"We will be there to welcome them": 100 Burnley fans set to travel to the Netherlands for Helmond match
When Dutch second division side TOP Oss roll into Helmond for their league match at the Stadion de Braak this Friday night, they will be faced with more than the usual raucous Helmond Sport fans. Famous for their 'Hell is empty, all the devils are here' motif, the fanatical home fans will be joined by around 100 Burnley FC supporters as well.
In the latest instalment of cross-continental friendship between the ever-entwining fan-bases of both Helmond Sport and the Clarets themselves, a jumbo jet's-worth of East Lancastrian football fans are getting their passports ready for their upcoming trip to Southern Holland.
Awaiting them in Helmond, a city which shares with Burnley a proud history defined by the textiles industry, will be scores of Helmond Sport fans welcoming them with open arms. With friendships and alliances growing stronger by the year between the two clubs' supporters, the cross-Channel pilgrimage is one which shows no sign of abating in any way, shape, or form.
"It looks like we're going to fill half the plane!" said Ian Chapman, who has organised past trips for the Dutch fans to come across to the North West. "They play on the Friday and then we're playing a match between Helmond and Burnley fans on the Saturday. I don't know if it'll be 11v11 because I'm not sure how many will be feeling up for it but I'll be Vinnie "Knuckle" Jones!"
This March, over 140 Helmond Sport fans made the trip to Burnley for the Clarets' 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Turf Moor, with countless Dutch supporters making their first overseas trip to watch Sean Dyche's men put the more-fancied side to the sword. But for others with slightly more storied histories with the town, it was their third, fourth, fifth trip to Burnley.
"There's a similar attitude to be found [between the two fan-bases]: one big family which takes care of each other," said Helmond native Willem van Hout. "If you're not in the family, you probably won't like Helmond [and] I think Burnley has the same: you love it at birth or you'll never visit it. But Burnley people are welcome in Helmond."
Kick-started by Burnley-born expat, Darran Wooller, who moved to Helmond at the age of 20 back in the early '80s and grew to love Helmond Sport, the mantra of Brothers in Arms between Burnley and Helmond fans has blossomed since Darran's untimely death in 2014. Famous for his love of Burnley, football, and camaraderie, Darran's legacy is living on strong.
"Over 100 Clarets come down to our city and of course I will be there to welcome them," says Ralf van Deursen (41). "Some good advice: book a ticket!"
Off the back of two Helmond fans paying tribute to the fallen WWII soldiers who are buried at the nearby Mierlo War Cemetary by lighting candles for the 665 gravestones, a group of Burnley fans are now planning to make their own trip to the memorial, where they will find a very special grave indeed.
Killed at the age of just 34 in 1944, the Harle Syke-born H. Halstead is himself buried at Mierlo - barely 15 minutes' drive away from Helmond. Almost 50 years before the two fan-bases first developed what has proved to be a lasting friendship, one of Burnley's own made the ultimate sacrifice on Dutch soil. And that poignancy is aptly captured by Willem, who wrote the following poem:
Begin of May 2019 Holland will be stunned with the arrival of this jumbo jet,
Setting foot on our soil are one hundred Burnleymen in sky blue and claret.
Their bond with Helmond is to be strengthened as together they shall pray,
For victims of war at the Dutch national ceremony of 'Remembrance Day'.