Schrijver en essayist Matthew Stadler woont en werkt tijdelijk in Rotterdam. Op scherpzinnige wijze observeert hij tweewekelijks de maasstad. Vandaag deel 12: S... P... A... R... T... A...!

Living in Rotterdam, naturally my club is Sparta. It's a pleasure to see the team's distinctive red-and-white colors worn throughout the city on game days (and in Amsterdam too, I have noted). Rotterdammers hold the team so close to their hearts, few find it necessary to actually attend the games. So, I never have to worry about getting a good seat, or a cold beer at half-time.

I bicycle to the home matches. From my Agniesbuurt apartment I go past the zoo and cross the Beukelbrug to Het Kasteel (The Castle), where Sparta plays. Of Rotterdam's three clubs, one, Feyenoord, plays in a tub (De Kuip), another, Excelsior, plays in a temporary shed (Stadion Woudestein), while Sparta plays in a castle. My choice was clear.

Het Kasteel was designed in 1916 by my favorite Dutch architects, J.H. de Roos and W.F. Overeijnder. I prefer sitting in the northern Tony van Ede grandstand, opposite the pleasing profile of the crenelated fortification that gives the stadium its name.

Sparta is Rotterdam's thinking-man's team, less prone to hooliganism than its coarser rivals. I bring my books and spend most half-times scribbling notes for the important avant garde novel I am writing. Before the match, I enjoy Sparta's cultural offerings. We sing the Sparta Marching Song, pledge our allegiance to the club, and watch the team's mascot stumble in the grass. I cannot explain the mascot. It's some sort of large stuffed bird or rodent. The song is Sparta's version of "the Internationale" or Mexico's stirring and seemingly endless "Song of Mexico" (i.e., an ode to might and right, and does little to explain the mascot).

Sparta's mascot and the songs remind me of the professional baseball leagues of Mexico. I cannot think of a more pleasant association. On how many sunny Sundays did I root for the fighting Parrots of Puebla, as the crowd sang and danced and Los Papagallos battled valiantly on field for the honor of our city? So it is at Sparta matches, though there are fewer dancers here than in festive Puebla.

Also, the food in Puebla was better. In Puebla vendors served fresh ceviche and poured shots of tequila into whatever vessels the customer provided. At Sparta I enjoy the echte Rotterdamse bitterballen and beer. Those who arrive early can get a plate of frikandel on rolls in the sit-down cafe organized near the Het Kasteel gate. Also, Sparta lacks brass bands and snaking conga lines. But Sparta's calm, studious atmosphere is a blessing when I put pen to paper during the pause and get some writing done.

Football is played in Mexico too, and there it resembles Mexican baseball more so than it does Dutch football. It is festive and mercurial, where Dutch football is upright, muscular, and punishing. I have heard the Dutch version called "Total Football," and one can see some evidence of it in the Sparta squad. Mistakes can happen almost anywhere on the field.

Sparta triumphed over mighty Den Bosch on the pleasant August afternoon that is the basis of my report. With any luck, Sparta will soon ascend back into the nation's top class, the Eredivisie, where they belong. Tell that to lowly Excelsior and Feyenoord! Below, the Sparta marching song, translated for my English-language readers:

However, one of the finest names
On the list of the NVB is
Sparta Rotterdam, the Serbian,
The eternal number two.
Now finished, then broken,
With the old way of doing
It after twenty years
Of Dutch Championships.
And now, at twenty-five
Is, the loud sound: "'us' Hurrah! "
Champion of her division
S. .. P. .. A. .. R. .. T. .. A. ..!

Red-White is our glory
Red-White is us in the blood.
Be a layer of victory
In front of adversity
Red-White is never lost.
And in the years following
We will be heard
SP ... ar ... TA! ...

This banner is our sacred
Thing, already many years
With Red-White we are safe.
We are not afraid of anyone.
We swear by colors
And sing how it also goes
In what most often happens
SP ... ar ... TA! ...