The Netherlands is not a very large country. It is only slightly less than twice the size of the state of New Jersey. The population barely exceeds 16 million. Yet this small country is a huge footballing nation, the FIFA currently (May 2003) ranks The Netherlands number 5 in the world just below ‘superpowers’ such as: Germany, Brazil, France and Spain. How did a small nation, practically unknown on the international football fields grow to become such an important player?

From the early days of international football The Netherlands were involved with it. In 1904 they were one of the 7 founding members of the FIFA. The charter was signed by the following organisations:

This probably had something to do with the industrious nature and the overall international orientation that the country has had throughout its history. Despite their commitment to the development of international football Holland was not able to stamp a mark of authority on the game for a very long time. Lack of funds, war and a relatively small population were contributing factors. It went so far as to the fact that the country’s national team was absent during the first FIFA World Cup in 1930 held in Uruguay. There are two interesting side notes to be made about that particular tournament. Firstly the FIFA congress which decided that a World Cup would be organised in Uruguay was held on May 28, 1928 in Amsterdam. Despite that the Dutch football association did not have the funds to send their team across the world to South America to participate. Secondly the USA, whom we generally don’t count as one of the world’s top teams, were present at that tournament and reached the semi finals. This is a very overlooked achievement and was generally omitted during Team USA’s succesfull campaign during last World Cup held in Japan and South Korea.

They did in the end manage to attend the 1934 and 1938 World Cups both held in Italy. They again failed to make their mark. After 1938 Holland was absent from the world’s superior tournament all the way until Germany 1974. They now had funds, but since the introduction of the qualifying tournament they failed to qualify for the preceding tourneys. In 1974, however, they took the world by surprise and erased all past dissapointments. They not only qualified for the tournament, the team actually managed to reach the final! There they faced the arch-rival West Germany, who playing in front of a home crowd edged The Netherlands out in extra-time. Pundits, and amateur fans alike all agree, however that 1974 was the year of Johan Cruyff and The Netherlands. They introduced the world to a whole new brand of football, since dubbed as ‘total football’. In contrast to the famous Italian ‘catenaccio’ where a lot of stress is placed on a tight defence and lightning-fast counters, Dutch football distinguished itself by a very offensive and attractive style of play. This kind os play requires players with exceptional individual skill, a good tactical understanding of the game and a heavy tactical stress on the midfield. The style of play won the team many hearts and names such as Johan Cruyff, Wim van Hanegem or Johan Neeskens have since become household names. Incidentally Johan Cruyff was recently voted number 5 player of the 20th century, and is by some considered to be the greatest due to his exceptional all round talents.

  1. Pele - Brazil
  2. Di Stefano - Argentina/Spain
  3. Maradona - Argentina
  4. Beckenbauer - (West-)Germany
  5. Johan Cruyff - The Netherlands
  6. Marco van Basten - The Netherlands

In 1978 Holland once again reached the finals and again lost out to the hosts, this time Argentina, in an exciting final. They have since attained a couple of quarter final berths and a semi final place in France 1998. Surprisingly the only prize won by the international team is the 1988 European Championship.

Since the early 70s Dutch professional club football started playing a significant role. Clubs such as Feyenoord, PSV and Ajax are recognizable to football fans world wide. These three clubs all rank within the European cups all time table top 20. This table ranks all of the club results in the Champions Cup/Champions League, Fairs Cup/UEFA Cup and the now defunct Cup Winners Cup. A short roll of honour follows, it includes all of the Dutch club finals appearances. (winner indicated in bold)

Champions Cup/Champions League

  • 68/69 Milan 4-1 Ajax
  • 69/70 Feyenoord 2-1 Celtic (aet)
  • 70/71 Ajax 2-0 Panathinaikos
  • 71/72 Ajax 2-0 Internazionale
  • 72/73 Ajax 1-0 Juventus
  • 87/88 PSV 0-0 Benfica (aet, 6-5 pen)
  • 94/95 Ajax 1-0 Milan
  • 95/96 Juventus 1-1 Ajax (aet, 4-2 pen)

Fairs Cup/UEFA Cup
Please note that the UEFA Cup final was played as a double tie prior to 1998.

  • 73/74 Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Feyenoord
          Feyenoord 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur
  • 77/78 Bastia 0-0 PSV
          PSV 3-0 Bastia
  • 91/92 Torino 2-2 Ajax
          Ajax 0-0 Torino Ajax win on away goals, see: away goals rule
  • 01/02 Feyenoord 3-2 Borussia Dortmund

Cup Winners Cup

  • 86/87 Ajax 1-0 Lokomotive Leipzig
  • 87/88 KV Mechelen 1-0 Ajax

As much as I hate to admit it, Ajax are by far the most succesful Dutch, team. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who I root for routinely. FEYENOORD!!!

In my opinion the popularity of the sport in The Netherlands has contributed greatly to the Dutch successes. Over a million people play the sport in amateur or professional competitions and there are over 4000 clubs recognized by the Dutch FA (KNVB). Excellent training and schooling programmes for youths available on local level play a large part as well. Of course the size of the country limits the amount of potentially succesful clubs because of the relatively small ‘hinterlands’ that they have. A huge number of Dutch players are or were active on the European fields. The current Premier League (England) top scorer ‘Van The ManRuud van Nistelrooy, his rival Jimmy Hasselbaink and team mate Boudewijn Zenden, the current Primera Division (Spain) topscorer Roy Makaay, Juventus (Turin, Italy) captain Edgar Davids are but a few of a long list. All of them have worked their way up the ranks of Dutch amateur and professional football to later amaze football fans around the continent.

The Netherlands has a two division professional league. The top division is known as the Holland Casino Eredivisie (Holland Casino Honourary Division) and the Gouden Gids Totodivisie (Yellow Pages Toto Division). There are 18 teams in each division, currently:


Eerste Divisie

The teams all play a regular league. The champion of the Eerste Divisie gains automatic promotion and number 18 in the Eredivisie is automatically relegated. Numbers 17 and 18 of the Eredivisie and the winners of each league quarter in the Eerste Divisie play a mini tournament to decide promotion. Numbers 17 and 18 of the Eredivsie are split and are drawn two of the Eerste Divisie contenders each. The winners of the mini tournaments either keep their place in the top league or gain promotion. Besides the league The Netherlands knows a cup tournament similar to the English FA Cup and a Supercup similar to the English Charity Shield.

So remember to keep your eyes out for those Dutch players roaming the international fields, and no they do not play on wooden shoes, no they do not smoke weed (before the game) nor do they act as travelling cheese salesmen!

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