There was a look of bemusement on some of the Dundalk players faces when they left the field at the GelreDome last Thursday to a warm round of applause from a group of supporters, mostly wearing the yellow and black of Vitesse Arnhem!
Things became a bit clearer, though, when the players approached the group and were greeted by hearty congratulations, spoken in the finest of Dundalk tongues. For six members of the Lilywhite Army, a gamble had paid off!
Former Seatown and Dundalk Schoolboys League manager Brian McGuinness, tells the tale.
“Six of us made the trip to Holland,” said Brian. “Myself, my brother Niall, Aidan Shields and his son Daniel, and another father and son pair, Aidan and Cian Kieran. Aidan is a brother of Sean, the former Quay Celtic stalwart who sadly passed away 14 years ago.
“We knew it was a gamble going because UEFA won’t allow any away fans into matches but after a year and a half of Covid, we were all just desperate for a wee break. I have a nephew in Amsterdam who got us tickets so we boarded a flight at 6am on Wednesday and away we went.”
After taking a Covid test when they landed in Arnhem, Daniel and Cian, the two teenagers in the travelling party, went in search of some Vitesse merchandise. It proved to be a good decision. More on that later.
Refreshments in the Wednesday afternoon Arnhem sunshine followed and a decision was made to visit the GelreDome that evening – on foot!
“We were just after having a meal and Daniel had the maps out on his phone, telling us it was only a 2k walk from the city centre,” laughed Brian. “Six kilometres later, we arrived at the stadium. I never want to see the John Frost Bridge in Arnhem ever again!
“We got to the main entrance and myself and Niall just walked in. Dundalk were training so we just stuck our heads in to look at the stadium and walked back out,” he laughed.
“The younger lads weren’t so lucky as they were stopped by security but in fairness to them, they stuck around until the squad were finished training and Vinny Perth came out afterwards to have a chat with us all.”
The group soaked up the atmosphere in the city centre on match day, befriending a character known as ‘Robbie Arnhem’ who invited them to his pub before the game.
“We were accepted like regulars,” said Brian “The Vitesse fans were brilliant. We’d sing a song and they’d sing the Dutch equivalent. It was great craic!”
Shuttle buses, laid on by Vitesse, took supporters from the city to the GelreDome. Resplendent in Dundalk jerseys under their tracksuit tops, the group boarded one of the “bouncing buses” and made their way to the stadium. Things, however, hit a major snag when they arrived.
“There were two lines of security when we arrived,” explained Brian, “and one of the guards made it clear that it was Vitesse fans only. They were having none of us. Jim Magilton and Aaron Lawless came out to try and make a case for us getting in but it wasn’t to be and after a frantic 10 minutes, we were on the bus back into the city, courtesy of a police escort!”
Daniel and Cian refused to admit defeat and after returning to their hotel, plan B was hatched. They quickly reemerged, wearing the Vitesse kits they had picked up the day before with Aidan and Paul decked out in Vitesse tracksuit tops. Brian and Niall wished them good luck and waved them off as they jumped into a taxi and headed back to the GelreDome.
“Niall was really annoyed that we didn’t get in and had no intention of going back but when we went back to our room and took off all the Dundalk gear, I said: ‘Come on Niall, let’s give it another shot.’
Decked out in baby blue and dark green t-shirts respectively, the McGuinness brothers went to reception and ordered a taxi for the GelreDome.
“I asked the girl behind the desk to translate four words,” laughed Brian. “Sorry, we are late!”
Their second coming at the stadium coincided with the half-time break. An opportunity arose.
“There were about 20 or 30 Vitesse fans out smoking so that was our chance,” said Brian. “Myself and Niall tagged along with them. It was a case of ‘say nothing’ and just hang off the last man’s shoulder!”
Laughing at Dutch jokes that they did not understand, Brian and Niall passed through the ticket desk and quickly took their seats, much to the surprise of the Shields and Kierans clans who were present to watch Vitesse control the first half.
“We got in for the best part of the game,” said Brian.
They sure did and when Patrick McEleney headed Dundalk level, before producing a bit of magic to put the Lilywhites in front, all signs of neutrality went out of the window!
“We all jumped around when the goals went in and nobody said anything,” said Brian. “There was a fella in a Dundalk gear a few rows in front of us who did the same and he wasn’t as lucky because he got thrown out!”
When the Greek referee brought proceedings to a halt, it was a chance for the lads to show their appreciation to the players.
“I think they were delighted to see some Dundalk supporters in the ground,” said Brian. “Daniel and Cian went to school with Ryan O’Kane so he came over for a chat and a lot of them posed for pictures outside the ground afterwards which was great to see. It capped a brilliant night.”
Back in the city, the group met up with Vitesse fans who expressed their surprise at Dundalk’s fine display.
“Their supporters were brilliant,” said Brian. “There wasn’t a bit of bother with them and ‘Robbie Arnhem’ even got in contact with us after the game to say he was delighted we managed to get into the ground.”
It was a night to savour for everyone connected with the club.
“Technically, we all know we shouldn’t have been in Arnhem,” said Brian. “We knew we were taking a chance going and we knew there was a possibility we wouldn’t get into the game but sometimes you have to take a gamble and, thankfully, this one paid off!”