So on the strength of one 2-0 defeat to Benfica in a pre-season game, a fan over at the normally sensible Blackcats list is already fretting about another relegation battle (“After 50 years of totally being convinced we are going to make good next season. I think the hope has gone!!!! When if ever, will we get some talent in the team worthy of wearing them stripes with pride and giving there all”).
But this, as has been pointed out, was last season’s team. No Campbell, no da Silva, no Lorik Cana, our new capture from Marseille, no whoever else is due at the SoL. Pete Sixsmith was there to apply wiser judgement, but he was pretty unimpressed too (while being rather fond of the Netherlands) …
The Sixsmith/Horan bandwagon rolls on from the lush green fields of Ireland to the flat polders of the Netherlands as we sample the delights of European football, European culture – and European prices.
The Red Eye express from Leeds/Bradford was routine and we had our first experience of the integrated transport policy, disguised as a country that is Holland, when we rolled out of the airport and straight onto a fast train that took us into the centre of Amsterdam.
Our second experience of the trip came when we bought a 96 hour pass for the city system giving us access to trams, metro and buses. They even gave us a lanyard so we could wear it around our necks.
Unfortunately, by this time it had started to rain heavily leading to panic until we realised that the Amsterdam Arena has a roof and that postponements were unlikely.
We found the hotel, a friendly and welcoming establishment on the banks of the Amstel River, deposited our bags and mooched off into the city, armed with our travel passes and, in my case, my Berghaus waterproof. Mr Horan had opted for the casual look of a trusty denim, leaving his waterproof in his bag. Big mistake!!
Thirty minutes later, we were sat under an umbrella in the gardens between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh. I was dry and content in Gore Tex, PH was wet and unhappy in denim. To keep dry, we went into the Van Gogh and spent a couple of hours staring at the backs of fellow tourists heads and occasionally catching a glimpse of a yellow chair, a bunch of sunflowers or a photograph of Kirk Douglas biting his ear off and giving it to Anthony Quinn.
A shower and a nap at The Bridge and we ventured forth for an evening of pub finding in the vicinity of the hotel. We found a couple of good ones, although we had to walk through the Red Light district, where Pete’s Catholic guilt manifested itself by his refusal to look up from the ground.
A decent pizza, three or four beers and a good night’s sleep and we were ready for Delft and Benfica in that order.
The game spoiled a good day for us. Delft was as we remembered it: soaring towers, a womderful town square and l calm and pleasant feel that, say, Bishop Auckland, lacks.
It is the home of Vermeer and the buildings he painted can be seen from the train – the Church, the town hall and the BP oil refinery, clearly one of the master’s lesser known works.
I talked Mr H into a boat trip around the canals and spent a pleasant hour looking up at houses with huge windows and marvelling at the inanity of a group of Brits behind us who photographed everything including their hire car.
The highlight was a return visit after 18 years to Locus Publicus, a great bar in the main shopping street where we read the beer menu assiduously and won over the waiter when we ordered (entirely at random) a beer made with fermented, sour milk. It had a distinctive aroma and a not unpleasant taste.
If you have never been to Delft, go. It is a lovely town with a thriving cafe culture and a gentle feel to it. One of my favourite places and I hope to return again before old age, Alzheimer’s and a Tory government cutting my pension, prevents me.
So to the Amsterdam Arena. It’s an impressive structure, but is beginning to show its age. We were in the top corner, with a climb that made the ascent of SJP look like a mere drumlin. The pitch was patchy (they have te relay it three times a season) and our performance was not a great deal better.
Jordan Henderson started as did Kenwyne, but it was clear that Benfica were far better. They had a tactical plan which involved a spare midfield player dropping in as a third centre half whenever the full backs got forward to support the two wide front men. The midfield playmaker, the Argentinian Aiver, ran the game and to say that we looked ordinary would be an understatement.
All the old failings were there: poor distribution from the back, a frightening lack of imagination in the centre of midfield, no width and a lone striker looking for scraps. A lot of work needs to be done and the signing of Cana is a start.
Both goals were sloppy. Collins was skinned by his winger and grabbed him outside the box before he gave the penalty away and the less said about Richardson’s back pass the better. No goals meant no points ansd after Ajax and Athletico fought out a stirring 3-3 draw, we look odds on to end up as wooden spoonists.
We resumed our sour milk drinking after the game in the company of Trevor Bowden and his party. They were not impressed and stuck to pints of normal – at 24 euros a round.
Today we go to Harlem, where there is a game tonight. No doubt Steve and Eric Black will have some thinking to do before Sunday. We need a much better performance if we are to take any positives from this.