My first foreign excursion of the season led me to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, for Sparta's opening game of the 2011/12 season. After spending Saturday sampling some of the delights Amsterdam had to offer, it was down to the serious business of getting a game in!

Rotterdam is an hour by train from Amsterdam and Sparta are one of the three senior teams in the city, the others being Feyenoord and Excelsior.  Sparta are actually the oldest professional club in Holland, having been formed in 1888 but are now playing below their city rivals in the Eerste Divisie following relegation from the Eredivisie in 2010.

Their home ground Het Kasteel or, in English, The Castle is in the Spangen district of Rotterdam and is quite splendid. The ground was redeveloped a decade ago but has still retained its magnificent entrance.

Sparta's opponents today were Fortuna Sittard, which may be what, subconsciously, drew me to this game as the last time I seen them play was 1985 as Everton marched towards the European Cup Winners Cup.

The game itself, well it was played at quite a slow tempo and Sparta just about deserved the win, given to them through a Toni Varela penalty after 13 minutes. There was some decent football played, lots of pretty triangles and close passing, and the best of the chances that were created fell to the home side. Sparta should've been more than one goal to the good at the break.

The second half was really a non-event in terms of goalmouth action as neither side really carved out any clear cut chances but continued with the neat inter-play. Sparta comfortably held on for the points.

A few names noted today which may be familiar to a few people were Fernando Ricksen, the Fortuna defender who played for Glasgow Rangers, and Michel Vonk, the Sparta coach, who played for City, Oldham and Sheffield United in the mid 1990's.

All that was left then was to get the tram into town to sample a couple of Jupiler beers before boarding a train for Schipol Airport. Another great European weekend over! 

The hymn sheet!

The small, but vocal, pocket of Sittard fans

Toni Varela (no2) scores the only goal of the match from the penalty spot

Sunday 7th August 2011
Eerste Divisie
Sparta Rotterdam 1-0 Fortuna Sittard
Attendance: 7,000

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