Before Virgil: Belgians and Dutchmen in Scotland
When the Eredivisie starts the 2013/14 season, it will be at least without one talent many admired last year. Virgil van Dijk left FC Groningen and made the move to Celtic. He was hardly the first player from the Benefoot-lands to head to the Scottish shore. In fact, many did before him. Talented football and fiction-writer and independent online magazine publisher Alastair Moncrieff gave us the low down on the earlier travels of the Belgian and Dutch crop in the Scottish Premier League.
I am from a place called Scotland, I have been to the Netherlands (I got run over by a bike) and my Dad has been to Belgium (he liked it because he is worryingly into his cycling and it’s very flat) so really there is no better person to take a look at some of the Dutch and Belgian footballers who have graced Scotland’s top flight.
Full disclosure, I’m a Celtic fan, this may or may not become apparent over the course of this article.
I’m going to start with the Belgians because they come first alphabetically and I’ve had enough of the lack of respect shown toward the alphabet recently.
According to Wikipedia only six Belgians have earned their keep in the SPL. Of those six only two had any real impact at their respective clubs, although shout out to Roberto Bisconti who managed to pick up a handful of caps after leaving Aberdeen (this was before Belgium got good obviously). The two in question are of course Thomas Buffel who spent 2004-08 at Rangers and Joos Valgaeren who wore the green and white of Celtic between 2000 and 2005.
The fortunes of both Buffel and Valgaeren actually follow similar paths; each started their careers in Glasgow in highly impressive fashion, winning trophies and admirers along the way, only to fade away dramatically. In Buffel’s case it would be fair to say that the blame for his dip in form could be attributed to a persistent knee injury which kept him out of action for a considerable length of time and disrupted the attacking rhythm so crucial to his game. Valgaeren however is a different case, a spectacular loss of confidence turned him from O’Neill’s most dependable ‘man mountain’ to a gibbering wreck incapable of executing even the most perfunctory of defensive tasks. He missed two penalties in the shootout against Valencia in a UEFA Cup tie, this writer has never forgiven him.
So the history of Belgians in Scottish football is not exactly a glorious one, but in fairness to Buffel he was an excellent player who was unlucky with injuries, his success since returning to the Jupiler Pro League is proof of that assertion.
If there is a famine of Belgian footballers in the history of Scottish football then there is a veritable feast of Dutchmen. Honestly I’m spoilt for choice here, so if I exclude your personal favourite Netherlander then you’ll just have to live with it to be honest.
Nothing indicates just how far from grace the game in my homeland has fallen than a quick look at the list of Dutchmen who once turned out for Scottish clubs. Genuine superstars like the De Boer brothers really did play for Rangers. To many reading this, that statement will appear bizarre enough to prompt a quick trip to Wikipedia to check I haven’t gone completely mad……..(welcome back, and I told you so) but that’s just what Rangers did back then, they signed brilliant players on huge wages and more often than not these players were Dutch.
Those huge wages and a mutual appreciation of the colour Orange meant that for a while the west of Glasgow was like a little Amsterdam, only with harder drugs and harder prostitutes. In amongst these Dutch interlopers are some of the finest players ever to pull on the royal blue of Rangers. Whilst the aforementioned De Boer’s may have been more effective elsewhere, players such as Gio Van Bronckhorst and Artur Numan played some of their finest football in Govan. Then there was Michael Mols, an utterly sublime player whose grace and touch were a thing of beauty, his knee crumpled in the same season that Henrik Larsson’s leg snapped, Larsson came back stronger, Mols, whilst still a very accomplished player, did not. Of course there was also Fernando Ricksen who may or may not have been a good player, it was hard to tell with all the red cards and illicit firework displays. He did share the 2004-05 SPFA Player of the Year award with John Hartson, which looking back on it seems a bit strange. Bert Konterman was a Dutchman who came to Scotland to play football; calling him a footballer however is stretching the boundaries of the term to breaking point.
Plenty of Dutchmen have pulled on the hoops over the years and it’s safe to say that compared to their compatriots at Rangers it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst the magnificently named pair of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Pierre Van Hooijdonk can look back on their time at Celtic Park with pride after a number of crucial goals and relatively impressive scoring records the same cannot be said for the rest of their countrymen. Bobby Petta had his moments, namely against Fernando Ricksen in that famous 6-2 thrashing that announced the arrival of O’Neill’s Celtic juggernaut, but for the main was an infuriating presence on the left wing. Glenn Loovens hung around longer than his performances merited; Evander Sno had talent and for a while looked like a star in the making but as is so often the case too much had been read into a selection of isolated moments, his career has faded away but of course that is secondary when the you take into account the health problems he has had to overcome. Edson Braafheid and Jos Hooiveld were both rubbish, like really rubbish. Then there was Regi Blinker, brought to Celtic in a swap deal with Paolo Di Canio who, before his politics became apparent, was adored by the Parkhead faithful. This was not a good piece of business for Celtic, Di Canio was mad but brilliant, Blinker was just maddening. Blinker was so bad that his arrival on the pitch was the cue for my uncle to leave the stadium (irrespective of how long remained in the game) and head to the pub to complain about how crap Regi was.
Outside of Glasgow’s big two there have been a few notable Dutchmen playing further down the league. Tim Krul had a brief but successful spell on loan at Falkirk, Mark De Vries was an occasionally excellent centre forward for Hearts and Dundee United, Dorus De Vries had a spell at Dunfermline before moving to Swansea and Nigel Hasselbaink is no Jimmy Floyd but has carved out an acceptable career at Hamilton Accies, and the Saints of Mirren and Johnstone. And now we have big Virgil van Dijk, a big tall defender who played for FC Groningen before he joined us at Celtic. He is supposed to be good, or that is what Michiel Jongsma of Benefoot says anyway. I saw a picture of him and he wore a green and white shirt before, so at least he got the colours right.
So there you have it, I’ve run out of Belgians and Dutchmen to write about so I’m going to stop before this gets awkward.
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