now runs the 19,000-capacity venue north-west of town, halfway to the A16 motorway that links Rotterdam to Belgium.
One of seven venues across southern and central Netherlands to host the Women’s Euro 2017 tournament, the stadium has since been renamed after NAC’s most revered player, Antoon ‘Rat’ Verlegh. The Rat Verlegh Stadion is the home of The Rats, the yellow army of NAC fans who produce fanzine De Rat.
The Rat Verlegh replaced the NAC Stadion on Beatrixstraat, opened in 1940. South-west of the city centre, it was here in the 1970s that the young following Avondje (‘Evening’) NAC developed, so named after the switch to Saturday-night football. Occasionally boiling over into hooliganism, particularly when Feyenoord came to town, this boisterous support can still be found in Vak E of the Rat Verlegh Stadion, occupied by Breda’s notorious B-Side.
With security concerns already reducing the capacity of the NAC Stadion to 11,000 from the 20,000 of its 1970s’ heyday, when it came to looking at all-seater conversion in the 1990s, an out-of-town solution was the only option.
NAC had moved from the city centre before, from ‘t Ploegske on Molengrachtstraat to Heuvelstraat in the suburb of Princenhage, in 1931. This is now the Haags Sportpark, home of Groen-Wit, one of scores of teams in the city’s thriving lower-league local football scene.
At this level, you can still find modern-day versions of Advendo and NOAD, the two Breda clubs created around the turn of the 20th century who merged to form NAC in 1912.
A combination of the first letters of the two acronyms bookended by C for Combinatie, NAC have remained an enduring feature of Dutch game ever since. Despite few appearances in Europe, De Parel van het Zuiden (‘The Pearl of the South’) have competed all but 12 times in the top-tier Eredivisie since it was created in 1956.
The most recent relegation came in 2015. The promotion play-off win over Nijmegen in May 2017 was followed by mass celebrations in the Grote Markt, the showcase main square of the medieval city centre.
The nearest airport to Breda is Eindhoven, 51km (32 miles) away. There is no public transport between the two.
Bus Nos.400 and 401 run every 10-15min from the airport to Eindhoven station, journey time around 20min. The No.401 takes a longer way round.
Tickets are €3.50 from the driver or €2.20 is docked from the nationwide travel card, the OV-chipkaart (€7.50).
The chipkaart is also valid for rail journeys. From Eindhoven station, a half-hourly train takes 35min to reach Breda (€11). Those without a chipkaart can also buy an individual ticket at Eindhoven station – but there’s a draconian charge for using a foreign credit card.
From Amsterdam Schiphol airport, a direct service to Breda (€19, 50min journey time) also runs every half-hour.
Breda station is just north of the city centre a 10min walk away. The many bars, restaurants and hotels are an easy stroll from each other – for the more distant stadium, you’ll probably need a local bus, run by Arriva.
The service also runs on the chipkaart system but you can also pay on board, €3.75 for one journey (ritkaart), €6 for a one-day pass (dalurendagkaart), valid from 9am.
Taxi Breda (+31 76 522 8888) is based in the city centre and has a fixed prices for airport transfers, €100 to Eindhoven, Rotterdam or Antwerp.
There are no hotels in the immediate vicinity of the stadium.
Right by the station, the Apollo Hotel Breda City Center fills the city’s former post office with 88 artfully converted rooms, singles, doubles and family-sized. It has its own bar and restaurant but the town centre is close.
Right by Grote Kerk, the Hotel Sutor is conveniently located three-star, probably in need of a modest refit but handy for local nightlife. Nearby, a landmark on Grote Markt since 1937, the Stadshotel Hotel De Klok has recently been renamed Bell City. A suitably old-school restaurant complements the 21 mid-range rooms.
On the south side of the city centre, the Hotel Nassau Breda, set in a former convent, offers chic, boutique lodging, contemporary cuisine and cocktails on the terrace in summer. Also at the south end, the four-star Golden Tulip Keyser provides suitable comfort and convenience.
Pubs and bars dot the historic city centre, with many options between the waterfront and Grote Kerk, around Vismarktstraat.
Right by the church, long-established O’Mearas is probably the best of the bar choices, with plenty of TV football to choose from. Unveiled nearby in 2015, Mad Molly’s is run by a friendly couple and shows live sport on multiple screens. Alongside, Dunne provides a serious drinking option from 9pm.
On Vismarktstraat itself, Catch 22 is a justifiably popular spot, known for its plentiful beer choice. TV sport, too.
On Grote Markt, Heeren van Breda specialises in beers from nearby Belgium, with occasional live music. Café Vulling (‘drinken, eten & live sports’) opposite should tick most boxes, with pool tables, darts and board games, a busy terrace and a charming interior done out with old beer posters.
A few doors along, Café Sam Sam specialises in local gins, jenever while ’t Hart van Breda doesn’t do TV football but it’s one of those landmark spots worth a visit – perhaps on cheap cocktail night, currently Tuesdays.
Nearby Café De Bommel is another landmark, a party spot with live sounds and organised football tournaments.
By the station, De Pint welcomes new arrivals with a glass of Dommelsch beer.