Celebrating the club’s 50th anniversary by gaining promotion to the top-tier Eredivisie in 2018, Fortuna Sittard divided their first five decades between the first and second flights.
During that time, Sittard reached two cup finals, losing both but gaining access to Europe, only to be tonked by Everton on their way to the Cup-Winners’ Cup win in 1985.
They also lost a number of key Limburg-born players over the years, including Mark van Bommel and Fernando Ricksen, sold on to Barcelona and Rangers respectively.
In a way, the writing was on the wall as soon as the club was formed, by a merger between Fortuna ’54 and Sittardia in 1968. The former, from neighbouring Geleen, finished 17th out of 18 in the Eredivisie the previous season, the latter 18th. The new outfit fared little better, winning three games out of 34 and ending up bottom.
Back then, the club was Fortuna-Sittardia Combinatie (FSC) and called both Geleen and Sittard home. By 1971, attracted by more revenue, FSC set up permanently in Sittard, thereafter the town it would most be identified with. De Baandert, the ground on Leo Hornplein, named after top international referee, locally born Leo Horn, would see its best years in the 1980s.
Promoted in 1982, Fortuna began to bring five-figure crowds to De Baandert, achieving regular top-ten finishes in the Eredivisie and going on a cup run in 1983-84. A solitary goal in final, effectively a home game for Feyenoord, led to defeat but a passage to Europe.
Wout Helverda, later joined by ex-Southend John Linford up front, scored the vital goals that helped Fortuna overcome KB Copenhagen in the Cup-Winners’ Cup. After a narrow win over Wisla Kraków, Sittard were steamrollered by an Andy Gray hat-trick for eventual trophy winners Everton at Goodison.
The midfield savvy of former Ipswich star Frans Thijssen and goals from Ipswich-born Linford kept Fortuna in the domestic hunt. Academy players Mark van Bommel and Fernando Ricksen then helped the club regain top-flight status after a brief foray in the Eerste, fellow Dutch internationals Wilfred Bouma and Kevin Hofland the driving forces behind another cup run in 1999. Under later Holland coach Bert van Marwijk, Fortuna fell to two early Jesper Grønkjaear goals against Ajax in the final.
This time there was no Europe for the losing finalists – but worse was to follow. Investing in a new stadium in an industrial estate south of town, where they moved in November 1999, Fortuna overreached themselves. Marwijk left for Feyenoord, and expensive arrivals failed to perform.
With the ground still half-finished and debts of €24 million, the 2000s were marked by relegation and the real possibility of bankruptcy.
In 2009, there was even talk of a merger with local rivals Roda Kerkrade. The club played a money-spinning friendly with Bayern Munich and was forced to sell the stadium to sponsors.
After almost making the play-offs in 2013 and 2014, Fortuna fell back again. Former chief operating officer at Galatasaray, Turkish investor Istitan Gün stepped in. Former World Cup star Sunday Oliseh arrived as coach, and soon club records were being set for consecutive victories.
Winning the second seasonal quarter halfway through the 2017-18, Fortuna mysteriously let Oliseh go, the Nigerian citing mismanagement on the club’s part. Former youth team coach Cláudio Braga, assisted by one-time Sittard star Kevin Hofland, duly steered Fortuna to promotion, sealed with win over Jong PSV.
After the celebrations around Markt had died down, another Sittard stalwart, René Eijer, who had worked on the coaching side at the club during in the 1990s, arrived as head coach. A first Eredivisie campaign for 16 years was marked by a steady start and goals from young American international Andrija Novakovich, on loan from Reading.
Opened in 1999, the Fortuna Sittard Stadion changed hands and character in 2013, a new hotel and sports centre being opened alongside it, while an ALDI supermarket was built within it. The result, while hardly aesthetically pleasing, at least made economic sense.
Plus, at least the ground was complete, not nearly forcing the club into bankruptcy and, as Fortuna fans may well remember, not called the Wagner & Partner Stadion, its name during those difficult years of the early 2000s.
Capacity is 12,500, fine when average gates were under 2,000 in the Eredivisie. Even in the promotion season of 2017-18, it was under 5,000. Now, with Ajax, Feyenoord and nearest rivals Venlo and PSV coming to town, tickets are like hen’s teeth.
Home fans occupy the north goal, Fernando Ricksen Side, with the ALDI store behind. Visiting supporters are allocated a the section of the Zuidtribune nearest the main stand. This allows for easier policing along Madridstraat (surrounding streets are named after major European football cities, Milan, Madrid, Lisbon and… Zürich).
The main stand, across from the hotel, is lined with skyboxes. Behind are the club shop and supporters’ bar, and a bust of cult hero Fernando Ricksen with his forearms clenched in celebration. The other sideline stand is divided into Vak C-E.
Buses are hardly worth the bother. From Perron D on the concourse alongside the Sittard train station, bus No.32 runs every 25-30min Mon-Sat, hourly Sun to Parijsboulevard/Stadion two stops away.
As the service only operates until 5pm anyway, and the Nos.35 and 37 serving a similar route don’t run at weekends, you may as well either walk or take a taxi. Head right out of Sittard station towards the railway bridge, cross it and keep going in the same direction, ideally up Europaboulevard. A taxi should cost around €8-€9. Coming back from the stadium, it may be an idea to ask the adjoining hotel to call a cab for you – it’s €12 into town.
With most home games in 2018-19 either sold out or close to it, availability will be a real issue while Fortuna are in the top flight.
Online sales first require Dutch-only registration, although people living outside the Netherlands may apply.
If there are any tickets left, the offices at the stadium open 1hr before kick-off. These hours are sometimes extended. The other option is ticket resales agency viagogo.
For details on availability and sales, email the club at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best seats are in Vak A and D either side of the halfway line, €21 or €29.50 for premium ‘Topduels’. There are discounts for over-67s (€20/€28). Everywhere else, it’s €17.50/€25, €16.50/€23 for over-67s. Admission for 13-18s is €8.50/€12 and under-13s €6.50/€9, whoever the opposition. These are all online prices – it’s €2 extra per ticket when bought in person.
Alongside the 10 Beers And A Hattrick bar on the hotel side of the stadium, the Fanshop usually only operates on match days, with occasional Friday opening if Saturday demand will be heavy.
The current first kit is canary yellow with green shoulders, the away strip a similar design but with maroon the main colour and black for the shoulders.
Among the green-and-yellow merchandise are beanie hats, frilly pennants, key rings and autograph books.
Many gather at the Restaurant Medals at the City Resort Hotel behind the main West Stand. With a little terrace to one side, large open-plan interior and island bar, there’s usually no need to reserve a table though it can get pretty crowded. On offer are Bavaria and Swinkels beer on draught, Belgian trappist types by the bottle, plus mixed meat platters and filling main dishes.
Behind the main stand, by the Fernando Ricksen statue, the supporters’ match-day bar 10 Beers And A Hattrick would welcome neutrals but not away fans. DJs spin loud anthems for pre- and post-match parties.
There are no other bars or restaurants in the vicinity.