A while ago Rogier Waalder set out to ask the question “What is the Best Football City in the Netherlands” which was published here. The answer to the question I posed was fairly easy in the end, with the clear winner being Heerenveen. Heerenveen won the title based on the level of support in the ‘city’ for its local side SC Heerenveen as a proportion of its total population. The average attendance of the club (22,700) equates to 80% of the town’s population. So as a natural follow up to this original article I looked into why is it that Heerenveeners love their football so much.
Heerenveen is a town (not a city) in the North of the Netherlands in the Province of Friesland. Its population of just fewer than 30,000 makes it the 4th largest population centre in Friesland, which in turn has only the 8th largest population out of the 12 Dutch Provinces. So it’s a small place but one that is renowned across the Netherlands for its sporting achievements and facilities. In a footballing sense, Heerenveen is home to SC Heerenveen, which has the most fervent supporters in all of the Eredivisie.
There are several key factors that have all combined to make the people of Heerenveen so passionate about football:
A Regional Club
One of the main reasons why the people of Heerenveen love football so much stems from the fact that the club is seen to represent the whole of Friesland. SC Heerenveen has set itself up as the club that represents the people of Friesland, going as far as to incorporate the Friesland flag in its logo and shirts and its nickname is De Superfriezen. This is in spite of the fact that by far the largest and most important city of Friesland is nearby Leeuwarden (home of rivals Cambuur). There is a perceived attitude in both Heerenveen and Leeuwarden that the Leeuwarders turn down their noses down at those who identify as being Fries, due to perceiving them to be peasants or farmers. This attitude has developed a very healthy rivalry between SC Heerenveen and Cambuur. In fact during last weekend’s derby between the 2 clubs the Heerenveen supporters predominately waved around Friesland flags whilst the Cambuur supporters waved the Dutch flag. The Heerenveen supporters also hired a plane to display a banner that read ‘Leeuwarden: Anti-Fries’. So in effect the snubbing of anything Fries by the people of Leeuwarden has made SC Heerenveen a symbol for not only Heerenveen but the rest of Friesland, which in turn has helped SC Heerenveen’s stature immensely.
Going hand in hand with SC Heerenveen appealing to the greater Friesland community, is also the historical sense of injustice amongst the citizens of Heerenveen to their overlords in Leeuwarden. This injustice stems back to the middle ages when the noblemen in Leeuwarden refused to grant Heerenveen city rights and as such Heerenveen has officially remained a town rather than a city ever since. This holds special significance in Friesland as its 11 ‘cities’ are part of the legendry ice skating race the ‘Elfstedentocht’, which is a massive event in the Netherlands (when it takes place) and Heerenveen of course misses out. This has also sensed to increase the anti-establishment feelings that Heerenveeers feel toward Leeuwaarden, which has resulted in an immense civil pride. The people of Heerenveen are naturally therefore very proud and defensive of their town and look to every opportunity to show off their town in a positive light.
A Sporting City
Heerenveen has a proud sporting history, particularly in football and speed-skating. Heerenveen is the spiritual home of the all-conquering Dutch speed skating team that shocked the world with their dominance at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Heerenveen’s Thialf arena regularly hosts Speed Skating World Cup events.
When I asked a spokesperson from the Gemeente (Council) as to what the positive reactions are for the town as a result of SC Heerenveen, the response was:
“Heerenveen is extremely sports-minded, not only when it comes to football. There is also speed-skating, gymnastics, ice hockey, athletics and dozens of other sports. It is the combination of all of this which is very positive for the town’s reputation. There are several up-to-date facilities available to all sportsmen and women, for training, schooling and (medical) supervision.
And sport-minded Heerenveen is a place tinged with gold: which has led us to choose ‘A Golden Plaque’ as the motto for Heerenveen. Golden Plaque has a double meaning for people here in Heerenveen and Friesland: it is a plaque as in ‘medal’ at championships but in Frisian ‘plak’ also means ‘place’. So in this instance Heerenveen is a place with its own golden tint”
So it’s quite evident that the Gemeente actively encourages sporting success and participation within Heerenveen as they realise the synergies for the whole community that can come out of football and sport in general.
So all this positive mantra that the community reaps from having successful sporting ventures inside the town is appreciated by the Gemeente, who are more than willing to provide support in whatever way it can. When pressed on this point, the Gemeente spokesperson expanded on this point:
“The Abe Lenstra football stadium, named after the legendary footballer, is an integral part of the multi-sport complex Sportstad Heerenveen. The complex also hosts the Centre for Top-Class Sport and Education (CTO), supported by the Netherlands Olympic Committee*Netherlands Sports Federation (NOC*NSF), is also a central part of this complex. Through the CTO, young people can combine studies and sports at a personalized and top level, which allows them to train as much as possible. The municipality of Heerenveen owns 50% of Sportstad Heerenveen, of which the football stadium is a part of. The complex was built in 1996 and rebuilt in 2006.
By co-financing like this, the municipality of Heerenveen encourages SC Heerenveen enormously. This shows, once again, the town is proud of its football club.
Also, the municipality of Heerenveen pays for maintaining the training and playing fields which SC Heerenveen uses for the first team and its youth teams.”
So it seems as though passion for football (and sport in general) runs through all levels of society in Heerenveen, which in turn breed success.
So it seems that Heerenveen has the perfect mix of passion and holistic community support for football which in turn has bred success. Despite coming from one of the smallest towns to ever host an Eredivisie side, SC Heerenveen has been in the Eredivisie consecutively since 1992. They were runners-up in 1992-3 and 1999-2000 seasons, whilst also winning the Dutch Cup in 2008-9 along with the multiple successes in the 1940’s in the then Regional leagues. They’ve qualified for a European competition in 16 of the past 20 seasons, including an appearance in the Champions League group stages in 2000-1 season. These are quite some achievements for a club from a town with less than 30,000 inhabitants.
The success of the club is not only represented by what happens on the field but also off it as well. According to club’s supporters at SC Heerenveen, football is experienced as it should be – an accessible, ‘fair’ game for the whole family. For years, SC Heerenveen has enjoyed the best reputation among the Eredivisie clubs. The club adheres to norms and values. It is also the ‘second team for many football supporters from other Dutch clubs. Corporate partners also enjoy being associated with SC Heerenveen, making its business club the largest one in the Netherlands.
So Heerenveen is an example of what happens when an entire community positively supports its football club and the benefits that come out of this support for both the football club and then back to the community. Heerenveen is a worthy winner of the title of ‘Best Football City in the Netherlands’ and I’ll leave the last word from a prominent supporter of the club who says “Heerenveen is a club for the people and Win, lose, or tie, SC HEERENVEEN TILL I DIE!”
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