Walking distance from the German border in the far southern province of Limburg, Venlo is home to one of the most venerable clubs in the Netherlands.
Founded in 1903, VVV-Venlo had their heyday in the 1950s when two of the most revered names of the pre-Cruyff era, Faas Wilkes and Venlo-born Jan Klaassens, ran out for The Good Old.
Even though he won two league titles with Feyenoord, Klaassens was Venlo through and through. His father, Sjraar, ran a café on Venlo’s main street, Parade, which later incorporated the cigar shop that VVV bestowed upon Klaassens in gratitude once he retired. Twenty years after his death in 1983, the club decided to transform it into a museum, filled with photos, trophies and memorabilia. This makes it sound grander than it looks, a Dickensian little nook squeezed between the town’s Irish pub and another café, but the very fact that this is only one of two museums in Europe dedicated to one player, along with Cristiano Ronaldo’s in Funchal, says something about the local game.
Since 1903, this local game has been played on Kaldenkerkerweg, the long street that leads from Venlo station south of town towards Kaldenkirchen, just over the border in Germany. Back in the early 1900s, this ground was De Kraal, whose name had connections with the Boer War that was then raging, and is today echoed in the restaurant that still stands here.
After significant war-time damage, De Kraal witnessed VVV’s golden era and the move to professionalism, before hosting its last match in 1972. A few hundred metres towards town, Stadion De Koel was built to replace it, its name (‘The Pit’ in local Limburgish) referring to the undulating landscape around it, typical of this part of the Netherlands.
Rarely in the limelight – VVV have only spent nine seasons in the top flight since 1990, including 2018-19 – the game here is all about continuation. When a group of friends founded a team called De Gouden Leeuw in the 1890s, there may have been name changes, to Valuas then VVV, and amalgamations, the new entity then swallowing up Vitos, Thor and Quick, but essentially the same club has represented Venlo for nearly 120 years.
The only other local team worthy of mention is Venlosche Boys, formed in 1927, where Jan Klaassens first started as a ten-year-old boy in 1941. Still playing at the Sportpark Alde Wielerbaan the other side of Kaldenkerkerweg from Stadion De Koel, Venlosche Boys were promoted to the Eerste klasse zondag in 2017, the third highest amateur level and the sixth tier in the Dutch league system.
A number of airports surround Venlo. Perhaps the most convenient is Eindhoven, 71km (44 miles) away, with a direct train connection to Venlo every 30min (40min journey time, €10 single). From the airport terminus, head straight out to the stop for the Nos.400/401 buses to Eindhoven station (every 10-15min, journey time 20min).
Dutch trains and public transport run on the nationwide OV-chipkaart (€7.50) system. Touching in with your OV-chipkaart from Eindhoven airport to the station will cost just over €2, a loose ticket from the machine by the stop is €3.50.
Venlo station is south of the town centre a short walk away, the stadium a 15min stroll in the opposite direction, away from town. Arriva buses leave from the concourse alongside station.
Taxi Service Venlo (+31 6 230 3663) accepts credit cards.
Immediately opposite the station and handy for the stadium, the Hotel Wilhelmina has catering to travellers for well over a century, and is now a cosy three-star with a decent restaurant. Nearby, in the same family, the Hotel American has 18 rooms and a brasserie. Also here, you’ll find the more down-to-earth cheapie, the Stationshotel.
Further into town, right on Parade, the Hotel Puur is trendier and more contemporary.
Note that the most convenient hotel for the stadium, the Rembrandt on Kaldenkerkerweg, closed in 2017 and is now awaiting new owners and an overhaul.
Bars line the main street of Parade and sidestreets leading off it. At No.69, Shannon’s Irish Pub is the only one of its kind in town, with live music, live TV sport and late opening hours at weekends. Next door, alongside the Jan Klaassens Museum, the Café Vader Klaassens was once run by the father of the famous VVV player, but has since been given over to the rock fraternity. A decent choice of beers accompany live surf and rockabilly sounds, with Keef not Klaassens given a prominent spot on the wall.
Opposite, the Café Mundo nightspot shows games at weekends – it only operates Thursdays to Saturdays.
Down a little passageway from there on Keizerstraat, De Klep serves nine sought-after ales on draught, including local Venlosch Wit from Lindeboom, nearby in Neer. Round the corner, Café De Keizer, a venue for live music and late-night pool.
Right in the centre, by Markt, Alde Mert is an age-old landmark whose terrace comes into its own in summer.