European competitors ten times since 1998, Sportclub Heerenveen have been one of Holland’s most consistent sides of the modern era.
De Superfriezen (‘The Super Frisians’) not only represent the modest community of Heerenveen but Friesland, a province of north-west Netherlands with its own flag, language and anthem. All combine for the displays of regional pride whenever Heerenveen – Hearrenfean to locals, or ‘Fean’ for short – stride out onto the pitch at the Abe Lenstra Stadion.
Named after the best player to have come out of Heerenveen – in fact, one of the best to have come out of Holland – the stadium is a modern arena of 26,000 capacity, its international standard ample illustration of the club’s meteoric progress from regional also-rans to Champions League participants.
Previously, the club had only once been in the limelight, during and soon after the dark days of World War II. Formed from various mergers in 1920, then-named VV Heerenveen moved from Holland’s third to second tier in 1938 around the same time that a precocious local teenager joined the forward line at Sportpark Noord.
In photographs, Abe Lenstra, slight, unassuming, a wave of dark hair pushed to one side, looks like the boy who would deliver your Heerenveense Courant in the morning. In reality, he was a deadly striker. Over nearly two decades at VV Heerenveen, a decade as a fully paid professional in Enschede and in 47 matches in the orange of Holland, he scored nearly as many goals as games he played in – a figure approaching 800. Streets are named after him in seven cities across the Netherlands.
And he gained most of this fame during Holland’s 20-year hiatus from the World Cup, when the domestic game was low-key. With Lenstra in the opposition penalty box, and other teams weakened by war and later hunger, VV Heerenveen won nine consecutive northern championships – though never a national title in the end-of-season play-offs.
Two games stand out: Heerenveen’s Lenstra-led 6-5 win over Ajax after being 5-1 down on the hour, and Holland’s 2-1 defeat of world champions West Germany in 1956, Düsseldorf flooded by Dutch fans as Lenstra scored both goals.
By then, ús Abe (‘Our Abe’) had been lured to Enschede, professionalism introduced in 1954. Heerenveen marked time in the backwaters of Dutch football, dividing its amateur and professional operations in the 1970s. VV continued in the lower leagues – renamed Sportclub Heerenveen soon struggled to pay salaries.
When Frisian entrepreneur Riemer van der Velde took over the club in 1983, it was deep in debt. First steadying finances, van der Velde hired Foppe de Haan, a VV player in his youth and previously coach of the SC youth team, as manager. Instigating attacking football, de Haan cheered the home crowd at the now renamed Abe Lenstra Stadion but Heerenveen remained stuck in the lower tier.
The astute van der Velde retained de Haan in an advisory capacity but required the managerial grit of Fritz Korbach to get Heerenveen up to the Eredivisie in 1990. When the later disgraced German failed to keep them there, de Haan stepped back in.
The return to the top tier in 1993 signalled the start of a golden age at Heerenveen, highlighted by regular European competition, a new stadium and the Dutch Cup win of 2009. Until de Haan left to take over the Dutch under-21 side in 2004, he and van der Velde formed a management team the envy of all Holland. Van der Velde would bow out in 2006, having been the longest-serving club president in modern-day Dutch football.
With stints up front from Jon Dahl Tomasson and Ruud van Nistelrooy, Heerenveen stayed just behind Holland’s leading pack during the 1990s before finishing a long way second in 2000. Runners-up spot allowed the Frisians a first appearance in the Champions League. Defeats to Valencia and Lyon, soon to win their respective national titles, hardly exposed a huge gulf in class.
The new-build Abe Lenstra Stadion, opened in 1994, was expanded two-fold before Heerenveen embarked on six consecutive campaigns in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, five of them lengthy and lucrative. Spearheaded by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar before his €9 million departure for Ajax, Heerenveen lost in the knock-out stage to Newcastle, but recorded wins over Lens and Vitória Setúbal in later seasons.
The visit of Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan – Kaká, Shevchenko, Pippo Inzaghi and all – provided the Abe Lenstra with its most glamorous European showcase, though proved to be part of a winless campaign bookended by a 3-0 defeat to Portsmouth at Fratton Park.
Trond Sollied’s men picked themselves up to win Heerenveen’s only first-class honour to date, the Dutch Cup of 2009, decided on a penalty shoot-out with Steve McClaren’s Twente Enschede. Former Sheffield Wednesday striker and dead-ball expert Gerald Sibon made no mistake with the vital last spot kick.
