Saturday, June 18, 2011

Outdated Scotland and progressive Holland? Holland is a special case: the talk of everybody and the shining example of vanguard football. Came from nowhere and was established force by 1975. Yet, it is a country similar to Scotland and Belgium – dominated by traditional big clubs and possessing small pool of talented players. Better performing on the international stage than at home. Declining attendances and financial trouble. Similar, but different too – the Dutch introduced professional football in mid-1950s and organized it uniquely – something in between traditional European structure and North American professional sport: less than 40 professional clubs organized in 2-tier closed league. Clubs are promoted and relegated, but only between First and Second Division. Amateur championships are staged in parallel and every professional club preserved rather strong amateur sides. Quire strong, in fact: when Volendam decided to use sponsor and advertise it on their shirts in 1973, the biggest resistance they faced was not from the Dutch Football Federation, but from their own powerful amateur wing (officially Holland allowed shirt adds in 1982). Professionalism was sustained with difficulties – there were never enough crowds to provide plenty of cash from the gates and with coming of television many people preferred to watch English football on the tube. Clubs struggled, some severely, and had to be merged or reorganized under different names, yet, it was nothing like the mess in Belgium or Austria: the professional leagues started with about 38 clubs – they are pretty much the same today. If anybody benefited from the professional system, it was PSV Eindhoven.
The full name is Phillips Sport Vereniging – Phillips Sport Union – and as the name suggest, it is a factory club, belonging to the giant Phillips Corporation. The club was founded in 1913 as a benefit to the workers of the firm, something not unusual at all – many clubs started exactly that way around the world. But a factory club usually runs into difficulties in amateur structure: the typical accusation is of hidden professionalism – players often are not just suspected of bogus employment in the factories, but really are bogus workers on fake payroll, when they are really paid for playing football. Full professional system ended pretences – now the club was able openly to hire whoever they wanted. Traditionally, PSV Eindhoven are among the three big clubs dominating the Dutch football – they continued to be, especially with strong financial backup, although Phillips never tried to make them superclub. There are reasons for keeping PSV well financed, but still on the modest scale: Eindhoven is a small city really and there was no point to build a giant club in a place unable to support it. Holland as a whole has no big cities and apart from Amsterdam and Rotterdam, there is no potential for big crowds attending stadiums. Also, the Dutch are conservative and shrewd in business: football clubs never return investments, they just drain whatever money come their way. For Phillips, selling electronics was the primary business, not kicking the ball. The club had the best flood lights in the world by mid-1970s, though. And as a factory club, it was direct advertisement of the firm in times when sponsors were not allowed to advertise – a good business advantage over any competition and no quarrels with the amateur section.
In this set up PSV Eindhoven fell behind Ajax and Feyenoord and was not direct part of the Dutch boom. Yet, they were constantly expected to bloom as well – it was taken for granted: Dutch football was world leader and any minute a third great club was to arrive on the scene. In fact, PSV was building momentum as well – the squad was well rounded and strong, including a big number of national players, and well represented in the 1974 Dutch World Cup squad. Alas, those were ‘second tier’ players in a way: generally, reserves.
At last the ‘bursting’ happened in the 1974-75 season, which looked exciting – PSV was riding on the great Dutch fame of previous years and World Cup success. There was another major point to their victory: it was Eindhoven’s first title since 1963! 10 years of draught… and finally! The next great Dutch team arrived – and was going to take Europe by storm, continuing Ditch hegemony? Looked like that… except for the fact that Ajax collapsed and Feyenoord was aging, so was it a great victory after all? PSV Eindhoven won by only 2 points difference from Feyenoord.
Strong squad, indeed: Kees Rijvers already had good reputation as a coach and also his boys. Van Kraay, Strijk, Lubse, van der Kuylen were often included in the national team. Jan van Beveren was the best goalkeeper in Holland – and if Crujff was less pigheaded, the national team would had benefited from having a decent keeper. The van der Kerkhof twins were establishing themselves as the leaders in the club, and pushed their way into the national team starters. Four foreigners completed the picture: the Dane Schmidt-Hansen and the Swede Dahlquist were mostly reserves, but the other two Swedes – Nordquist and Edstrom – were big names, especially the young exciting centreforward Edstrom. A team without weak line really, and dedicated to open, fast, attacking brand of football. Perhaps PSV Eindhoven was between the total football of Ajax and the more conservative and punctual Feyenoord – somewhat plainer and predictable attacking team. The reason was in midfield: Ajax in their best years depended on highly imaginative genius, Crujff; and Feyenoord – on the elegant and precise van Hanegem. Eindhoven had the van der Kerkhof brothers, who were more German kind of players – energetic, tireless, physical, dedicated, but lacking technical skills and vision. Rather straight-forward players, which became a liability and limitation: they were predictable and monotonous in their approach, affecting the whole team. If looking a few years ahead, when the brothers were the leaders of Holland – then, around 1980, the Dutch were struggling, declining, and losing after heavy, but unimpressive, battles German style. So, in a way, PSV Eindhoven consisted generally of ‘second tier’ players, unable of becoming really great and continuing the Dutch innovative total football. But in 1975 they were seen as the next great Dutch team – it was expected to win European cups. They did not… but nevertheless broke Ajax-Feyenoord dual monopoly at home and were the leading Dutch team for the rest of the 1970s. As for 1975 – it was a year of joy and hope. Think Ralf Edstrom.