Semi-professional, League One teams in the South-West of Scotland are not the usual opponents of Dutch giants, FC Twente, but on Saturday (July 8) the former Eredivisie winners will take to the pitch against Stranraer FC.
Around 500 Dutch fans are expected to descend upon Stranraer’s Stair Park – the only ground in Scotland contained within a public park - for the fixture, which is a first for the two clubs and only The Blues’ second match against a continental team.
It follows on from over 10 years of close allegiances between supporters which started when Stranraer and Rangers fan Jim McKie (42) was asked to source some Old Firm tickets for FC Twente follower, Dennis van Unen, who was terminally ill.
Jim, along with his friend James Hilton (61), a Stranraer and Celtic fan, managed to not only acquire the tickets, but treated Mr. van Unen to a full itinerary of Scottish hospitality, escorting him around Ibrox, Parkhead and Hampden Park before watching the 1-1 derby.
The links between the two clubs, some 520 miles apart, have remained strong, with many return trips taking place and a Stranraer based ‘Tukker Clan’ formally established.
In 2011, the then reigning Dutch champions sent a 100-strong delegation which included ex-Aberdeen and Rangers goalkeeper Theo Snelders, to set up a coaching clinic for 600 young kids. One Stranraer fan even owns an FC Twente season-ticket, making it over to seven games this year alone.
Saturday’s fixture will mark a decade since the death of Mr. van Unen in 2007 (aged 34) and falls on a big year for the town itself, celebrating 400 years as a ‘Royal Burgh’ – set to benefit from a huge bump in tourism as it rolls out a busy calendar of events to herald the milestone.
It’s also a huge occasion for the club only one week before the Betfred Cup group stages begin, playing a team which formerly fielded legends including Ronald de Boer, Arthur Numan, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Marko Arnautović in their 30,000 capacity De Grolsch Veste stadium.
Stranraer chairman, Iain Dougan said: “The relationship between the two clubs remains extremely close, 10 years since Denis van Unen sadly passed away – so it’s incredible to finally face each other on the pitch.
“The boys are really looking forward to it and even though it’s a friendly, they’re probably one of the biggest opponents we’ve come up against. We’re expecting the stadium to be packed with supporters from both sides, and businesses in the town will benefit as a result.
“It’s a big year for Stranraer - the club and the town, which holds a history we’re proud to play our part in.”
A memorial tournament is played each year at FC Twente in honour of Dennis van Unen and another fan, Boris Dijkhuizen, which Stranraer youth teams regularly participate in.
Jan van Halst, Technical Director at FC Twente said: “It’s fantastic that the Scottish FC Twente supporters have helped to arrange this fixture. What started with a last wish from supporter Dennis van Unen has now become a close friendship between FC Twente and Stranraer. I met Jim and James for the first time many years ago, and it was great to see their passion and enthusiasm.
“Many FC Twente football days have been organised in Stranraer, and an official supporters’ association has even been established under the name “Tukker Clan Stranraer.”
“As always, Stranraer will welcome fans with open arms and we are looking forward to a very special friendly match in Scotland.“
Romano Petrucci, Stranraer Development Trust chairman said: “Events like this are really important for Stranraer and the local business community is really excited about it.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming the Dutch fans, travelling over 500 miles to see their team play and experience some local hospitality. It will be a great afternoon for everyone and there should be an excellent turnout.”
The game between Stranraer FC and FC Twente kicks off at 3pm on Saturday, 8 July.