The crowd was extremely excited as they were happy for the excellent performance of the Dutch skaters, but also for others who made a personal record or even defeated the Dutch. Respect all over! During this visit we were seated in the backstretch, where the coaches skate during the races, so we had an excellent position on the races and the post-race celebrations. During a second visit we were located at a standing place in the corner. Be aware that watching from a corner was huge fun in itself. The energy and excitement are nothing like being in the seats, and the atmosphere of enjoyment is much different. The view was even much better – we could see the whole track and the center-ice preparation area, and had plenty of space to observe and admire the skating fans’ outfits. I’m not sure how some guy in the windmill shirt sneaked in, actually, without getting laughed out of town – almost everyone else wears bright colors, crazy hats, and ORANGE.
But anyway, during ice preparation break it is common that a band (the Glasblazers) comes right up in front of the crowd and begins to play. They look very cheerful with their striped shirts and pleasant expressions and you just can’t sit still and have to stand up and join in the singing, dancing and celebration. The medal ceremony probably was the best part of the experience, but evidently it continued into the night – as we left the rink, we saw that everybody went on foot towards the city center of Heerenveen to celebrate all through the night. It is all part of the Thialf speed skating experience.
We walked our way to Thialf and it was just a matter of following the orange dressed masses of skating fans. We also passed the 2,500-seat ice hockey arena adjacent to the speed skating oval and is home of the Heerenveen Flyers, one of the Netherlands’ most successful ice hockey clubs. Do remember that there are other major ovals where top competitions are held with some regularity (the oval in Hamar Norway and those at high altitude in Calgary and Salt Lake City where world records often are set come to mind), but none that I know of is as large or as regularly packed full of fans. This is what Thialf makes so very special indeed! Like I said before, Thialf is speed skating’s Mecca and I think it’s still an appropriate description.
Just outside the oval we bought some coins for our drinks and meals and after that we entered this magnificent place. When we stepped inside we saw this huge wall of orange dressed people. After admiring this sight for a while we went on our way, because we were meeting up with some friends for the championships! We found our seats, and I immediately commenced annoying the three friends by incessantly taking their photos. But I simply had to do this as some kind of a trophy that I really was here. Eventually the racing started, so everyone finally got a real break from my portrait-taking practice; we watched the women’s 1500 and 5000 and the men’s 1500 and 10000. Quite a day it was!
Being born and raised in the Netherlands almost automatically makes me a speed skating fan. I clearly can remember the days I sat in front of the television and watch the Dutch legends pass by and keep track of the track records. The roofed stadium of Thialf, which seats 12,500 people, opened on 17 November 1986 and whenever that happened we stood in awe to witness the amazing atmosphere the orange Dutch fans created during all those memorable championships in Thialf. We all said “This is what we want, this is where we want to be!” It took me over 25 years before I kept that promise. Right in 2011 I visited the Essent ISU WK Sprint in Thialf … a true wish come true.
The reason why I visited Thialf was because of my girlfriend who lives in Heerenveen, so that made it quite easier to visit the skating oval. And at that particular day we were finally at a place we’d heard so much about, and from which we’d watched so many live-streamed races online. Maybe it doesn’t look like much once you arrive at the parking lot, but Thialf is where many of the biggest meets are held; it’s the heart of speed skating in the Netherlands, which, as a country, is the heart of speed skating in the world. To visit Thialf is rather straightforward, but there are not enough parking space for all visitors, so they do advice to come by train.
Having been to a couple of football stadiums around the Europe, I have to say that the be Lenstra Stadium has a great atmosphere. Even with a largely touristy crowd that day, the songs were in full flow, the chanting continuous. Those fans really know how to be the 12th man on the pitch! The modern seats were cushioned and much comfier than the hard plastic ones in some of their rivals (*cough* Den Haag *cough*), and the leg room was enough to fit an eight foot giant if needed. The stadium is not too large though, with a maximum capacity of 21,600. We thought we had about the best seats in the stadium located in-between the northern and eastern tiers, the view from here was just amazing and you can see the players close up. We saw that the crowd was made up of fathers bringing their sons, tourists, and the various bankers / lawyers / et cetera working in Heerenveen. So, no feeling there was a hooligan nearby.
