Harderwijk ground brings back memories

STEVE GEDGE Anyone would think they arranged these games purely with the players in mind. Norwich City's visit to Holland this week was not for the fan expecting lavish facilities along the lines of Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA or the new stadium at Arnhem that the Canaries missed out on playing in their Uefa Cup run.

STEVE GEDGE

Anyone would think they arranged these games purely with the players in mind.

Norwich City's visit to Holland this week was not for the fan expecting lavish facilities along the lines of Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA or the new stadium at Arnhem that the Canaries missed out on playing in their Uefa Cup run.

No, the woodland Sportpark de Strokel in Harderwijk is more Ridgeons League in standard, with a few homely touches such as the popular end - the Green Army Stand - bearing the slogan, or perhaps that should be mission statement, of 'Just for fun.'


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In short, think of a ground like Wroxham's Trafford Park with a few more seats and that's the setting for the Canaries' two games this week.

Despite being hard to find - Harderwijk is not the most mainline of train stations, and the ground is a couple of miles out into the countryside once you get there - the officials of the local amateur club were friendly and welcoming enough, with admission being only seven euros, which is just under £4.

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It's plainly a popular pre-season venue, too, since 24 hours before City's match against FC Zwolle it hosts the clash of Valencia and Lokomotiv Sofia.

Whether the Champions League-bound Spaniards will take as many as the 150 or so fans the Canaries had for Saturday's clash against AGOVV Apeldoorn is doubtful, but bar takings certainly made it a good day for the hosts. However, in terms of making money out of travelling fans they might learn a thing or two from the enterprising local who put a match poster up for sale on Ebay at £4.99 in the absence of any programme.

Saturday's match might have been fairly low on quality, excitement and incident, but supporters of a certain age were transported back to a time when you could actually buy beer at a football ground and drink it while the game unfolded in front of you.

Apeldoorn were no great shakes, as befitting a side who finished bottom of the Dutch second flight last season with just seven wins in 38 games. A few blue-bedecked fans, a couple armed with drums, were totally outnumbered by City supporters.

But it wasn't a day to get totally carried away by the action. City certainly took the game seriously, pushed forward well and finally managed to score goals in Holland after two blank outings in 2005.

But the words 'glorified', 'training' and 'session' were never far from mind on Saturday. Within three weeks later they will be kicking off the season at Preston, a match that probably has as much in common with Saturday's as a leafy, wooded ground in Holland does to Deepdale and its, shall we say, more basic surroundings.

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