Students stan FC Groningen
Farmer 'til I die
‘You don’t really come here for the football; we usually play shit. No, you come here for the club,’ says Thijs Faber (19) as he looks on anxiously at the match unfolding just a few metres below. He is perched in his favourite spot in the north stands of the Hitachi Stadium.
It’s FC Groningen’s last home game of the season of the Eredivisie, the top division of Dutch professional football. And it’s a big one. If the home team wins, they are all but ensured a place in the playoffs, where they could go on to qualify for the Europa League – the continent’s second largest club competition.
Thijs knows what’s at stake. He is buzzing with nerves and excitement. With his sporting trendy sunglasses and a casual black jacket the second-year media student doesn’t look anything like the typical football fanatic, dressed and painted in team colours. Yet, he is surrounded by hundreds of people singing at the top of their voices. Flags of all sizes dance to the beat. A pounding chant swells all around, louder and louder: ‘We are FC Groningen, we are the Pride of the North!’ Thijs joins in.
Club of the People
International Business student Pieter van Wijk (19) pumps the air with both arms, chanting too. ‘This club symbolises Groningen’s culture,’ he says, proudly. ‘I only came to my first match this winter. I got hooked.’
The chanting pauses briefly as another song rises from the stands: ‘Farmer ’til I die’. The tune is catchy and easy to belt at the top of your lungs. Pieter shouts an explanation over the crowd, ‘others might see us as rude farmers, but if you really get to know us, we can be nice.’
A few rows over, a mishit ball strikes a group of fans standing. Laughter and jokes follow the ball as it is passed back onto the pitch. The fun atmosphere charms locals and internationals alike, says Guus Rotink (21), a third year International Relations student. ‘I brought people from Liverpool and Istanbul to see a game and they instantly became fans. They really like our football culture.’
The coach and players go, but the club stays forever
His grandfather brought him to his first match when he was a little boy. He’s been coming ever since. ‘We were born here, so it’s our club and you just fall in love with it. It’s the club of the people. The coach and the players are here for a couple years and they’re gone. But the club stays here forever.’
At these matches, no one sits down and no one wears the green and white colours of the home team. ‘If you do that, you’re kind of weird’, Thijs explains. He knows what he’s talking about; he’s been coming to these games for a decade and has rarely missed a match. ‘My friends often tell me I’m crazy to pay so much money for “this shit”. But even if I go to a rainy Tuesday night game 300 kilometres away and it’s a 0-0, I still feel like I had a good day.’
No Words Needed
But football fandom can be expensive – especially for students. Tickets, travelling, food, and drinks can really add up by the end of the season. But Thijs thinks it’s worth it. ‘I’ve been able to afford it so far. If I must, I will find a job just to have enough money to go to the games.’
Thijs’s classmate and best friend Maarten Siepel (20) stands one row below him. He watches closely as the game stumbles on. A collective groan of disappointment rolls across the stadium from one stand to another as people check their phones. Willem II, a team from Tilburg, just scored a goal in their game, which is going on simultaneously. If they win, FC Groningen might miss out on the playoffs. Maarten turns and gives Thijs a long, meaningful look that says: not this again.
Maarten and Thijs run a weekly podcast dedicated to FC Groningen news and gossip. They never hunt for material, they say – the club has endured a rollercoaster ride of a season this year. ‘This team just keeps on giving.’ FC Groningen was bottom of the table around Christmas. Now, they are fighting for a chance to play at the international stage. ‘We are used to inconsistency,’ Thijs shrugs.
This team just keeps on giving
The friends struggle to explain their deep devotion to the club. ‘If I just watch the game on TV, I feel like I can’t help the team. But here – it’s an indescribable feeling…’ Thijs interrupts himself with a shout and jumps to his feet as the whole crowd erupts. The home team has scored a goal. Flushed and smiling, he gestures to the field: ‘Coming here every week is like going to see your friend who plays in an amateur theatre. He’s shit, but you still go and support him, because he’s your friend.’
We Will Be Back
Thijs is all-in with his football fandom, but Maarten takes a more balanced approach. He knows that his unrelenting support for the club costs him time and money. But he would never let his hobby impact his studies. ‘Our course allows us a lot of free time. If you manage your time well, you don’t have any problems.’
Maarten tries to keep Thijs in check and reminds him of exams and assignments that he might have forgotten while worrying for the club. ‘I can be mad for two days straight if we lose. So it’s good to have Maarten on my side’, chuckles Thijs.
The sun is high in the sky when the final whistle blows: the score is 3.0. On another field somewhere, Willem II has lost, which only adds to the high spirits of the fans who are now singing, ‘We’re going to Europe.’
Thijs is happy too, even though he knows the season will end after the playoffs. ‘I am going to miss this every day of the summer. You don’t realise how much you miss it until it’s not there anymore. We will come again next season. We will always come back, no matter what.’