Monday 5 May 2014

Farewell Eredivisie

After 41 years in the top flight, my local football team, Roda JC Kerkrade, was relegated to the second tier of Dutch football last weekend. With it the province of Limburg disappears from the Eredivisie soccer map. The article below, which I have translated into English, recently appeared in the national daily newspaper, NRC Handelsblad: 

Roda relegated:  Football in Limburg and the battle to survive 
When the Netherlands was powered by coal, Limburg had more than enough money to spend on football. The relegation of Roda JC now means that the province is no longer represented in the Dutch Eredivisie. NRC correspondent, Paul van der Steen, gives us a potted history. 

The fifties
In the early fifties, the Dutch football association (KNVB) was determined to keep the sport an amateur one. Players who went abroad for money met with disfavour. In 1954, the Geleen-based businessman, Gied Joosten, defied the ban and founded the first professional football team in the Netherlands, Fortuna ’54. It was a side of local talent, augmented by top players who had been lured back from abroad, including, Cor van der Hart (from Lille), and goalkeeper, Frans de Munck (1 FC Cologne), nicknamed the ‘Black Panther’. The club from Geleen would later attract Bram Appel (from Lausanne) and Faas Wilkes (who had previously played for Inter Milan and FC Torino).
At the time, the Dutch economy ran on coal and the coalmining regions of Limburg were amongst the most prosperous in the country. Joosten became chairman of the NBVB, an alternative football association that represented professionals. It wasn’t long before the KNVB realised that the tide of professional football could no longer be turned and the rival associations merged. Fortuna ’54 never achieved a position higher than second place in the newly formed Eredivisie, but this was primarily due to their congested fixture list, since the club had a proclivity for accepting lucrative offers to play against top European opposition. 

The sixties 
 In the mid-1960s, the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Joop den Uyl came to Heerlen to announce to the world that the coalmines in Limburg would be phased out. There was no future in coal and South Limburg would have to reinvent itself.
This was no less true of the Limburg football clubs during the decade. Kerkrade-based club, Rapid JC, finished bottom of the league in 1962 and merged with local rivals, Roda Sport, who were then playing in the second tier. In the following season, the club that now represented the Oostelijke Mijnstreek (Heerlen, Kerkrade, Landgraaf) in Dutch football was relegated to the second division. It was only in the early seventies that the team from Kerkrade managed to gain promotion back to the top flight – and this is where they have stayed ever since.
In the Westelijke Mijnstreek (Sittard and Geleen), Fortuna ’54 (seventeenth) and Sittardia (eighteenth) reached their lowest ebb in the 1967-68 season. Both teams, in financial disarray, were relegated. As a result, they decided to join forces and form a new club, Fortuna Sittard. Because the Rotterdam-based club, Xerxes/DHC, went bust, Fortuna Sittard was allowed to play in the first division, only to be relegated again the next season. Fortuna Sittard only returned to the top flight again in 1982. 

The seventies 
Two contemporaries, both called Willy, were amongst the best footballers that Limburg ever produced. Willy Dullens, born in Sittard in 1945, was proclaimed footballer of the year in 1966, and that as a second division player. Johan Cruijff once said that, from a technical point of view, he perhaps had more footballing talent than himself. However, Dullens' career was ended in 1968 by a knee injury.
Willy Brokamp (born 1946) came from Kerkrade and from an early age he had been targeted by a number of major Dutch clubs. Nevertheless, for a long time he chose to play for MVV Maastricht, where he was able to combine his football with running a cafe on the main square there, the Vrijthof. In 1973, Brokamp won the golden boot award in the Dutch first division and the next year plumped for a move to Ajax. The Limburger, who was not picked for the World Cup squad in 1974, supposedly because of an attitude problem, had a taste for the night life in Amsterdam too. Against the wishes of his employers, he moved into an apartment on the Leidseplein, in the capital’s entertainment district. In the two seasons he spent with Ajax he scored a total of twenty goals. He later spent another two seasons with MVV. 

The eighties 
VVV Venlo fans too have had their ups and downs over the decades: they won the cup in 1959, finished third in the first division two years later, experienced relegation to the second and third division, whilst also having intermittent periods in the top flight. A few years ago, these fans could have been excused for thinking that their stay in the top tier of Dutch football would be extended, thanks to the signing of Japanese hotshot, Keisuke Honda, and there were plans for the development of a new, larger stadium on the banks of the River Maas.
The proposals were shelved however, and VVV stayed in De Koel, the ground where the club had enjoyed their most recent glory years. Twice – in 1986-87 and 1987-88 - they finished fifth, with players such as Stan Valkx and Remy Reinierse. Top clubs would arrive at De Koel quaking in their boots. In those two seasons Feyenoord lost 2-0 and 3-0, and Ajax 3-1 and 3-0. The trainer of VVV at the time, Jan Reker, kept a log of players’ penalty habits (known ‘Reker’s little book’) and so helped contribute to the international success of goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen with PSV (European Cup) and the Dutch national team (European Championship). 

The nineties 
These were the last golden years for professional football in Limburg. With the Nigerian striker, Tijjani Babangidam, and a string of local players (including Eric van der Luer, Maurice Graef, Mark Luijpers and Ger Senden), Roda JC – under the management of Huub Stevens - finished second in the 1994-95 season. The club also won the Dutch cup in 1997 and 2000.
In the same year that Roda JC finished runners-up, Fortuna Sittard took the second division title. In the years that followed, Fortuna enjoyed a stable period in the top flight. Their best season was in 1997-98 when they were ranked seventh in the table. The squad that year was full of talented young players, such as Kevin Hofland, Fernando Ricksen, Patrick Paauwe, Wilfred Bouma and Mark van Bommel.
In the season that followed, when Fortuna finished tenth, the coach who would eventually lead the Dutch team to the 2010 World Cup final made his management debut with Fortuna in the first division: Bert van Marwijk. 

The noughties 
Roda JC had two narrow escapes in the end-of-season play-offs, managing to stave off relegation in 2009 and 2013. This season there was no miracle and the club went down in the last game of the season without even securing a place in the relegation play-offs.

Many fans will look back at the sacking of their trainer Ruud Brood in mid-December on account his ‘disappointing results’. Under Brood, the Kerkrade-based club accumulated eighteen points and under the leadership of his successor, the young and inexperienced Jon Dahl Tomasson, just eleven.
Others will point to the constant unrest within the club, for example, the discontent surrounding the performance of managing director, Marcel van den Bunder, or the unfulfilled promises of a cash injection by Roda’s former sugar daddy, Nol Hendriks.
For the first time in the history of professional football in the Netherlands, the likelihood is that there will be no place at the top table of Dutch football for a team from Limburg next season. The chances of VVV or Fortuna Sittard advancing from the promotion play-offs in the second division are slim. MVV, which scrapped its youth set-up this year, missed out on qualification for these play-offs. And, in addition to the poor performances on the field, all four clubs are fighting a constant battle to keep their finances afloat.

It’s clearly not a good time for football in Limburg.

The original Dutch article can be found here.
Other articles on Roda JC that have appeared in this blog: