Life after Death for Dutch Football?

The excellent Steven Davies looks at the recent bankruptcies of: HFC Haarlem, RBC Roosendaal, AGOVV Apeldoorn and SC Veendam. In addition, he investigates the ill-fated 2e Divisie competition which was held in June 2015, before focusing on the future by outlining the plans put forward by the KNVB to restructure the Dutch footballing pyramid from 2016/17 onward in an attempt to make competing at each level financially viable.

The economic downturn and its associated financial hardships are prevalent all over the globe. In footballing terms, nowhere has this been more evident than in the Netherlands, where, over the last six years a number of clubs have teetered on the brink of or fallen into the abyss of bankruptcy.

HFC Haarlem, SC Veendam, RBC Roosendaal, AGOVV Apeldoorn; remember these names? Each had a proud history, with three of their number (HFC Haarlem, SC Veendam and RBC Roosendaal) having reached the highest echelon of professional football in the Netherlands; the most recent being RBC Roosendaal’s stint in the Eredivisie between 2002 and 2006.

A Proud History

On January 25th 2010, HFC Haarlem was declared bankrupt. As such, all of its players and staff were declared free agents and, in accordance with Dutch league rules, the club was excluded from all competition, with its previous results and points accrued in the ongoing competition expunged from the record books.

Founded on October 1st 1889; HFC Haarlem had an illustrious history, having won the Dutch national title in 1946 while also reaching five Dutch cup finals (triumphing in 1902 and 1912 and coming up short in 1911, 1914 and 1950). Following this period of success, the club spent time outside of the top flight before returning to prominence in the 1970’s and 80’s, winning the Eerste Divisie on three occasions: in 1972, 1976 and 1981. In 1982, a side featuring a young Ruud Gullit even qualified for the UEFA Cup, but eight years later the club was relegated and, over the course of the subsequent two decades, operated at Eerste Divisie level prior to their declaration of bankruptcy in early 2010.

However, this was not the end.

A month after being declared bankrupt, HFC Haarlem was reinstated as a new amateur club, who then began talks aimed at a potential merger with amateur, Haarlem-based side, HFC Kennemerland of the Tweede Klasse with the subsequent merger completed on April 27th 2010.

Today, the new club, Haarlem Kennemerland, languishes in the Vierde Klasse (the eighth tier of the Dutch footballing pyramid) and play their home games at Haarlem Stadion, the former home of HFC Haarlem.

On June 8th 2011, just over a year after the announcement of HFC Haarlem’s bankruptcy, RBC Roosendaal was declared bankrupt after the board failed to repay debts of €1.6 million which then led to an automatic revocation of their professional license from the KNVB.

RBC, formed on July 31st 1912, was initially known as Excelsior before being renamed, VV Roosendaal in 1920, only to be rechristened once more, seven years later, on July 16th 1927, to become known as Roosendaal Boys Combinatie (RBC), following a merger with Roosendaalsche Boys.

In 1955 the club turned professional and won the Tweede Divisie B in 1957, but, in 1971, left professional football in following the restructuring of the league system by the KNVB before eventually returning to the professional ranks in 1983.

In 2000, the club reached the highest echelon in Dutch football, the Eredivisie, but their stay was a short one; RBC being relegated after just a single season following an 18th place finish. But, along with opening their new stadium in 2001, the club secured promotion at the first time of asking and retained its Eredivisie status until it’s relegation in 2006; RBC Roosendaal finishing bottom of the pile, having accrued just 9 points from 34 matches.

Following its bankruptcy, the club changed its name back to RBC on September 21st 2011 and kicked off the 2012/13 season in the Vijfde Klasse (the ninth tier of the Dutch footballing pyramid), initially calling Sportpark Rimboe in the village of Wouwse Plantage, just south of Roosendaal, home.

On April 7th 2013, RBC secured promotion after demolishing VV Rimboe 10-1 and the championship the following week before later announcing that they would return to the RBC Stadion for the 2013/14 season.

A few months prior to RBC securing its first promotion since its rebirth in the amateur ranks of Dutch football, on January 11th 2013, AGOVV Apeldoorn was declared bankrupt and was thus according to Dutch league rules excluded from competition, with all its previous results in the ongoing competition expunged and its players (and staff) becoming free agents, while it’s amateur side continued to operate in the Vierde Klasse.

Initially founded on February 25th 1913 as AGOSV (Apeldoornse Geheel Onthoudersvoetbalvereniging Steeds Voorwaarts), the club later had to change its name due to the fact that another club was also called Steeds Voorwaarts. The name was changed to AGOVV, or Apeldoornse Geheel Onthouders Voetbalvereniging (Apeldoorn Football Club for teetotallers) with the meaning of the abbreviation later altered to Alleen Gezamenlijk Oefenen Voert Verder (Only Practising Together Brings Us Further).

AGOVV, runners up in the KNVB Beker in 1938, gained professional status in 1954 before returning to the amateur ranks in 1971 due to financial problems. They remained an amateur outfit for over thirty years, until, on July 1st 2003, the club was re-admitted to the Eerste Divisie.

In their first season back in the professional ranks, forward, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the Eerste Divisie’s top marksman with 26 goals and is just one of a number of notable players to have represented De Blauwen including: Nacer Chadli, Raimond van der Gouw, John Karelse, Dries Mertens and Paul Verhaegh. During its ten-year stint in the second tier of Dutch football, the Apeldoorn-based outfit achieved mainly middle and lower half of the table finishes prior to its bankruptcy in January 2011.

Two months after AGOVV’s demise, another Eerste Divisie club, SC Veendam, also filed for bankruptcy.

Founded on September 4th 1894 and one of the oldest professional Dutch football clubs; SC Veendam was initially known as, Look-Out, before later becoming, Prinses Juliana Veendam (Princess Juliana Veendam) in 1909, which was later shortened to simply, Veendam.

Veendam became professional in 1954 following the introduction of the Dutch professional league. The professional branch left the club in 1974 to form Sportclub Veendam, while the amateur branch became Veendam 1894 with Sportclub Veendam later becoming Betaalde Voetbal Veendam or BV Veendam.

The club spent much of its professional existence (42 seasons) in the second tier of the Dutch footballing pyramid but also enjoyed brief spells in the top flight: in 1954–55, 1986–87 and 1988–89.

However, during the 2009/10 season, a number of financial issues emerged and on April 28th 2010 (only days after the end of the 2009/10 season) the club was requested to be declared bankrupt due to excessive debts. On May 12th 2010, bankruptcy was confirmed, threatening to put an end to the club’s 115-year history. However, the verdict was later overturned on appeal after the club managed to pay off the majority of its debts before the deadline of June 2nd 2010 and, seemingly out of the financial wilderness, the following year the club underwent yet another rebranding, changing its name from BV Veendam to SC Veendam.

However, this proved to be a false dawn, as, two years later, the funding problems that had plagued the club since the 2009/10 season re-emerged, forcing the club to once more file for bankruptcy, which was declared on March 25th 2013.

Bankruptcy amongst football clubs is not an uncommon occurrence in the Netherlands (especially for those clubs forced to operate with limited resources in terms of sponsorship, media exposure and gate receipts outside the top flight) with the aforementioned recent casualties of the economic downturn joining the likes of: FC Wageningen, SVV, SC Amersfoort, FC Amsterdam and Fortuna Vlaardingen in extinction.

What Next?

When such events occur, we are left to wonder where the fans of these storied clubs go.

With this in mind, journalists: Leo Oldenburger and Edwin Struis, created the 2e Divisie.

The 2e Divisie, was a four team mini competition that was set to be held over the course of four match days in June 2015. Beginning in Haarlem, the concept pitted four storied but now defunct Dutch clubs against one another: HFC Haarlem, FC Wageningen, SVV and SC Veendam. Added to the air of nostalgia was the use of each of these famous old clubs’ stadia and players along with a new line of apparel produced by technical sponsors, Copa Football and the added incentive of free admittance for all.

Unfortunately, this romantic notion was crushed in its infancy by the outbreak of riots between sections of supporters during the opening round of the competition which was held on June 3rd at Haarlem Stadion.

Following these events, on June 8th the mayor of Wageningen, on the advice of police and fearing a repeat of the violence witnessed at the Haarlem Stadion, elected to revoke the license for match day two of the competition which was set to be held at the Wageningen Berg. In turn, this led to the cancellation of the remainder of the competition and the abandonment of the concept by the organisers.

Life after Death?

