As far as footballing matters were concerned, there wasn’t a lot left to play for when FC Dordrecht played host to TOP Oss in their final fixture of the Dutch second-division season in May.

With relegation to the third tier not at stake in the Eerste Divisie, Dordrecht and Oss were both immune from the drop and duly played out a lively 2-2 draw at the Stadion Krommedijk that saw them finish in 18th and 17th place in the 20-team division respectively.

However, despite the relatively low stakes, the game was used as a trial for something much more important: a green project with potentially global significance.

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Indeed, Dordrecht decided to sign off their season by staging the first climate-neutral match in Dutch professional football as part of an attempt to demonstrate that even high-level sporting events can be 100% sustainable with the right framework in place.

The term “climate neurality” is defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2021 as “the idea of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by balancing those emissions so they are equal (or less than) the emissions that get removed through the planet’s natural absorption; in basic terms it means we reduce our emissions through climate action.”

This involved having fans, players, club staff, journalists and even the match officials travel to and from the stadium via sustainable transport. At the match, there was more emphasis on eco-conscious food and entertainment and the minimising of energy consumption and matchday waste.

The data and knowledge gained from the experience was then passed on to the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) in their ongoing quest to assist all professional clubs in meeting pre-agreed sustainability goals by the year 2030.

As part of the matchday itinerary, Dordrecht implemented a number of measures in order to push towards climate neutrality. So, how did they do?

A cleaner, sustainable matchday

Dordrecht’s innovation manager Leon Vlemmings revealed that the first changes were made in the buildup to the game when the club groundstaff had their old diesel tractor replaced with a cleaner, electric robot mower with which to prepare the pitch.

“Climate neutrality means that everything has no negative consequences for the climate. That is also the case with this match,” Vlemmings told Dutch football magazine Voetbal International (VI).

Two vegan food trucks were introduced to the stadium concourse to offer fans organic, carbon-neutral snacks; the meat-free frikandel (a type of sausage traditionally eaten in the Netherlands and Belgium) and vegan mayo sandwich being the plat du jour. Meanwhile, the entertainment was provided via a DJ hoisted aloft on an electric cherry-picker crane with the whole show powered by renewable energy sources.

Reducing travel emissions

The referee and his team were instructed to come to Dordrecht via climate-neutral means, while opponents TOP Oss confirmed beforehand that they would be eschewing their regular diesel bus for an alternative transport that runs on fossil fuel-free power.

With thousands of fans set to descend upon the Stadion Krommedijk, Dordrecht promoted the use of climate-friendly transport by encouraging those able to walk or cycle to the ground to do so if possible. Stadium parking was reserved exclusively for electric vehicles and extra space was set aside for bicycles, while fans were also entitled to free travel on the town’s eco-friendly bus network.

“We formulated a communication plan for our fans. It states that: if you can come by foot, then walk to the stadium. If you can come by bike, then bike to the stadium,” Vlemmings explained. “And you can board the buses of Qbuzz bus free of charge with your match ticket. Qbuzz buses are all electric.”

The local police force also arrived on specialised mountain bikes.

A similar pilot scheme was run during the Premier League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in December 2021, while Dordrecht also revealed that representatives from Spanish giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla have since visited their stadium in order to learn about the sustainable philosophies being put in place.

Slowly, inch by inch, it would seem like the football world is beginning to take seriously the wholesale changes required to make the top level of the sport more carbon- and climate-neutral.

“In football, the mentality is a bit old fashioned. I get that supporters are asking questions about this because not everyone has an electric car,” Dordrecht midfielder Jari Schuurman said. “But football has to catch up with the future and I think that if we do it in small steps, then it will be easier.

“[We are] a small club and we don’t make that much of an impression on the world with our sporting performance. But in this case, we are the first club in the world to achieve this. That is good for the club.”

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Here’s how a soccer club can make a match climate neutral