A quiet community of few features, one proper hotel and no train station, Waalwijk is the nearest main town to the Efteling amusement park, where all other hotels are clustered.
There would be little other reason to visit this humdrum corner of southern Netherlands were it not for RKC Waalwijk, the local football club which celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2020 – and which has spent most of the last three decades in Holland’s top-tier Eredivisie.
This includes 2019-20 and a return to the top flight after five years. The Yellow and Blues made best use of the near-€5 million they had gleaned from the sell-on value from the €75 million transfer of former youth player, later Ajax star Frenkie de Jong, to Barcelona, to gain promotion through the play-offs.
Savvy business was always Waalwijk’s strong suit. RKC stands for Rooms Katholieke Combinatie (‘Roman Catholic Combination’), formed shortly after the Nazis had instigated an economic upswing during the first months of the occupation in 1940. At the same time, the Sportpark Olympia was built on Olympiaweg, the arrow-straight tree-lined main road south of the compact town centre upon which the current Mandemakers Stadion now stands.
RKC were an amalgamation of three clubs: HEC, themselves a merger of Hercules and Excelsior, WVH and WVB.
Excelsior had been formed in 1909, Hercules in 1919, fusing in 1921 as Hercules Excelsior Combinatie. WVB and WVH were founded in the early 1930s, but their existence only became known to local paper De Echo in 1934. On 26 August 1940, these three merged to create RKC.
Amid this array of pre-war acronyms, Waalwijske Vooruit, the later Waalwijske Sport Club, aren’t included, although they nearly merged with RKC on the eve of professionalism in 1955 – it was WSC, not RKC, members who mainly voted against. They have remained staunchly amateur ever since.
RKC also remained amateur, but only until 1984-85, four years before promotion to the top-tier Eredivisie.
One of the first clubs in town to be formed, at Epiphany 1906, WSC had been the main one in town until the 1950s. Members first met at the Van der Werff café and played on a field on van der Klokkenlaan, a continuation of today’s Olympiaweg. The Café Van Vugt served as the changing room. In 1921, the club changed names to Waalwijske Sport Club, and colours from yellow and black to orange and black.
In 1932, WSC gained promotion to the second regional league in 1932 and had their own stand on Olympiaweg, after the Sportpark was opened in 1948. Keeping to the Brabant amateur divisions, WSC were left behind by the rise in Dutch domestic football from the 1970s onwards, and bade farewell to the Sportpark Olympia in 1980.
They didn’t move far, to a pitch in the nearby recreation complex at Akkerlaan 9, the Sportpark Eikendonk. Overseeing several youth teams and well as a first XI, they remained a popular fixture in the community. For the club’s 75th anniversary in 1981, members met in the De Twee Kolommen on Grotestraat, where older ones gathered to celebrate promotion in 1932.
Rising to the highest amateur rank in 1995 and 2000, WSC could count on nearly 1,000 members by their centenary in 2006. Laid with artificial grass, the Sportpark Eikendonk features a renovated clubhouse, which oversees Sunday games in the lowest amateur flight, the Vifde Klasse Zuid 1 2E/E. Current form indicates they won’t be scaling the pyramid in a hurry – which is probably how locals like it.
The nearest airport to Waalwijk is budget hub Eindhoven, 43km (27 miles) south. Bus No.401 (Mon-Sat daytime every 10min, Mon-Sat eve, Sun every 30min) takes 20-25min to run to Eindhoven train station. Tickets are €4.24 from the machine at the stop outside Arrivals or online. The same journey costs €2.20 using the nationwide travel card, the OV-chipkaart (€7.50). It is also valid for rail journeys.
Waalwijk has no train station – the nearest one is ’s-Hertogenbosch, 20min by rail from Eindhoven (€7 single). From Amsterdam Schiphol, 108km (67 miles) away, half-hourly trains (€17) take just over 1hr.
From ’s-Hertogenbosch station, exit right to find the bus concourse alongside. From bay C, the No.301 sets off for Tilburg every 15-30min Mon-Fri, every 30min Sat-Sun, taking 25min to reach Waalwijk, first Vd Merwedelaan near the stadium, then another 5min to Vredesplein, the main bus hub in town. Coming from Tilburg Centraal, it’s nearly 40min to Waalwijk. Using a chipkaart, you’ll be docked around €3 when you touch in – it’s no longer possible to pay cash on board, but contactless bank cards will be charged around €4.
The main cab firm in Waalwijk is Taxi de Langstraat (+31 416 71 20 14), offering airport transfers.
There are only three options in Waalwijk itself. Nearest to the ground, about 10min walk away on De Coubertinlaan or Olympiaweg, B&B Heerlijk Gemaakt on Burgemeester Smeelelaan comprises four comfortable rooms in a quiet, detached house. A more unusual B&B option, right in the town centre, Slapen met kunst (‘Sleep With Art’) on Bernhardstraat offers singles for €68, doubles €88 attached to a studio and gallery.
About 15-20min from the stadium on the same main road, the four-star Fletcher Hotel-Restaurant at Burgemeester van der Klokkerlaan 55 is the main lodging in town and surprisingly affordable at around €40 per person. Its contemporary restaurant has a pleasant terrace.
The few options in town are grouped around Grotestraat, at the pedestrianised hub by Wilhelminastraat. Here, prominent Het Proeflokaal is a craft-beer pub with 32 draught options, operating Thur-Sun. Full marks to the smaller Kluis 8, opened in 2019, for providing competition round the corner on Markt, with sought-after beers, burgers and thought given to the music. Longer opening hours, too, but closed on Mondays.
By the library/tourist information office on Sint Jansplein, the Brasserie Sublime is more contemporary but with a range of Belgian beers, wines by the glass and imaginative bar snacks.
Further south, towards the main road to the stadium, Café ’t Spykerke on Stationstraat is the best and most revered bar in town, in operation since 1964, lively on its night. Open evenings only Wed-Thur, and from late afternoon Fri-Sun. The nearby Soul Kitchen attracts a younger clientele with live acts and DJs. Open evenings Wed-Thur, and from late afternoon to 2am Fri-Sun. Both are popular with the football fraternity, Feyenoord and RKC.