League champions, European finalists and three-time Dutch Cup winners, for a club founded by dubious, bitter rivals as recently as 1965, FC Twente can look back on their first half-century with measured satisfaction.
Representing the once impoverished border town of Enschede, FC Twente have also suffered severe financial problems and the promising top-flight campaign of 2016-17 nearly didn’t happen.
Condemned to demotion in May 2016, a month later the club was saved the ignominy of an enforced drop, the Dutch FA decision poorly in De Graafschap, denied a slot in the Eredivisie.
All is far from rosy at De Grolsch Veste, however. ‘The Grolsch Fortress’, the stadium sponsored by the famous local beer company, will not see European football until 2019 at the earliest. Several backroom staff were sacked, the youth team practically folded and league points were deducted. The season of 2015-16 was thus Twente’s worst for 30 years – although during the three decades in between, ‘De Tukker’ finished eight times in the top three, memorably winning the title under Steve McClaren in 2010.
The creation of FC Twente came about a decade after the introduction of professionalism in The Netherlands. Both the 1958 national play-off runners-up Sportclub Enschede and their long-term city rivals Enschedese Boys had been struggling to cope with the financial demands of full-time football. Having refused a merger when the Enschede municipality built the Sportpark Het Diekman stadium in 1956, economics dictated that they had no choice in 1965.
The new club duly moved into the Diekman. A kit of all red neither offended the fans of black-shirted SC Enschede nor green-clad De Boys. The best decision, though, proved to be the hiring of former Dutch international Kees Rijvers in his first post as head coach.
From 1966 onwards, Rijvers brought through young talent such as Dutch international Theo Pahlplatz, later Ajax European Cup winner Dick van Dijk and the van de Kerkhof twins, both to be World Cup finalists. For ten years from 1969, Rijvers replaced by Spitz Kohn in 1972, FC Twente rarely finished outside the top four, in an era when Dutch football ruled Europe.
Twente themselves made a European final, shocking an all-star Juventus side with a 3-1 win at the Diekman in the UEFA Cup semi-final of 1975. Holding an equally stellar Mönchengladbach to 0-0 in the first, away leg in the final, Twente conceded two early goals at home to the Germans and went down 5-1. Two years later, a goal from Arnie Mühren helped Twente win a first Dutch Cup – both he and teammate Frans Thijssen would later win European honours with Ipswich.
Relegated in 1983, back within one season, Twente improved under Theo Vonk in the late 1980s and again under Hans Meyer a decade later. As the team picked up, attention turned to the venerable but limited Diekman Stadion, the decision taken to build anew, in a burgeoning quarter where land was cheaper, near the university some 4km north-west of town.
With an original modest capacity of 13,000, the then named Arke Stadion hosted the final match of the 1997-98 campaign, against PSV.
After Twente’s somewhat fortuitous Dutch Cup win in 2001 – beating Vitesse Arnhem in the semi, then PSV, each time on penalties after 0-0 draws – the losing finalists snapped up Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink despite his missed spot-kick for De Tukker. Investigations by the Dutch tax authorities into FC Twente’s affairs revealed a shortfall of €3 million-plus. The club nearly went under.
With players and staff leaving or taking salary cuts, the spotlight fell on Swiss-Zaire striker Blaise Nkufo to save the day, his 100-plus goals in 200-plus games helping the club overcome potential disaster. His statue stands outside De Grolsch Veste, the naming rights of the stadium sold in May 2008.
That same month, Twente qualified for a first Champions League campaign and had initial talks with outgoing England manager Steve McClaren.
It proved an inspired hire. Leaving behind the press backlash over his failure in the national job, and surviving Twente’s 6-0 aggregate thumping by Arsenal in the Champions League, McClaren led his team to second place in league and cup, and stayed in the UEFA Cup until spring. Penalties proved Twente’s undoing, against Heerenveen in the Dutch Cup final and Marseille in Europe.
In 2009-10, impregnable at home, solid at the back, McClaren’s Twente lost only two games all season, goals coming from Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz. Their determined title win was not only a first for the club, it exonerated the besmirched McClaren. Within days, he left for Wolfsburg.
His return to Enschede in 2012 was not a happy one. In his absence, the club had won the Dutch Cup in 2011 with a late extra-time goal over Ajax but was beginning to slide. McClaren proved unable to reverse the trend.
Since near bankruptcy in 2003, the machinations of newspaper chief Joop Munsterman as Twente chairman had kept the wolf from the door, while expanding the new stadium to 24,000-plus capacity. Dubious transactions in the transfer market then came to light, forcing out Munsterman and nearly closing down the club a second time.
Under a new team of chairman Jan Schutrups and coach René Hake, Twente remain a potent force in the Dutch game – although catastrophe was so narrowly averted in the summer of 2016.
