Formed in 1925, professional since 1985, FC Emmen reached the Eredivisie for the first time in 2018. Four times since leaving the amateur ranks, the Rood-Witten nearly went under but four times the Red and Whites survived. For locally born owner Ronald Lubbers, who stepped in during the last crisis in 2012, Emmen’s shock win at storied Sparta Rotterdam in the promotion play-off of 2018 was a personal triumph.
Making their top-flight debut at Den Haag in August 2018, Emmen then won 2-1 but thereafter the campaign proved a predictable struggle, with heavy defeats at Ajax and PSV. In his first post as head coach, Dick Lukkien should be credited with getting Emmen up – then picking up vital points against Eredivisie clubs of considerably higher pedigree.
Emmen’s own history is modest at best. A permanent fixture in the second-tier Eerste Divisie for three consecutive decades between professionalism in 1985 and promotion in 2018, Emmen are based at De Oude Meerdijk on the eastern outskirts of a faceless modern town mainly built post-war.
Between the wars, when local hotelier Marchienus Groothuis created the club from a merger of three smaller ones, Emmen was a rural community of disparate villages. First named after two of them, Noordbarge Emmen Combinatie soon became VV Emmen. In the early days, players had to change at the Hotel Groothuis before trotting off to do battle against some fellow amateur XI from Drenthe province.
Playing at Sterrenkamp, then in the grounds of Emmen Zoo, the club eventually found at home at the Sportpark on Kerkhoflaan. It was there that later Dutch international goalkeeper Jan van Beveren started his playing career in the early 1960s, and there that Emmen remained staunchly amateur long after the professional game had been introduced.
Their reward was the Dutch Sunday amateur title in 1975 – and a new home at the sports complex centrepieced by De Oude Meerdijk, opened in 1977.
Having turned professional, splitting with VV Emmen https://www.vvemmen.nl/ who still play in the top amateur ranks at one of the smaller grounds alongside, Emmen attracted gates in the low 2000s until the return of striker Michel van Oostrum in 1995. After his first prolific stint at Emmen in the early 1990s, van Oostrum was twice crowned top scorer in the Eerste Divisie, hitting 93 goals in 144 games and doubling attendances at De Oude Meerdijk.
During this time, Emmen finished in the top three four seasons running, but it was never quite enough to take the club into the highest echelon.
A dispute between players and coach Azing Griever, who twice upped and left for local rivals Veendam, broke the momentum.
Emmen trod water for another few seasons, failing to make the play-offs despite goals from Roland Bergkamp, nephew of Dennis. It was another young forward, Cas Peters, who helped turn the tide. Enjoying a prolific season in 2014-15, failing to ignite at De Graafschap then returning to Emmen in 2016, Peters hit his stride during the 2017-18 campaign.
After a strong third period of the season, Emmen finished in eventual seventh place but few expected any miracles during the promotional play-offs – least of all, the more fancied NEC, who found themselves 2-0 down after eight minutes at Emmen. Taking a 4-0 lead to Nijmegen, the Rood-Witten then fell behind 2-0 after ten minutes but scored vital away goal and clung on for a 5-4 aggregate win.
With Sparta holding out 0-0 at a near-capacity De Oude Meerdijk, the Rotterdam seemed certain to keep top-tier status when they went 1-0 up in the second leg. Against all the odds, Emmen turned the tie completely around with hit three away goals either side of half-time, to reach Holland’s top tier for the first time.
Built in 1977, De Oude Meerdijk was renamed during Emmen’s promotion year, ‘Old’ perhaps reflecting on 40 years of activity. First named the Meerdijk Stadion, then Univé, then most recently JENS Vesting, the stadium comprises four stands. Home ultras, the Brigata Fanatico, gather in sectors 25 and 26 of the Jan van Beveren Tribune, renamed after Emmen’s most famous old boy, who died in 2011. At the opposite end is the Noordtribune, where there are 400 seats for away fans in sectors 14 and 15 closest to the Oosttribune.
Along the sideline parallel to Stadionplein and car park, the main Hooftribune was also renovated and expanded as part of the 2001 rebuild. With seats in bright red, it contains the press area and skyboxes. The pitch is artificial.
All feels neat and compact. For 2018-19, a capacity 8,300 or near it almost tripled what was the norm for FC Emmen when playing in the Eerste Divisie.
The stadium sits in a business and sport park, surrounded by other pitches and mainly bland chain restaurants. The few notable features are the match-day supporters bar, and the club museum, a modest free-of-charge display open during office hours.
The stadium is on the eastern outskirts of town, too far to walk from the centre and certainly from the station. Fortunately, bus No.12 runs from stop H at the station, via the centre, to Stadionplein (every 30min, journey time from station 15min). Hourly bus No.26 does the same journey, calling at fewer stops, in 10min.
Taxi Dorenbos (+31 591 303 535) quotes €15 from station to stadium.
While FC Emmen remain a top-flight proposition, filling De Oude Meerdijk to its 8,300 capacity, tickets are at a premium and distributed at two per person online – to members only. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange membership, provided you do not hold a clubcard for any other team in Holland.
Sales start a week before any upcoming home game, at 12.30pm on the Thursday.
Given the number of season-ticket holders and sponsors, seats are only available in the Oosttribune (€20, under-20s €16, under-11s €12) and behind the goals in the Jan van Beveren and Noordtribune (€16, €13, €10). Prices rise by 20% for a visit by the big three of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord.
There are no sales at the ground, on match days or otherwise.
Don’t expect an FC Emmen superstore. On match days, a little kiosk operates by the stadium gates, stocking a modest selection of red-and-white souvenirs.
There are no bars in the business park surrounding the stadium but two restaurants facing each other across nearby Meerdijk offer meaty mains and standard beers. US-style Steakhouse Goodfella’s opens from 4.30pm Wed-Sun, while standard Dutch De Serre runs from 11.30am Wed-Sun. It also has a snack bar if you’re just after a portion of chips in a spicy sauce.
At the ground, under the Oosttribune, the spacious, TV-equipped match-day Dug-Out bar is run by the Emmen supporters’ association and welcomes friendly neutrals, while the Brigata Fanatico ultras have their own little hut behind the Zuidtribune home end.