Elsewhere in Europe, bankruptcy has not meant the end for all clubs, with the likes of Chester FC and FC Halifax Town reforming and making their way through the lower ranks of amateur football in England to now find themselves knocking on the door of the Football League, while, in the aftermath of a move to Milton Keynes which eventually saw Wimbledon rebranded as MK Dons; AFC Wimbledon (founded on May 30th 2002) rose like a phoenix to eventually achieve league status in 2011. This fairy tale resurgence followed the examples of the likes of Accrington Stanley F.C. who were promoted to the Football League in 2006 and Aldershot Town who followed suit two years later. Most recently, Newport County A.F.C. replicated the feats of all three clubs by achieving Football League status in 2013.

In Italy, the most notable instance was that of the demise and resurgence of Fiorentina, who, in 2001, with debts of around US$50 million, were relegated at the end of the 2001/02 season before entering into judicially controlled administration in June 2002. Subsequently refused a place in Serie B for the 2002/03 season, the club effectively ceased to exist.

Re-established in August 2002 as Associazione Calcio Fiorentina e Florentia Viola under the ownership of Diego Della Valle; the club was admitted into Serie C2 (the fourth tier of Italian football) and won its Serie C2 group with considerable ease, which would normally have led to a promotion to Serie C1.

However, the club bypassed Serie C1, being instead admitted into Serie B as a result of the Italian Football Federation’s decision to resolve the Caso Catania case by increasing the number of teams in Serie B from 20 to 24 and promoting Fiorentina for “Sports merits.”

In the summer of 2003, the club re-acquired the right to use the Fiorentina name and shirt design, re-incorporating itself as ACF Fiorentina before finally regaining top flight status after playoff success against Perugia at the end of the 2003/04 season.

Hope for the Future?

Despite the recent spate of heart-warming stories of clubs remerging from the ashes across the continent, until recently, it was highly unlikely, under the current format, that we would ever see the likes of Haarlem Kennemerland or the reborn, RBC return to the professional ranks of Dutch football.

However, a sole crumb of comfort for supporters of these clubs and others of a similar standing came in the form of an announcement made by the KNVB on December 3rd 2014, which stated that, from 2016/17 onwards, the amateur and professional leagues in the Netherlands will be interlinked more closely in a new footballing pyramid.

Within this new structure there will be mandatory promotion and relegation between the Eerste Divisie and a new, semi-professional National Division. In addition, a new licensing system will be introduced with the reserve sides of all professional cubs integrated into the Hoofdklasse and Topklasse (the top two amateur tiers) as well as the new National Division and the Eerste Divisie (the second and lowest professional tiers in the Dutch game).

“This is (a) historic day for Dutch football. For the first time since the introduction of professional football in this country, we have a completely open league structure. The bottom region of the Eerste Divisie and the top sections of amateur football were like stagnant water, and we needed a flow of movement to establish a healthy breeding ground,’ Bert van Oostveen, Director of the Netherlands Professional Football Association, commented, ‘We have battled many years for this and now we have implemented it. This is a major step in our efforts to further develop football in the Netherlands.”

The new league system with the Eredivisie at its apex, will have the Eerste Divisie directly beneath and the new National Division making up the third tier, while below this there will be two Topklasse and six Hoofdklasse amateur divisions.

It is intended that the newly formed 18-club National Division will create a better transition between the demands of professional and amateur football and thus improve the financial viability of running a football club at this level of the game in the Netherlands.

“From now on, sporting achievements will be rewarded in the best possible way,” van Oostveen insisted, “There is more excitement because of the chances of promotion in each league and teams will be playing at a level where they really come into their own.”

The new league structure will mirror the system in operation in both Germany and Spain with reserve sides competing within the new league structure and not in a separate competition.

Currently, two reserve sides are active in the Eerste Divisie: Jong Ajax and Jong PSV (there having previously been three prior to the withdrawal of Jong Twente ahead of the 2015/16 campaign following the club’s financial difficulties in 2014/15). In the new structure, four reserve sides will enter the new National Division with four more in each Topklasse league. The remaining ten will be incorporated into the six Hoofdklasse leagues with Jong Twente’s eventual level of inclusion yet to be determined.

In addition, new licensing terms will be established for the top four tiers of football in the Netherlands. With terms becoming stricter with progression up the pyramid; the new system will provide an essential transitional period of a number of years for clubs promoted from the National Division to the Eerste Divisie.

With strict policing of the licensing system, an inbuilt transitional period for clubs moving between tiers three and two as well as the added jeopardy of promotion and relegation increasing interest in terms of support, sponsorship and media exposure, it is hoped that we have seen the last of clubs going to the wall and being consequently consigned to footballing oblivion in the Netherlands.


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