Fean fans witnessed five goals a game in the consequent Europa League group stage but, with frequent managerial changes, Heerenveen lacked consistency. Two seasons under Marco van Basten at least put the club back in the spotlight.
Sensing relegation for the first time since 1992, Heerenveen persuaded Foppe de Haan back to steady the ship in 2015-16. His replacement Jurgen Streppel now looks to get the Frisians back into Europe in 2017-18.
Opened in 1994, the Abe Lenstra Stadion replaced the… Abe Lenstra Stadion. Predecessor to today’s ground, the Sportpark Noord was renamed after Heerenveen’s all-time hero after his death in 1985.
The Tjongerschans hospital once opposite the old ground now extends over the site where it stood – parts of the stadium were shipped out to Suriname.
The new venue had an original capacity of 14,000. Unveiled with the visit of PSV Eindhoven and their newly signed striker Ronaldo playing in his first game in Europe, the Abe Lenstra Stadion witnessed the gradual rise of Heerenveen as regular top-half finishers in the top-tier Eredivisie and European contenders.
Expansion began shortly after the Champions League campaign of 2000-01, though the current capacity of just over 26,000 wasn’t extended to the proposed 44,000 as envisaged by the joint Dutch-Belgian bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Even in a poor season such as 2015-16, average gates rise above 23,000 – anything less than a near full house is rare.
Heerenveen fans proved themselves sensible enough for the club to be able to install a standing section, Vak STA, right behind the goal in the home Noordtribune – there’s no fencing either. The sectors around it, 11, 13, 411 and 414, have been designed as ‘active seating’, ie many spectators will be on their feet at certain times of the game.
This rounded approach to crowd management ensures a lively atmosphere every game – Frisian pride does the rest.
Away fans are allocated the south-east corner of the ground, between the Zuidtribune and sideline Oosttribune, accessed through entrances L and M.
You’ll find the club shop and restaurant behind the Westtribune, on Abe Lenstra Boulevard – and a statue of the player himself in action.
Abe Lenstra Boulevard has its own stop beside the stadium, served by bus Nos.17, 48 and 115 from the terminus next to Heerenveen train station as you exit right. The journey is three stops, 6-8min. During the week, you’ll find one of these buses leaving every 10-20min. At weekends, you’re pretty much stuck with the hourly No.115.
The local Arriva timetable also suggests the Oost (A32) stop by the motorway but although served by several regular buses (Nos.20, 84 and 315 to name but three), it’s a good 10min walk from the stadium. If a No.115 has just gone, you’re as well hopping into a taxi or strolling across town, overall walking time station to stadium 20min.
If you’re in town already, it’s 7-10min via Van Kleffenslaan – the continuation of Nieuwstraat, site of fans’ bar de Skoffel.
With gates close to stadium capacity, pay-on-the-day is by no means available for every home game.
Advance tickets go on sale several months before the match, both online (Dutch-language only) and in person from the Feansjop club store (Mon 1pm-5pm, Tue-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-5pm, match days 2hr before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) behind the Westtribune on Abe Lenstra Boulevard.
A club card is not essential but check with firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the club office (Mon-Fri 8.30am-5pm) on +31 513 612 100 for details of ticket purchase for any given match.
For the average league game, the best seat costs €25 in the sideline West- or Osttribune. It’s €22/€20 to sit/stand behind the goal in the Noordtribune but availability is extremely limited at best, and €22 for a seat in the Zuidtribune end.
Under-11s are charged €6 if accompanied by a paying adult.
Amid the plethora of blue-and-white merchandise in the Feansjop (Mon 1pm-5pm, Tue-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-5pm, match days 2hr before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) behind the Westtribune, you’ll find Heerenveen umbrellas, frilly pennants and Nordic hats, and a surprising number of books related to all-time best player Abe Lenstra.
Though quite close to town, the Abe Lenstra Stadion is stuck out by the A32 motorway with no regular bars around it. Within the stadium, however, are any number of family-friendly outlets, many contained in the Fryslân Fean Plaza, the largest supporters’ hospitality area in Holland.
For a simple beer and snack, the main match-day bar/restaurant by entrance A behind the Westtribune should do the trick, with tables spilling out onto the forecourt and tasteful framed images of Abe Lenstra inside.