Holland’s oldest professional club dominated the Dutch game a century ago but have since yo’yo’d between top and second tiers, most recently coming back up in 2019.
Despite this relatively modest contemporary status, Sparta Rotterdam remain De Kasteelheren, the Lords of the Castle, a reference to the fortress-like stadium they have occupied since the glory days a century ago.
Het Kasteel stands in Spangen, a quiet, old, residential area of West Rotterdam somehow in keeping with the club itself.
Originally a cricket club, Sparta were inspired by a visit to Sunderland in 1899. Adopting red-and-white stripes, Sparta entered the century with renewed vigour, and quickly initiated a series of international matches.
In 1909, Sparta whitewashed RKVV Wilhelmina of s’-Hertogenbosch in the play-off to claim their first championship, giving GVC Wageningen a similar pasting in the decider for 1911 and 1912.
In 1913, Vitesse were the victims, as they were in 1915. With five titles behind them, Sparta set about building a new stadium, with an imposing clubhouse modelled after a medieval castle that once stood in the vicinity.
But Het Kasteel, ‘The Castle’, had to wait more than four decades before more silverware came to Spangen.
Sparta fell behind city rivals Feyenoord and Ajax but reemerged with a title- and cup-winning team in the new professional era of the late 1950s.
Key to this revival was winger Tinus Bosselaar, who started his career at Sparta, went over to Feyenoord then became entangled in an ownership tussle between the two city rivals. Eventually Bosselaar returned to Spangen, and led Sparta to a league title in 1958-59, with three cup wins either side.
On the other wing was Tonny van Ede, who joined the club at 16 and starred in the best Sparta side of the post-war era before retiring in 1963.
Van Ede also scored against Rangers, one of several big-name clubs – Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade – Sparta faced in the new European era. The biggest success came in the mid 1980s, when a side captained by later coaching legend Louis van Gaal, also starring international defender Danny Blind, twice won through the early rounds of the UEFA Cup. A 2-0 win over 1983 European champions Hamburg, Felix Magath and all, was the highlight.
Relegation in 2002 represented a first plunge out of the highest league for Sparta. They bounced back in 2005 – but only until 2010. Promoted in 2016 under Alex Pastoor, Sparta only stayed in the Eredivisie for two campaigns – not even Dick Advocaat could keep them up in 2017-18, coming in when the club was 11 points adrift at the bottom. A 3-2 defeat by Excelsior, of all teams, proved crucial.
Former Sparta youth player and ex-Feyenoord stalwart Henk Fraser then managed to get his team through the 2019 promotional play-offs despite a home defeat in the first leg to De Graafschap, who took the tie back to Doetinchem with a 2-1 lead after a stoppage-time penalty in Rotterdam. As tensions rose at De Vijverberg, and chances went begging, former De Graafschap midfielder Adil Auassar doubled Sparta’s lead late in the second half.
For the return to the Eredivisie in 2019-20, focus fell on the young shoulders of Sparta youth product Abdou Harroui, whose assists proved crucial in keeping Henk Fraser’s men mid-table.
Gracefully approaching its centenary, Het Kasteel is one of the most distinctive stadiums in the Dutch game.
It’s not so much the stadium as the clubhouse, faithfully restored in the late 1990s, which lends the venue its historic character. Inspired by an actual medieval fortress that once dominated the Spangen skyline, ‘The Castle’ was built in 1916 when Sparta were the leading side in the Dutch game.
Used for the 1928 Olympics, today’s 11,000-capacity Het Kasteel consists of four stands, three named after Sparta legends.
The main south Kasteeltribune, attached to the clubhouse, contains the club shop and museum, right by the terminus for the No.8 tram. Opposite, the Tonny van Ede Tribune houses the business seats and ticket offices.
The home end is the Denis Neville Tribune behind the east goal, sectors 11-16. Opposite, away fans are allocated sectors 29 and 30 at the van Ede end of the Bok de Korver Tribune, through Ingang A.
Het Kasteel is at the terminus of the No.8 tram, the stop named Spartastraat.
However, if you’re coming from Rotterdam Centraal, it’s easier to catch regular tram Nos. 23 or 24 (12min) to PC Hooftplein, the open square one tram stop/5min walk from the stadium along Huygenstraat.
Alternatively, from Centraal, less frequent bus No.38 goes to Beukelsbrug, a 5min walk from Sparta along Horvathweg. This brings you out to the north side of the stadium, and the Tonny van Ede Tribune.
With a capacity of just under 11,000 and average top-flight gate at Sparta just over 10,000, availability is limited. Tickets for many matches are subject to Club Card restrictions – you can check and purchase for print-at-home on the Dutch-only club website. Enquiries can be made through the English-language booking form.
Tickets are also sold at the Fanshop (Tue-Sat 11am-7pm) in the clubhouse building by the No.8 tramstop, up to three weeks before the match.
Prices are set at €15-€17.50 behind the goals in the Bok de Korver and Denis Neville stands, €20 in the Kasteeltribune and €25 in the Tonny van Ede Tribune. A €2.50 surcharge applies for the visits of Vitesse, AZ, Heerenveen, Utrecht and Twente, €5 for Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV – all with club-card restrictions.
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You’ll find the Sparta Fanshop (Tue-Sat 11am-5pm, match days) behind the fortress-like Kasteeltribune. It proffers such a strange range of accessories from crayons to golf tees, as well as replica shirts in red-and-white, and black-and-blue, stripes. Note also the Sparta jigsaw puzzles –though copies of Sparta’s classic match posters would also be a sought-after item.
Tours & museum
For groups of ten and over, stadium visits also allow access to the club museum set in the clubhouse. Cups, documentation and an audio-visual display tell the story of the club’s history from 1888 onwards.
The tour (€5 per person office hours, €7.50 weekends) lasts 90 minutes and can be booked through firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Café Verburgh at Oude Binnenweg 106A in town is popular with Sparta fans, barman Dennis overseeing a classic Heineken hangout.
The only bar in the immediate surroundings is the Café Brouwershuys, set back from the main tram-lined street leading from PC Hooftplein to the stadium. Open from 4pm, it’s a standard locals’ spot with a dartboard, and karaoke by night.
In the clubhouse, among the pre-match dining options are the Wapen van Sparta (€27.50-€35), the restaurant section of the Jupiler Lounge and the Brasserie Spangen (€49.50), for two courses with drinks. Reserve a table via the club website (Dutch-only).