Why PSV? It’s a question asked of me on a near-daily basis. The people asking are compelled to do so by a variety of different factors: they acknowledge the Lighttown logo currently masquerading as my Twitter icon, or they see the red-and-white stripes of some retro jersey plucked lazily from the wardrobe that morning. In truth, they are correct to be a little bemused; actively supporting a football club from Holland isn’t exactly normal around here. However, I have a very reasonable explanation and, with the club celebrating it’s centenary year, I could think of better time to tell the story. So, if you’re interested, sit back and relax: this is the tale of how I became a PSV fan.
It’s conventional to start at the beginning. My love of football was hereditary. I was raised in a family which loves football almost as much as it loves Tranmere Rovers. After attending my first match in 2001, I was similarly gripped by the bug. The atmosphere. The grass. The excitement. Tranmere are in my heart, and are will always be my main club, with PSV serving as a delightful secondary obsession. It was on the Kop of Prenton Park that I learnt to appreciate football; learnt of players and managers and rivalries; learnt an extensive vocabulary of four-letter obscenities. It was only natural that this home-grown knowledge, and this hunger for football, would extend overseas. I quickly became interested in the different footballing cultures dotting the globe.
So it was that, after midnight on a warm February day in 2004, I began flicking the channels of my small bedroom TV. The usual assortment of late-night dross was in evidence; the quiz shows which give you no chance and the sign zone repeats of Murder, She Wrote. However, my attention was eventually held by the gloriously-named Dutch Game of the Week on Channel 5. Although I was initially oblivious, this was a weekly re-run, in entire ninety-minute form, of a top Dutch Eredivisie fixture!
I still remember that first game, that first episode, that first intoxication on the PSV drug. It was a night game at the Philips Stadion. PSV Eindhoven versus FC Twente Enschede. The whole occasion was so evocative, so atmospheric, so mesmeric. The capacity crowd enthralled me; I recall thinking how they all looked so cold, dressed in considerable dark coats with hats and scarves aplenty. In retrospect, the commentary was classic, describing the insatiable football and introducing me to hallowed names. Bouma and Affelay. Van Bommel and Vogel. Robben and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. The crowning climax of that sacrosanct game far outweighs even these lofty pleasures, however. Yes, the red-and-white stripes looked resplendent. Yes, the miasma of Eindhoven virtually pouring through my television was sensational. But they were outshone in my pantheon of memories by the heroic way in which that game was won.
After ninety-plus minutes of absorbing fixation, the game was still goalless. In a blurry haste, PSV whooshed the ball about the pitch one last time. I cannot recall quite how the ball fell precariously inside the Twente penalty area, but it did! There to gobble it up, with a desperate-yet-shrewd flick was my first PSV hero. Mateja Kežman had just won the game, sparking sheer delirium in wintry Eindhoven. As he wheeled away in timeless celebration, unleashing a detailed portrayal of Jesus Christ on his undershirt, I was won-over for life. I was up, celebrating with all the might a ten-year-old can muster at 3am on a school night. It was a dream-like moment which still makes the hair stand on-end. If anybody has a DVD of that game, PSV-Twente on 14th February, 2004, I would pay very good money for a copy.
In retrospect, those were the halcyon days of modern Dutch football. Ajax had Sneijder, Van Der Vaart, and Ibrahimovic; Stekelenburg, De Jong, and Vermaelen. Feyenoord had Van Persie, Kuyt, and Buffel; Kalou, Paauwe, and Ono. It was a special era. I watched religiously every week, putting my football education before my actual, real education. It’s undoubted that I learnt more from Guus Hiddink than I ever did from any primary school teacher.
Even in an Eredivisie awash with stars, it was always PSV Eindhoven for me. The experience of watching that first game was incredible; it was like watching a whole new footballing heaven unfurl before me. When I watched PSV, there was a sense of harmony, a co-existence with the team, and a natural desire to see them win. It was just always meant to be.
As I began to watch the Dutch Game of the Week with greater regularity, the fantastic memories began to form. One of my earliest, and the brightest of my PSV fandom, came during the 2004-05 season, when Hiddink’s men travelled to Amsterdam for a massive game with rivals Ajax. By that time, I was reading extensively on the subject of PSV, and was becoming ever more engrossed with the day-to-day news dripping out of Eindhoven. However, I vividly recall avoiding all potential snippets of information on this game, so as to watch the Channel 5 re-run with greater intensity. It was worth the wait. Phillip Cocu opened the scoring with an epochal diving header, before Mark Van Bommel scored an unbelievable hat-trick. It was fantasy football. I was truly thrilled.
It’s that particular incarnation of PSV which I still cherish the most. Gomes kept goal with enigmatic abandon; Park Ji-Sung matched mercurial talent with spirit and determination; Cocu was a genius. The other names still bring happy memories to attention: Ooijer, Lee Young-Pyo, Alex, Bouma, DeMarcus Beasley, Farfan, and, yes, even Remco van der Schaaf. Whereas many footballing purists talk about Brazil in 1970 or the Barcelona of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi, I still hark back to these priceless PSV days. It was a pleasure to be involved during such a glory period.
In my mind, one game encapsulates that entire era more definitively that most: the 2004/05 Champions League Semi-Final against Milan. I’ve written extensively about this tie, and the bitter-sweet memories it evokes, but, in hindsight, it was truly emblematic of a golden period for Dutch football. Here, we had PSV Eindhoven, traditionally underestimated by the widespread European media, overcoming a succession of hurdles to demonstrate on a huge stage their true talent. The result still hurts, but I was prideful that the entire world was able to see just why I fell for PSV. Additionally, I still maintain that, if they had somehow ended up in Istanbul, Liverpool wouldn’t have stood a chance!
The years following the Milan trauma were truly historic, as PSV became the first club ever to win four consecutive Eredivisie titles. It was a blur of classic kits, memorable goals, and abundant confetti. New heroes, with names like Kone, Culina and Simons, brought a new wave of success and celebration. I became even more fascinated with PSV during this stretch, and learnt a keen appreciation for the clubs history and tradition. The trophies kept on coming, and so did the memories. It was simply fantastic.
Now, those days seem so far away. In recent times, PSV have struggled with settling upon a definitive direction for the future; a period of uncertainty which has given rise to a five-season Title drought. In that time, even AZ and Twente have won the Eredivisie! It has been a very testing period, but my passion for PSV has only grown larger. The memories and appreciation I have for those golden eras make me more determined than ever to see and experience them again and, with a hero such as Phillip Cocu promising to overhaul the club’s entire ethos, I have every faith that we will. When those illustrious times return, I hope to be there, waiting; my greatest hope is to visit Eindhoven and watch my first-ever game live at the Philips Stadion soon.
So, now you know. The next time you read my tweets about Dutch football, or the next time you see me wearing a PSV Eindhoven cap, you’ll know why! The shows which lurk on your television in the dead of night rarely hold attention for more than ten minutes; the Dutch Game of the Week, however, sparked a fascination in me which has lasted nearly ten years. It’s funny how things work out.
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