This was the big one, the overseas one to Holland, the home of beautiful football and lots of other things we won`t go into on a family website.
The trip started with a four am Saturday arrival at Liverpool airport, we checked in and then located to the café for a coffee to try and wake up to be greeted by eight Latics fans hitting the ale which at that time of the morning was sheer dedication. Most Latics fans were staying in Amsterdam with only a couple more travelling down to Utrecht.
An uneventful flight and connecting train saw us arriving in Utrecht at eleven with an overwhelming urge for a full English breakfast. Unfortunately Utrecht hadn`t been warned that we were coming and as a result no F.E.B. was to be found..
Utrecht is a city approx the same size as the metro borough of Wigan and is home to the largest university in Holland. Also ,like Wigan it was home to a Roman settlement.
Utrecht is also home to some beautiful canal systems much like our own Leeds and Liverpool canal(not!!!) and there are many restaurants on the canal banks to sample the local food
The football team was founded from the amalgamation of three city teams in 1970 and play at the 25,000 seater Stadion Galgenwaard. They have only won the Eredivisie once in pre amalgamation times (1958) and have won the Dutch cup three times.
What is difference to the UK is the attitude to drinking. We spent a very pleasant Saturday evening outside a café bar watching the local youths drinking but not once did we see and violent unruly behaviour as witnessed on CCTV cities and other programmes. What the reason is, has puzzled many intellectuals but I would choose Utrecht over King Street any day.
Chatting to one of the waiters I asked about the portrayal of F.C.Utrecht on a UK TV programme which appeared to imply that they had a hooligan problem. He had seen the programme and stated that he believed it was nonsense and that we would see for ourselves.
Matchday brought sunshine and fellow Vital Latics poster Bryan Plumb and his wife arriving from Leeds via Amsterdam. We arrived at the ground and having bought our tickets were ushered in to what at first site appeared to resemble a maximum security prison. After being searched we were guided through protective metal tunnels into the away section. The away section is segregated from the home fans by a large netting which goes all the way to the roof (maybe this would have been a better option at the JJB rather than close down ES1?).
The pitch is protected from the away fans by an approx 80 foot high Metal fence and it is like watching the game through a rabbit cage.
These security precautions seemed to indicate that there were concerns re hooligans in Holland.
Both Bryan Plumb`s and Vital Latics tour flags were prominently displayed and can be seen on the match photos which I will get published on here ASAP
The pre match entertainment made Pemberton Old Boys Brass band seem like Oasis, Dutch oompah music isn`t my forte. The pitch announcer came round the pitch and mentioned the Wigan fans and waved. Like idiots we waved back but he could have been saying anything and we wouldn`t have known.
Much to the disappointment of the travelling Wigan fans, there were no pies, instead it was giant spicy meatballs in a hot dog roll( I passed) and no alcohol.
In total 45 Wiganners made the game coming from all directions such as two who drove via Belgium to Wigan, two from Eindhoven and various flights from Manchester. Liverpool and Leeds into Amsterdam.
The game itself was nothing special. Utrecht as you would expect play a nice passing game but lacked a controlling midfielder. A two nil victory was very satisfying although it could have gone the other way apart from a good performance by Pollitt.
After the match several of us made our way to the entrance for photos with the players with Bryan P determined to get every player to sign his flag.
To their credit all the players plus coaching staff took their time to sign everything including the Chief Executive Brenda Spencer who thanked us for taking the trouble to go to Holland. Some players were friendlier than others and special mention must go to Killer and Melchiot.
There were many Utrecht fans milling around and they were overwhelmingly friendly once again debunking the perception of Dutch Hoolies.
Once again another successful trip to watch Latics in Holland, as a self confessed dutchophile I`m never disappointed and I sincerely hope we go back next season.
Having attended all four friendlies I feel that we are a stronger team than last season. I would still like another centre back and possibly a forward but I`m optimistic about this season.
Whatever happens I can guarantee it wont be dull !