FC Groningen fans Gijs and Theo sat in the stands at almost all first division clubs. The Kitchen Champion Division is so much fun

They are seasoned fans and season ticket holders of FC Groningen, father Theo and son Gijs Buissink. Yet they have been in the stands at almost all clubs in the first division for the past six seasons. And they now know from experience: it is so much fun in the Kitchen Champion Division.

With the relegation of FC Groningen, the most pessimistic fan may not like it, looking forward to Top Oss or Helmond Sport. Young Ajax at home instead of the big Ajax. Theo (71) and Gijs Buissink (19) see it very differently. ,,The first division is a super unpredictable, crazy competition. It can go either way. You sometimes have a team that leads 3-0 in the 90th minute and still loses 3-4.”

Football is different, even a level lower, both acknowledge. But it’s not just about football for Theo and Gijs. It is mainly the relaxed atmosphere and club love that Gijs and Theo have experienced at all clubs in the first division. ,,You are sitting in the stands with about a thousand people and you are like one family. At big clubs you have many successful supporters. Only real club supporters are here. It feels like fraternization in the stands. Sometimes you see a dragon of a match, but when a goal is scored in the last minute, there is a cheer as if a goal has been scored in the Champions League.”

The charm and the clumsy

The clubs in the first division are more approachable, they think. ,,We sent a letter to Fortuna Sittard, when that club was still playing in the first division. We were received with all due respect, because fans from Groningen had never experienced that before”, says Theo. They offered Gijs a club shirt with signatures of all players. “But I had to pay 50 euros for it, that club was so poor at the time.”

Father and son then visited a Top Oss match. That was so much fun that they decided: now we visit all clubs in the first division. And that while the Buissinks have been regular customers in the main stand of FC Groningen for years. “But if we go to Top Oss or Helmond Sport, then we are of course for those clubs.”

As loyal visitors to FC Groningen matches, they were able to clearly determine the difference in football, atmosphere and experience between the highest level and a step lower. Gijs: ,,In the premier league you often see the necessary acting: lying down, rolling. In the first division you just have – no matter how bad it is sometimes – 22 men who fight 100 percent for 90 minutes. I like that. Lose or not, the fans are behind the club. And the players really play football for their club and the fans, not for the money. I missed that a bit this year at FC Groningen.”

The matches in the Kitchen Champion Division have their charm, but the stadiums and clubs even more so. Theo: ,,There is often nothing behind the goal. Then you see a chip shop there where the fumes come out. You get your snack there during the break.” Gijs: “At the FC you stand in a long line in front of the counters during the break and at the clubs in the first division you stand alone in front of the stall.”

Gijs, like his father, is charmed by the stadiums. “They are beautiful. You often drive into a residential area and you think: we are in the wrong place here, and then suddenly you see the stadium lights in the distance. Then there is this small stadium with open sides. They all have such a clumsy fan shop or a stall that just doesn’t have enough beer. That clumsy makes it beautiful.”

They ordered a club shirt from Helmond Sport because of the sponsor slogan. They find it the most beautiful of all professional football: ‘Heel Helmond Sport’. When they returned home, it turned out that ‘Heel Helmon Sport’ was written on the shirt. “Unique, there is only one copy of it.”

The most special stadium

The Eindhoven fan shop was not much more than a clothes rack with shirts, Gijs remembers. “That’s the charm,” adds Theo. “And the players are still approachable. They take pictures with spectators afterwards. At Telstar I heard a player shouting to his wife in the stands: ‘I’ll see you later’.

Theo likes that club employees in the second league still have time for a chat with the spectators. And the atmosphere is a bit more casual. “We arrived in Helmond on time. No one was there but a door was open. Then we were on the field like this. Try that at FC Groningen.”

At SC Cambuur, the supporters were received in the away section with a free cup of coffee and a free program booklet. ,,The friendliness of the clubs radiates much more to the visitor in the first division than in the premier league.” Gijs: ,,There is just a warmer atmosphere.” And never thunder in the stands. Or on the field. “It is different in the Premier League. There are other interests, money, pressure to perform.”

The De Koel stadium of FC VVV in Venlo is described by them as the most special. “With a kind of grass berm between the stands.” Theo and Gijs experienced the most atmosphere in the stands of the Jan Louwers stadium in Eindhoven, because that club was still in the race for play-offs to the premier league at the time.

They have less good memories of the snack stall in Cambuur. “We got fried chips there twice. We couldn’t get that out.”

Four more stadiums to go

In recent seasons, father and son have visited most clubs in the First Division. In between are a lot of clubs that are now acting at the highest level. The first division clubs will come to the Euroborg next season. ,,Then you see all kinds of clubs that you would otherwise not see in Groningen, such as De Graafschap or FC Den Bosch. Hopefully it will be a season in which FC Groningen will soon be promoted again, but do not underestimate all those clubs.”

The list still includes visits to ADO, Willem II, MVV and FC Dordrecht. Theo is especially looking forward to visiting the Krommedijk, because Dordrecht also plays in a small and cozy stadium. ,,But we will not go to FC Dordrecht against Groningen. Then we choose another race because if we go to Dordrecht, then we are for Dordrecht.”

Gijs looks at the list of clubs that they still want to visit. “That should work, in the near future.”