Arriving at Twente’s compact De Grolsch Veste stadium, just off the train from Enschede Kennispark, the little suburban station opposite it, you are greeted by a concrete gallery of murals created by and appealing to the club’s younger supporters groups such as Vak-P.
This is obviously a ground built for modern times, with segregation in place on match days, a world away from the municipal Diekman sports park created in the 1950s and occupied by Twente upon their formation in 1965.
When it opened as the Arke Stadion at the very end of the 1997-98 season, the capacity of the new ground was 13,000. Now the renamed Grolsch Fortress’ holds just over 30,000, the main expansion to 24,000 around the same time as the new sponsorship in 2008 costs three times more that it did to build the original arena. Three years later, there was a further expansion.
Part of the failed Benelux bid to host the 2018 World Cup, for which capacity would have risen to 44,000, the stadium hosted a Dutch international in 2009, a 3-0 win over Japan.
With average gates in 2015-16 at nearly 26,000 – for the club’s worst season in 30 years – the atmosphere remains passionate despite Twente’s recent travails. Games with Groningen and Utrecht are especially fierce, though interestingly enough, near neighbours Heracles Almelo are treated with respect rather than derision, not unlike the Liverpool derby.
Away fans enter through Gate G, to the left as you face the stadium from the station, where the three sectors of 324, 325 and 326 are easily segregated. Younger Twente fans occupy the rest of this end – the fierier home support is at other end. The club shop is round the other side. Cafés and restaurants are behind the home end, in a bland retail and leisure park.
The stadium is right beside a little station recently renamed Enschede Kennispark after the science complex alongside – previously its name was Enschede Drienerlo, still commonly used. It’s one stop from Enschede Centraal 4min away (€2.20) – there are four trains an hour.
Alternately, regular and cheaper Stadsbus No.1 (direction UT/Calslaan) takes 10min to run from Enschede Centraal to Station Kennispark.
Given Twente’s near full house for most games, availability is often an issue – but the dreaded Clubcard isn’t always required, such as for the Ajax game in December 2016.
Clubcards are nonetheless encouraged, and necessary for certain games. They’re free of charge but you’ll need a Dutch address and not have already have a card with any other club.
Distribution is either via the Service & Ticketing kiosk in the Fanstore (Mon 1pm-5pm, Tue-Sat 11am-5pm, 2.5hrs before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) by Gate Q behind the Hoofdtribune or online.
For all enquiries, email email@example.com.
Prices for most league games are set at €22.50-€25 almost everywhere, €30-€35 in the sideline Diekmangebouw nearest the train station. For the three premium games against Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV, it’s €10 dearer.
Over-65s and under-16s are charged €5 less in most areas of the ground.
By gate Q of the Hoofdtribune, the Twente Fanstore (Mon 1pm-5pm, Tue-Sat 11am-5pm, 2.5hrs before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) is large and well stocked.
Items include half-and-half jubilee scarves from 2015, featuring the two original clubs involved in the 1965 merger, beachwear in Twente red including bikinis, and copies of ‘Trots’ (‘Pride)’, an official illustrated history.
By the train station in town, the Enschede Shop (Mon 1pm-5pm, Tue-Sat 10am-5pm) also carries a decent range of Twente souvenirs – note the postcards of vintage match action.
Tours & museum
Opened shortly before the club’s 50th anniversary in 2015, the club museum (Mon 1pm-5pm, Tue-Sat 11am-5pm) is free to enter, with multimedia features, original shirts and a wall of pennants provided by Twente’s many European opponents. Trophies on display include three Dutch Cups and the league title from 2010. You reach it through the Fanshop by Gate Q.
The museum also forms part of half-hour stadium tours, for groups of ten and above only, admission €8 per person. Tours take place Mon-Sat at 11am, 1pm and 3pm but not on match days. Reservation is through the Dutch-only stadium website.
The retail and leisure zone behind the home end of the stadium, the Go Planet Parc contains a number of chain cafés and eateries catering to those using the multiplex cinema, indoor football courts and Expo events arena. These include the bar-like Feestcafé de Kroeg by the multiplex, which puts up three big screens before and after matches, and Turkish-run Femi’s & Ardem, offering pre-match fodder such as grilled meats and pizzas. Grolsch is also served at the bar by the go-kart track.
At the stadium, the main and Diekman stands are lined with lounges and hospitality suites. Match-day De Kantine has its own entrance in the Oostvleugel (East End), Twente scarves through the ages and archive black-and-white photos of match action providing decorative backdrop. Plenty of TV screens, too.
Behind the Westvleugel, hard-core Twente fans gather at the Supportershome Vak P.