As most games are sold out, one should arrive early so you don’t miss the kick-off. We witnessed that the whole stadium is very modern, and behind the seats there are plenty of food and drink serving points, as well as plenty of clean toilets and of course loads of gift shops. The funny thing we noticed that during half time we drank imported beers instead of local lagers. Unfortunately we didn’t see many goals as the match ended in a 2-1 win of sc Heerenveen, but the stadium, atmosphere and good weather made up for a lot. We’ll be back!
The current rising success of sc Heerenveen seems to be unstoppable. It is widely renowned as one the most attractive stadium in the country, and latest attendance figures show that the fans are pouring through the turnstiles as never before and the club is sold out every home match. In fact, the club always belongs to the top 4 clubs in the Netherlands in terms of attendance. So, there has not been a single premiership league game for which the club have failed to sell every single ticket. Not only have they sold out for every such game, but they have achieved this without having to resort to putting tickets on sale to the general public.
We arranged the tickets via a friend and were very glad we did. We travelled by bike from the western part of the city of Heerenveen and from the beginning of this trip there were Heerenveen fans all over giving it a very special vibe. Keep in mind that during game days, the main highway A32 is rather busy and the exits to the city are packed and will give you at least half an hour extra travel time. When we arrived at Sportstad Heerenveen we simply had to follow the masses of fans to get to the Abe Lenstra Stadium. The closer we came to the stadium the more the streets were decorated with all kinds of Heerenveen attributes. Everybody was singing songs and it was fun to walk and smell the vibrancy of match day at sc Heerenveen!
Football is the most popular sport, both in terms of participants and spectators, in Heerenveen. For me (as being a true football fan) it is of course a wish come true to visit a football match in Heerenveen. It’s not very easy city to pick a sports match, because Heerenveen has besides the professional football club a professional ice hockey club and of course the speed skating oval Thialf to visit. Sc Heerenveen is named after the city in which they play and is Heerenveen's first team to turn professional.
So which sport and match to choose once you’re in the city of Heerenveen? That was maybe a bit easier as I simply received some ticket, but also the history the club has with the Dutch giants Abe Lenstra, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Klaas Jan Huntelaar was very interesting for us too. Besides that we wanted to witness the unique vibe of the club sc Heerenveen. Whereas sc Heerenveen has a soul, the supporters have a heart. A heart in the form of a lily leaf, the symbol of Frisia and recognizable in the provincial banner and club outfit. We went to the match Heerenveen versus ADO Den hag, only 5 point were separating the two teams. So, for sure a smashing match to look forward to.
We visited the European Championships Allround Ice Skating (quite a mouthful) in January 2004 and found ourselves amidst of hunreds, thousands of frantic Dutch people, cheering like mad for their home skaters! The most fun was when Dutch people, euhm, rode, but it was also big fun when others skated, such as our national hero Bart Veldkamp (although he was not one of the best skaters, he still skates pretty fast!). The love for the chrono, the smell of slashed ice, the view of the tight suits, I don't know what it is, but it sure is impressive! The picture shows the Thialf stadium inside, where all the ice action takes place. To see it well, please click on it (as it's panoramic).
Equipment: Wear sth orange, or you'll stick out like a square peg in a pretty round hole! At best, do like the Dutch, and come dressed up, with horns, skates, tulips or other national symbols on your head. We noticed: pigs, inmates, people wearing helmets with skates on them, vikings, ...
Oh, might be a good idea as well to leave a bit of place in your stomach for a beer or two. Maybe even three :-) There are many stands alongside the stadium, with plenty to drink and eat. (the beer was oddly enough not bad!)
The stadium has an athmosphere that makes the champions feel at home - you'll find them mix with the public for a chat or to write their signature in your programme book.
In this case it's US Olympic goldmedal winner Derek Parra.