With the excellent performances of the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup the spotlight has been thrust onto the Eredivisie, the much maligned elite competition in that country, where a vast number of the squad ply their trade. This most recent World Cup showcased the excellent potential within the Eredivisie which has seen some big money moves from some home grown talent. The Eredivisie is the top division in the Netherlands for a reason and commands the majority of the domestic football attention but the real hero of the Dutch football system are the amateur football clubs. These amateur football clubs, of which there is at least one of in every single Dutch town, are the heartbeat of the nation’s football system and are the breeding ground for the stars that we saw in the World Cup.
The amateur system in the Netherlands is massive and it’s said that Dutch people identify firstly with their local side before they side with one of the big Eredivisie clubs. The amateur football pyramid in the Netherlands is well organised and nationalised and the interest in results is keen. There are some huge clubs in the amateur system and the best attended club amateur club, Ijsselmeervogels, had a higher average attendance than 7 Eerste Divisie sides last season.
Amateur football in the Netherlands reaches its pinnacle with the Topklasse, which for all intents and purposes is the 3rd tier of the Dutch football pyramid and sits below the Eerste Divisie. There is no direct promotion/relegation between the Eerste Divisie and Topklasse, apart from invited promotions such as Achilles 29 received last season. The main reason for this is the staunch view of most Topklasse sides to retain their amateur status and not jeopardise their club’s financial status by becoming professional. The Topklasse is split into 2 divisions, Zaterdag (Saturday) and Zondag (Sunday), which is a throwback to when the church ruled the roost in the country. The Zaterdag teams traditionally comprise of those clubs with Protestant backgrounds whilst the Zondag clubs are nominally Catholic. In a few weeks the 2014/5 season kicks off and here’s a bit of preview of the coming season. The Topklasse operates with the 2 top divisions and the winners of each division play off each year for the overall champion and the title ‘Best Amateur side in the Netherlands’.
The Zaterdag competition is arguably the strongest of the two and since the inception of the Topklasse 4 years ago a Zaterdag team has always won the Championship playoff against the corresponding Zondag side. There are some genuinely big clubs in this division and none more so than the 2 sides out of Spakenburg with Ijseelmeervogels and SV Spakenburg winning three of the four Topklasse championships to date. Matches between these 2 sides are equal of any derby anywhere in the Netherlands and the derby matches often draw 6500-7000 spectators. With this kind of support it’s again these 2 sides that will be the favourites this season and both have former Eredivisie players on their books – Dominique Scholten (Spakenburg) with Pascal Bosschaart & Achmed Ahahaoui (Ijsselmeervogels). The division is weakened this season with the surprise relegation of 2012/3 champs Katwijk to the Hoofdklasse.
Other contenders that will offer some competition to the Spakenburg sides include Rijnsburgse Boys (who lead the aggregate table from the past 4 seasons); GVVV (who tied with SV Spakenburg last season); Excelsior Maasluis (with former RKC player Kevin Vink in their squad) and the Berry Powel lead Kozakken Boys. Another interesting side in this year’s comp will be Ajax Amateurs, whose involvement in the Topklasse means that Ajax has teams in all 3 top divisions of Dutch football. Expect one or two surprises from newly promoted SC Genemuiden as well who have a very decent squad. The strugglers in this division should be the newly promoted duo of HSV Hoek and Sparta Nijkerk.
This division has been dominated in recent years by Achilles 29 but with their ‘promotion’ to the Eerste Divisie last year this division was wide open. Runaway winners from last campaign, AFC, should be in the mix again this season particularly given the class they have in former Eredivisie players, Yuri Rose and Karim Bridji. Their main challenges may well come from the likes of WKE, De Treffers and VVSB but this division looks decidedly weaker than the Zaterdag one. Of interest this year is the promotion of Koninklijke HFC from Haarlem, who are the oldest club in the country and have completed a meteoric rise over the past few seasons to help fill the void from the bankruptcy of HFC Haarlem a few years ago. Generally speaking though the Zondag division is a poor cousin to the Zaterdag one and even crowds are half as much in Zondag as they are in Zaterdag. A few clubs might struggle in this division this year but again expect the promoted sides of Hercules, OJC Rosmalen and EDO to find the going the most difficult.
So all is in readiness for another busy season of Dutch amateur football in the coming weeks and you can guarantee that the football loving folk will definitely be noticing what happens at this level.
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