Hope in Holland

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I’VE been to Alkmaar once before, and it doesn’t really hold happy memories if I’m honest.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a picturesque little place, but my connotation of the city is one of despair, watching the team I was newly reporting on – Newcastle United – being dumped out of Europe.

Indeed, I didn’t cover a competitive match on the continent with them ever again, and they’ll only return to European competition for the first time next month.

Yesterday, however, I thought I’d give Alkmaar another try.

A chance to take myself away from what is, quite honestly, the grime of Amsterdam, and buy some presents for my mam, fiancé and sister (a comprehensive membership of the Hope in Holland fan club) with what was the last 30euros in my pocket.

I caught the train north from Amsterdam in good time to allow for some shopping before heading to Heiloo for last night’s game.

But on leaving the station at Alkmaar my budget took its first hit.

It was – in the words of Auf Wiedersehen Pet’s Oz – “floating doon”.

No bother, six euros for an umbrella still left plenty in the kitty.

Now the walk from the station to the main part of town is far enough to question the “Centraal” element of the station’s title.

And so, while my upper body was suitably dry thanks to my new purchase – trench foot was an ever-increasing concern given the flimsy plimsolls I was rather foolishly sporting.

Next stop, Euro Land (seriously, it does exist).

And, like its English counterpart, almost everything costs more than one Euro.

Although, if you break down the two Euros I paid for a pair of socks then I suppose it does make sense.

Fresh, dry socks on my feet and a brolly above my head – what more could I need?

Well it was also pretty cold actually, so 20 of my remaining 22euros were duly invested in a hooded sweater, which is quite fetching I must say.

I soon headed back to the station, my impression of Alkmaar having been sullied further by the winter-like climate which had greeted me.

And, as for the presents? Well, I do hope you enjoy the column girls …

ONCE at the game in Heiloo I soon realised that the miserable weather was not confined to Alkmaar.

Now I appreciate I may be starting to sound a little obsessed with the adverse conditions (I packed sun cream for this trip), but several Pools players were quick to lament the wind and rain when I spoke to them last night, too.

What I hadn’t bargained on was inflicting my pain on the good people of the sunny North-East.

I took a phone call midway through the first half of the game – it was BBC Tees asking if I’d do five minutes on how things were going.

Imagine my delight when the first question put to me was about the weather.

If I remember rightly it was pretty much the only one they got to ask, the five-minute slot filled almost entirely with my passionate rant.

So I couldn’t believe it when my time was called to an end by the presenter.

Why? They had to get to the weather. They should have just kept me on …

One thing which did perk me up last night was the half-time invite into the boardroom for a cup of tea.

But imagine my disappointment after the game when I had to explain that my taxi was on its way, only to discover that the tea had been replaced by a fridge full of cold Amstel!