Three-time Dutch Cup winners and regular European competitors, FC Utrecht haven’t dropped out of Holland’s top flight since their formation in 1970.
Always behind the Big Three of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord – as typified by the sale of a young Dirk Kuyt in 2003 – Utrecht represent the fourth biggest city in the Netherlands, never a prominent football hub in the amateur era.
With this in mind, and with the backing of the local council and Dutch FA, Utrecht were created from three long-established local teams. Settling on a simple logo and a red-and-white kit – the colours of the city’s coat-of-arms – the new club adopted the stadium, Galgenwaard, and more than half the team of the most successful predecessor, DOS.
With the reluctant involvement fellow Utrecht teams Elinkwijk and Velox, and with top-flight status assured thanks to DOS finishing just above the relegation zone the previous May, FC Utrecht started the 1970-71 season in a strong Eredivisie spearheaded by current and future European-Cup winning teams.
With accomplished defender, and later Ajax coach, Co Adriaanse signed from De Volewijckers and former Elinkwijk striker Jan Groenendijk the top scorer, Utrecht came through their first campaign unscathed. Within a decade, Utrecht had a high-flying team, with locally born Hans van Breukelen and Jan Wouters, future team-mates in Holland’s Euro 1988 victory as goalkeeper and defensive midfielder, plus 1974 World Cup hero Wim van Hanegem. The club also had a terrible hooligan problem.
With games against Ajax and Feyenoord now giving rise to serious incidents and European football on the horizon, Utrecht knocked down the velodrome built in 1936 where DOS had played and created the security-conscious and soccer-focused Nieuwe Galgenwaard.
Housed in a modern football ground, where Holland would play six times in the next decade or so, Utrecht were nevertheless forced to sell their key players and league form dipped. In the cup, Utrecht managed a solitary victory over Helmond Sport in 1985 thanks to a last-minute goal by another local, John van Loen before he, too, was sold on.
In Europe, the club never made it past two rounds until 2005, though the visits of Real Madrid, Porto and Verona brought big-name players to the new stadium.
In 1996, a new ownership opened the purse strings to allow for the signings of Rob Witschge and a returning van Loen but it wasn’t until teenage forward Dirk Kuyt became established that Utrecht came to life. With the equally prolific Igor Gluščević up front, Utrecht made Europe three seasons running, Kuyt and his Montenegrin team-mate scoring three of the four goals that sank Feyenoord in the 2003 Dutch Cup Final.
Utrecht retained the cup a year later, without Kuyt or Gluščević but still with loyal midfielder Jean-Paul de Jong, whose stint with the club lasted 20 years, six as youth coach. In 2015, he returned to the Nieuwe Galgenwaard as assistant manager.
In between, the club saw another change of ownership, Frans van Seumeren buying a majority share in 2008. Born locally, with a transportation company of world renown after being involved in the lifting of the tragic Russian submarine Kursk, van Seumeren has promised at least a ten-year investment in the club.
After trying old boys Jan Wouters then Rob Alflen as coaches, van Seumeren seems to have struck gold with a third, Erik ten Hag. With target man Sébastien Haller from Auxerre and defensive midfielder Rico Strieder brought over by ten Hag from Bayern Munich’s reserve set-up, Utrecht just missed out on a European place in 2015-16 and lost the cup final 2-1 to Feyenoord, who had home advantage.
A fourth place in the regular season 2016-17 points to a very promising 2017-18 indeed.
From oval velodrome to hooligan-proof rectangular football ground to 21st-century all-seater, the Stadion Galgenwaard has moved with the times in quite dramatic fashion. Its most unusual aspect is its name – perhaps a nod towards its location tucked inside a meander in the narrow Kromme Rijn waterway, no-one’s quite sure – and the fact that, despite being completely commercialised with the 1982 security-focused rebuild, it hasn’t adopted the name of some insurance company or bank.
Galgenwaard was the name of the original stadium here, partly constructed to provide employment for locals back in 1936. Mainly a cycling arena but used by amateur football teams DOS and Hercules (and later Velox), the venue seemed to typify Utrecht’s somewhat haphazard football scene.
The decision to combine two of the stadium’s tenants in a three-way merger not only created FC Utrecht but a single entity for young fans to identify with, pitted against the likes of Rotterdam and Den Haag. So bad was the hooligan problem during the new club’s first decade that Utrecht’s notorious Bunnikside took apart one stand after the last game against PSV in 1981. The demolition men only had to cart away the mangled metal.
When the Galgenwaard reopened 16 months later, it was with four stands close to a football pitch, the cycle track removed and a trench set between supporters and turf instead. Office blocks filled each corner, shops and business lined the exterior. The Bunnikside still occupied one end, the east goal, but the carefully planned combination of standing and seating helped to neutralise the previous herd mentality.
In the early 2000s, the club went the whole hog and made the Galgenwaard an all-seater. Shortly afterwards, it staged the under-20 World Cup, Lionel Messi announcing his arrival on the international stage with a goal here in the semi-final against Brazil and two for Argentina to win the trophy against Nigeria.
Current capacity 23,750. Away fans are allocated sectors V and W of the Cityside (west) end nearest the Zuidzijde south sideline, whose U sector can also be used for visiting supporters.
On match days, a shuttle bus bearing the club logo leaves CS Jaarbeurszijde stop on the Zuid side of the Utrecht Centraal station 90min before kick-off, returning for up to 1hr after the final whistle. This service is direct but far busier than regular public transport. It requires a €2 token, sold at the pick-up points.
Also from CS Jaarbeurszijde, city bus No.41 takes 10min to reach Halte Stadion Galgenwaard beside the stadium, leaving Perron D5 every 15min daily, running until after 11pm.
Bus No.12 (direction De Uithof WKZ) leaves for Galgenwaard from Perron C8 every 5min Mon- Fri until mid-evening.
A single ticket is €2.70 or one ride is half the price with a nationwide OV-chipkaart.
For games not requiring a clubcard, tickets are usually distributed about three weeks beforehand through the Fanshop (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, 2hrs before kick-off, 45min after final whistle for afternoon games) by the main entrance and online. Ticket windows at the ground open 2hrs before kick-off on match days.
For league games against anyone but Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord, admission is €25 in the main stand, €20 in the Zuidtribune opposite and €15 behind either goal. For games against the Big Three, prices are €35, €27.50 and €22.50. Over 65s are charged at 25% discount, under-18s 40%.
At the main entrance, the FC Utrecht Fanshop (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, 2hrs before kick-off, 45min after final whistle for afternoon games) stocks an extensive range of merchandise, from replica kits in standard red and white, and away light blue, to mopeds done out in club colours.
Note also the T-shirts (‘FCU Since 1970’) with images of the city skyline.
There are no bars in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, only outlets within the stadium building, with varying degrees of suitability pre- or post-match – if you’re in urgent need of Japanese cuisine, Sushi Today can provide.