Representing the historic destination of Utrecht, second only to Amsterdam during Holland’s Golden Age, flagship club FC Utrecht are a fairly modern construct.
The fourth largest city in the Netherlands, this religious centre and railway hub lagged behind the likes of Eindhoven, Arnhem and Deventer as far as football was concerned. In the 60 years or so before a single Dutch league was created in 1954, the various amateur clubs from Utrecht barely figured in the higher regional division, let alone the national play-offs.
To redress this imbalance, the most prominent and successful local side, DOS, combined forces with two lesser ones of Elinkwijk and Velox to create FC Utrecht in 1970. Velox provided the coach, Elinkwijk his assistant, DOS nearly all of the players – and the stadium, Galgenwaard, opened in 1936.
With this new identity came an increase in hooliganism. The Galgenwaard was entirely rebuilt with security and policing in mind, in 1982. Since then, FC Utrecht have won three Dutch Cups and competed regularly in Europe, hosting Liverpool, Celtic and Napoli at their compact ground south-east of the city centre, surrounded by outlets, offices and even a petrol station.
The original Gelgenwaard was shared by DOS and the city’s oldest club, Hercules. A cricket team set up by students of the Utrecht’s main high school in 1882, Hercules embraced football in 1889 and moved from a pitch near the train station to the area of parkland east of town. Eventually they settled on Amsterdamsestraatweg, in a district known as Zuilen, north of the city centre.
Playing in blue-and-white, Hercules joined the Eeerst Klasse Oost (First Class East) division in 1899, then switched to the West. Pitted against the best teams from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Den Haag, Hercules failed to make the national play-offs.
Locally, the main rival was UVV. Utrechtse Voetbalvereniging, the Utrecht Football Association, started as school team Voorwaarts, formed in 1893, who later merged JEMKA and UNI to become Vitesse in 1898, inspired by the team from nearby Arnhem.
Lacking a decent pitch, Vitesse then combined with Victoria, based at Wilhelminapark, close to where Hercules were then playing. The club name was changed to UVV in 1902.
The two main local clubs took part in the Eeerst Klasse West around the time of World War I, UVV winning the regional title in 1917 and finishing runners-up to Deventer in the national play-offs.
Playing in red, UVV are best known for giving Utrecht-born Marco van Basten his first start, backed by his father Joop, a prominent player here in the 1950s. Though Joop named one son after Stanley Matthews, it was Marco who made it to the top, signing for Ajax in 1981. The field he played as a boy, on Cervanteslaan, is now called Sportpark Marco van Basten.
UVV now play, as amateurs on Saturdays and Sundays, at the Sportpark Paperclip on Parkzichtlaan, west of the city centre. Hercules also have Saturday and Sunday sides, based at the Sportpark Voordorp, east of town.
Of the three clubs who formed FC Utrecht, DOS (Door Oefening Sterk, ‘Strength Through Exercise’) were created first, in 1901, reaching the Eeerst Klasse West during World War II.
Based at the multi-sport Galgenwaard after its opening in 1936, DOS rose to prominence in the 1950s. Spearheaded by locally born Tonny van der Linden, ‘The Yellow Canaries’ won the Dutch title in 1958, beating Enschede 1-0 after extra-time on a championship play-off.
That same season, Utrecht side Elinkwijk were involved in a relegation play-off with GVAV of Groningen. Based in Zuilen, north Utrecht, the club in blue-and-white gave van der Linden his debut before he won silverware across town and made two-dozen appearances for Holland.
His goals kept DOS in the hunt during the early 1960s, when they made several appearances in Europe, losing out to Sheffield Wednesday, Barcelona and WBA in the Fairs’ Cup. Separating as amateurs after the FC Utrecht merger, DOS folded in 2004. Elinkwijk still have a Sunday team who play at Theo Thijssenplein 30.
The third team in the FC Utrecht equation, Velox, were formed in 1902 as DES: Door Eendracht Sterk, ‘Strength Through Unity’. Based in Tolsteeg, south Utrecht, the renamed Velox were crowned Dutch amateur champions the same year that DOS won the national title, 1958.
Before moving from Koningsweg to the nearby Galgenwaard in 1967, Velox fielded a young Willem van Hanegem, later to win the European Cup with Feyenoord.
After the 1970 merger, Velox continued as amateurs, winning the national title again in 1982 but merging with SVVU a decade later. This club is directly linked with VSC Utrecht, who run Saturday and Sunday sides back at Sportpark Koningsweg.
Amsterdam Schiphol airport is 53km (33 miles) from Utrecht. A regular train direct from the airport takes 30min to reach Utrecht Centraal (€9). From Amsterdam Centraal, it is slightly quicker and cheaper to Utrecht. A nationwide OV-chipkaart (€7.50) is valid on trains and all public transport across Holland – or you pay more for individual tickets. In Utrecht, local trams and buses are run by U-OV, €6.20 for day pass, €2.90/€4.50 for a single ticket, from machines by platforms. Using the OV-chipkaart is much cheaper.
Utrecht station is just west of the city centre – the stadium is south-east, and too far to walk – trams leave from the CS Jaarbeurszijde stop next to the station.
Taxi Utrecht 24 (+31 30 260 7000) accepts credit cards and has a flat rate of €47 to Schiphol, with quotes for other airports in the region.
Hotels in Utrecht tend to be pricy and trendy or business-friendly – there are few budget options and none within the vicinity of the stadium.
At the south-east, stadium end of the city centre, the chic, 27-room Court Hotel is a typical example, fashionable with a hefty price tag.
The nearest lodging to the Galgenwaard, ’t Singelhuis is a high-end B&B with one room and one apartment – and rates to match. Nearby La Perle is of similar style and price, well over €100/double. Neither accepts credit cards. B&B Hartje is another in a historic building, beautifully located by the canal – €100/night without breakfast.
The only budget location as such is on the east side of town, The Hostel/B&B Utrecht City Center, offering a mix of dormitory lodging and private single/double rooms, with communal games and TV.
For an affordable hotel, the Apollo Utrecht City Centre comprises 90 rooms in the mid-range bracket, a short walk from the train station. There’s no charge for children up to 12 and free coffee in the lounge.
Spanish chain NH has two properties in town – the Hotel NH Centre Utrecht offers late Sunday check-outs and bike rental right in the heart of the Old Town.
There are bars all over the city centre, those with a more atmospheric, bohemian feel at the southern end near the university.
Canal-facing Kafe België is one of the better choices, big on football but bigger on Belgian beers, the 20 draught options posted up opposite the latest FC Utrecht team line-up.
In similar vein, with an even wider selection though no football focus, laid-back Ledig Erf puts on beer festivals and other events on its large terrace.
In the city centre, bar/restaurant, nightspot and events venue, grand Winkel van Sinkel is a Utrecht landmark with occasional drinks deals on craft beers.
Another venue for football-watching is the ten-screen Pool Café, with 12 full-size billiard tables and a separate bar area. Honest local Dutch bars are thin on the ground – Café de Stadsgenoot is one classic example, just north of the historic centre.