Some 140 fans of Dutch football club Helmond Sport are set to attend a Burnley FC match later this month as they continue a steadily-growing tradition of mutual support between the two fan-bases which was started almost 25 years ago by a Clarets supporting Burnley-born expat.
Making the cross-Channel excursion in honour of Darran Wooller, who emigrated to Holland as a 20-year-old where he settled in Helmond outside of Eindhoven and grew to support the local side as passionately as he had the Clarets, the Dutch fans are preparing to show their love for their adopted team in Burnley's match against against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Turf Moor on March 30th.
A former Burnley Wood and Towneley High student, Darran originally managed to cajole a few of his Helmond-supporting mates to make the pilgrimage to Turf Moor for the first time in 1995, starting what has blossomed into a powerful friendship between the two supporter bases since Darran's death in 2014 at the age of just 53 following a brief battle with cancer.
"I can't explain the camaraderie between the two groups of fans, I don't know what to say other than it's grown organically," said Ian Chapman, who with Justin Pate has organised a party for the two sets of fans in the James Hargreaves Suite. "Over there, they've got a really good community spirit that the club promotes - similar to Burnley."
An adopted Dutchman, Darran has left a strong legacy amongst Helmond Sport supporters and players alike. So immersed in the club's culture was Darran that when he was ill, the team's goalkeeper and manager both visited the season ticket-holder in hospital. Some 45 Dutch fans even made the trip to the UK for Darran's funeral after his service in Helmond.
Fans of both Burnley and Helmond - who ply their trade in the Keuken Kampionen Divisie (second tier) in the Netherlands - still sport shirts, half-and-half scarves, and personalised beer cans with Darran's name on them to this day, demonstrating the legacy Darran has left.
The ties between the two towns also continue to grow in others ways as well: over Christmas, two Helmond fans travelled to the Mierlo War Cemetery to light candles for every one of theof the 665 gravestones of the allied WWII soldiers. Amongst them was one H. Halstead, a Harle Syke-born soldier who died in November 1944 at the age of just 34, and a single Dutch soldier, laying profound credence to the two fan-bases' culture of Brothers in Arms.
"For fans of a club in another country to come over at a time when Brexit is going on and to keep ties with us is heartwarming," said Ian, with over 100 Burnley fans set to head over to Helmond for their match against TOP Oss in May. "A few of the Dutch lads haven't been to the UK before and they're coming to Burnley.
"We've not lost our identity and roots as a cotton mill town and they've got the same - when we went out we stayed in a hotel that was a weaving mill," Ian added. "It's engaged quite a few people; for 140 to come over is amazing."
The event in the James Hargreaves Suite is expected to welcome around 600 people and will feature the 12-person Accrington Pipe Band as well as local DJs Andy Parker, Scott Hardacre, Si Carvell, and Ste Bon. Starting at 7.30pm on Saturday, March 30th, tickets are £10 on the door or £8 if you book in advance from Ian on 07584 040 032.
To document the entire weekend, Ian has also organised for film-maker Christopher Tew to come up from London to shoot a documentary on the unique bond shared by the fans, explaining: "Chris' documentary will be focusing on the relationship and friendship between the two clubs.
"It should be a good game as well!"