AZ Alkmaar ready to pick up gauntlet on roof repair


AZ Alkmaar stadium Jan 2020 Image: AZ Alkmaar

The Dutch professional football club AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands has disclosed that its arena AFAS Stadion will remain sans a full roof for the rest of the 2019-20 seasons. It also revealed expansion plans for its home ground. The team will play in the mostly roofless stadium for now.

‘The Cheeseheads’ returned to their residence on December 15 last year for the 1-0 Eredivisie win over Ajax. One of the Netherlands’ most prominent football clubs was forced to leave its home in the wake of the high-profile roof collapse at the venue on August 10 last year. AZ played its ‘home’ matches at Cars Jeans Stadion in The Hague till then and played football on artificial grass. The venue is the home of rival Eredivisie club ADO Den Haag. The Hague has proven to be a hospitable place for AZ Alkmaar.

The club revealed that the roof caved in as a strong wind was blowing but luckily nobody was hurt in the incident. The roof gave in when work was on to take down three quarters of the venue’s roof structure, before developing a new design which was planned to be put in place before the end of the 2019-20 seasons.

The roof collapse was caused primarily by strong downward wind, which was not taken into consideration during the design phase. Also, some connections and welds between single elements were either too thin or wrongly designed.

Additional weight from the solar power plants didn’t contribute much for the roof cave-in. Now, AZ Alkmaar awaits final evaluation, which is expected in the first quarter of 2020. An independent set of conclusions will come from the Dutch Safety Board (OVV), which has also taken up the case.

At the club’s New Year reception, AZ General Manager Robert Eenhoorn said that the new roof will now be installed during the summer, in time for the 2020-21 campaign. AFAS Stadion went on stream in August 2006 and boasts a current capacity of around 17,000.

Looking long-term, Eenhoorn told media persons that ‘The Cheeseheads’ have a three-phase vision in mind for the refurbishment and expansion of the facility – “The first phase is the roof, with here and there and adaptation for the building itself.”

Informing about the latter two phases, he further stated, “(Phase Two is about) extending the tribune sections. The main stand and the Ben-tribune. The third phase involves the other two stands.”

Eenhoorn added, “We want to expand… think of between two and a half to five thousand extra seats. We are not going to build a tier on the existing tier, which would be a waste of money. The focus is mainly on comfort and experience.”

“That is the planning that we all have in mind. It is a great challenge and also the assignment that we give to the builder,” Eenhoorn further revealed.

He also observed, “Now comes the phase that the new building will be heard more often. After the last home game, we want to immediately start with the roof.”

Media reports further stated that to get the roof installed, AZ and the municipality of Alkmaar will have to mend fences. The football club and the civic body did not see eye to eye with each other sometimes last year. Eenhoorn acknowledges that a rapport will have to be developed (“Among other things, we need the municipality that approves them to realize our plans”). “We have a certain time to get it done. There must be more permits and the past has shown that this is quickly arranged in Alkmaar,” he asserted.

The club General Manager observed that of prime importance was obtaining the necessary permits vis-a-vis the development of the stadium that AZ has in mind – “That will be a process that involves multiple parties. From them we want to know soon what the basic idea is. If we want to invest a lot in the stadium and the surrounding area, such as extra parking places, then we must know whether that is a feasible map.”

“We want to expand something. Think of between two and a half to five thousand extra places. We are not going to build a ring on the existing ring, which would be a waste of money. The focus is mainly on comfort and experience. For example, how can we get the wind out of the stadium as much as possible?” the 51-year-old Eenhoorn, who hails from Rotterdam, observed.

Should AZ run out of time (the Alkmaarders might just be hindered by the construction trade vacation, to name just a cross street) then the KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Association) can offer a helping hand by having AZ open the season with a series of matches which can be played at the opponent’s ground – “To start with an away match does not seem too much to me. But, if you want to play two or more in succession, then we will turn to the KNVB on time, should that be necessary,” Eenhoorn stated.

In addition, there is a chance that AZ will have to play European qualifying matches in July – “So, we are left with several question marks on whether AZ could possibly play football if the renovation is not yet complete? I hope it is not necessary and we are not striving for it, but it could be. The construction that we want to choose is a construction that can be built in parts. The large construction is set up in one go, the other can be built step by step.”

A lot of work remains to be done for AZ. Eenhoorn is ready to pick up the gauntlet – “The world around us is not standing still. We are ambitious: If we want to continue to deliver as we do now, then we will have to keep moving. We will certainly do that in the coming period.”

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