Tarnished by their rich ex-Soviet backer ownership but at least solvent, Vitesse Arnhem have been a permanent fixture in the top-flight Eredivisie since 1990. In fact, ‘Hollywood on the Rhine’ are currently one of the oldest clubs in the current division – although in all that time, all they have to show for it is one solitary Dutch Cup, won in 2017.
Vitesse earned the unwanted Hollywood epithet after a decade of near bankruptcy led to endless survival speculation in the press. Salvation came in the form of Georgian entrepreneur Merab Jordania, followed by the even less transparent Aleksandr Chigirinski, both with close ties to Roman Abramovich. The Arnhem club’s links with Chelsea, which included the player exchanges of Nemanja Matić and Marco van Ginkel, came under scrutiny.
The news that an ex-Gazprom director, Valery Oyf, had taken over Vitesse in 2018 raised few eyebrows in Holland. Also connected to Millhouse Capital that manages Abramovich’s assets, Oyf is the latest in a line of ex-Soviet entrepreneurs overseeing the club, dating back to 2010.
All this is somehow at odds with the quaint image of a club set up by local cricket enthusiasts in 1892. Once Vitesse concentrated on football, they became a major force in the early Dutch game, dominant in the eastern regional division and five-time competitors in the national play-offs.
They lost every single final, however, setting the tone for a century of near misses. The worse came in 1999. Arnhem was just preparing for the most prestigious sporting event in the city’s history, the hosting of Euro 2000 in the recently unveiled, all-purpose GelreDome, when Vitesse stood within a minute of a first-ever appearance in the Champions League. A late, late goal from Arnold Bruggink saw PSV take the vital third spot in the league. Vitesse’s subsequent campaign in Europe’s lesser trophy was characteristically brief.
Another blow came in 2000 with the resignation of long-term chairman Karel Aalbers. He had taken the club from forgotten lower-leaguers in the mid-1980s to Europe – and had conceived of the GelreDome.
Under him, despite the long gap between the national league final in 1915 and promotion in 1989, Vitesse maintained an impressive domestic record through the 1990s. Aided by strikers such as Roy Makaay and Niklos Machlas, Vitesse finished top six in the Eredivisie for 13 straight seasons, falling to the likes of Real Madrid, Parma and Bordeaux in Europe.
Even when the financial crisis bit post-Aalbers, Vitesse avoided the drop. Served, again, by quality strikers – Pierre van Hooijdonk and more recently Wilfried Bony – and decent coaches such as Aad de Mos and Ronald Koeman, Vitesse haven’t hit rock bottom, on the pitch at least.
Often peppered with trainees from the club academy and loanees from Chelsea, including Bertrand Traoré, who scored two in the memorable 4-0 cup win at Ajax in 2014, the squad is still capable of achieving decent results. A late brace from Vitesse graduate Ricky van Wolfswinkel in April 2017 earned Arnhem their first major silverware, the Dutch Cup, over AZ Alkmaar. Qualification to the group stage of the Europa League did Vitesse little good, although healthy crowds welcomed the visits of Lazio, Zulte Waregem and Nice.
High-scoring wins in the play-offs saw Vitesse return the Europa League in 2018-19. Goals in each leg by Slovenian international Tim Matavž put paid to Viitorul Constanta but Basel blocked the way to further progress thanks to a 93rd-minute goal from Vitesse old boy van Wolfswinkel.
The GelreDome is simply unique. With a 25,000 capacity for football and around 40,000 for the likes of AC/DC and Lady Gaga, the GelreDome was very much designed as all-purpose – ‘the largest theatre in the Netherlands’ as the publicity would have it.
After Vitesse Arnhem outgrew their former home at Nieuw Monnikenhuize, they not only joined the modern world by moving to the GelreDome but left behind the best part of a century based in the leafy northern districts of Arnhem. The new arena is on the town’s southern outskirts, right by the motorway into Germany.
In 2012, a monument was erected on Rosendaalseweg near what was the main entrance to the old stadium, demolished in 1999.
Despite its retractable pitch and sliding roof, the GelreDome, stage for three group matches for Euro 2000, does generate atmosphere if that roof is closed. Fans are up close to the pitch, a detail insisted upon by former club chairman Karel Aalbers, the driving force behind its development.
The stadium is arranged in two tiers around the ground, with West the main stand (Hoofdingang), Oost opposite, and Noord and Zuid behind each goal. Away fans are usually allocated the sectors 125/225 and 126/226 of the Noord end nearest the Oost Tribune, through gate Q. The Zuid (Theo Bos) Tribune is the home end.
From Arnhem Centraal, trolleybus No.7 runs every 15min and takes less than 10min to reach the GelreDome, five stops away. Only season-ticket holders are entitled you to free transport up to 2hrs before and after the match; otherwise pay the driver €4.50 for a return ticket.
A shuttle bus (Pendelbus) for season-ticket holders is also laid on from the station, with the same €4.50 return fare for everyone else.
Advance tickets are available from the MijnVitesse store (Wed 1pm-5pm, Thur-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-2pm, 2hrs before kick-off, 30min after final whistle) at the ground and online from the club. Tickets are also sold at the stadium on the day, with a €2 surcharge and the need to produce ID.
Home fans in the Zuid (Theo Bos) Tribune pay around €20 depending on the opposition, similarly at the other end, the Noord (Edward Sturing) Tribune. A half-decent seat in the Oost (Charly Bosveld) Tribune on the sidelines is €25, rising to €45 for the best seats in the West (Just Göbel) Tribune. Under-16s are charged around two-thirds of these prices.
For the visits of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV (aka Topwedstrijden), prices rise around 20%.
For all details, email email@example.com or call +31 26 880 7337 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, 4hrs before kick-off).
Club shop MijnVitesse (Wed 1pm-5pm, Thur-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-2pm, 2hrs before kick-off, 30min after final whistle) is now at the stadium, proffering match tickets and yellow-and-black merchandise.
Current second tops are navy blue with neon blue sleeves and markings.
Home fans swarm to the Supportershome Monnikenhuize set up in the stadium grounds and the Fanzone inside. Away fans and neutrals have to make do with the coffee, soft-drink and fast-food outlets set up on Horecaplein outside the main entrance or the Vitesse-branded drive-in hamburger chain nearby. Any proper drinking needs to be done in town.