New kids on the block: FC Dordrecht start their Eredivisie preparations
Under the watchful eye of some 50 fans, a few dressed in orange, others in the mint green shirt that brought them promotion last season, newly promoted FC Dordrecht have started their pre-season preparations.
It is two in the afternoon when a man, dressed in a football shirt too tight for him, starts yelling. “Kampioenen! Kampioenen! Kampioenen olé olé!” (“champions, olé olé!”). In front of him, 14 players have just made their first appearance in what is likely to be a memorable season for FC Dordrecht. Then, those 50 other fans join the man in applauding the team.
Earlier that afternoon, with the stands still empty, a photographer asks new coach Ernie Brandts to sit on the logo woven into the pitch. After some shots, physical coach Hans Eijkenbroek, a 74-year old club veteran and volunteer, says: “Not too many pictures please, or there’ll be nothing left of him”. Brandts starts laughing, as Eijkenbroek concludes: “We’ll need him longer than just today”.
Some 30 minutes later, 14 players, including a goalkeeper and the coaching and medical staff counting eight people, enter the field. As a fan parks his bicycle against the sponsorship boards next to the pitch, and a painter walks in with a can full of green paint, the colours of the club, Brandts walks over the logo once again.
Ten minutes later, like a king watching over his kingdom, football director Marco Boogers sits down in one of the five board seats, right above the doors leading to the dressing rooms. The former West Ham United player relaxes as he watches his team. Boogers, who stepped into management after quitting professional football for FC Dordrecht in 2004, has done some magical work in the last few years. With a budget of just €2.2 million, one of the smallest in Dutch professional football, he and his team have been exceeding expectations for years now.
The crown on the work of the king of De Krommedijk, the club’s stadium, was the unexpected promotion to the Eredivisie in May. After a phenomenal season leading the league for a long time, Dordrecht eventually had to take on regional rivals Sparta Rotterdam in the play-offs. In two thrilling matches, the Schapenkoppen (Sheepheads) secured victory and promotion to the Eredivisie for the first time in 19 years. Trying hard to stop his tears of joy, Boogers after the matched told RTV Rijnmond that is was one of the best days in his live – if not the best.
One month after securing promotion, FC Dordrecht is back with their feet on the ground. A week and a half before their first pre-season friendly against amateur side WNC Waardenburg, just 14 players including one goalkeeper (Robbert ter Loeke, a reserve last year), start the first training of their season. But as Boogers says with his characteristic optimism: “It is a definitely a record for us, so many players. Last year we had just six”. Among the 14 are just two new additions: Mart Lieder, a striker brought in from relegated RKC Waalwijk, who due to serious injuries hasn’t played many matches in the last year, and Mohamed Hamdaoui, who is on loan from Vitesse. Others, like Wilmer Kousemaker and Adnan Alisic, have been here for years – including the hard years fighting against the lower places in the table. Most players of the succesful team of last season have left the club, as they were here as loanees.
The biggest surprise on this field, though, may be Funso Ojo. Once a hot prospect at PSV, the Belgian midfielder is now ready to live up to his once big promise. Entering Dordrecht during the January transfer window, Ojo quickly became a crucial part of the team of Harry van den Ham, who left the club to become a senior-coach at FC Utrecht. The former youth international quickly grasped the interest of some Eredivisie-teams, but eventually decided to sign a new contract at Dordrecht. “It felt good here. I used to play for the money, now I play for the football”, Ojo said to TV Rijnmond before the training.
Money. The word has been said now. No doubt Dordrecht will have the lowest budget of all 18 Eredivisie teams and the wages of the best paid player is no more than €2,500. A month, that is. Some big fish in regional business are willing to step in and give the club more financial space to sign Eredivisie standard players, but only if they can get some influence on the club’s technical policies. Among them is John van Zweden, the carpet-king from Den Haag, once a hooligan, now one of the owners of Swansea City. It will be interesting to see how Boogers, perhaps the most unconventional football director in the Netherlands, will cope with this. He knows that the club needs the money but will definitely want to keep his independence – it is in the end what brought him success.
Watching from a distance how Rody Hoegee, a former goalkeeper of the club and now assistant coach, leads the team in some physical exercise, Ernie Brandts looks happy. Brandts, a former Dutch international who played at the World Cup of 1978, is familiar with hard conditions. Working in Iran, Rwanda and Tanzania in the past years, Brandts has the experience to cope with a lack of money, resources and facilities. It is perhaps why Boogers was so eager to sign him as the new manager.
The expectations will be low for FC Dordrecht. With one of the lowest budgets in professional football and a team lacking Eredivisie experience, avoiding direct relegation is the main target for this season. “But why not better?”, a supporter asks, as he sits down on the stairs of the main stand. “Look at how Cambuur and Go Ahead Eagles have stayed in the Eredivisie with ease last season. Why can’t we?”
As a club full of surprises and unexpected good performances in recent years, that might indeed be the question.
Mark Lievisse Adriaanse is a freelance journalist who writes about both politics and football. You can find him on the twitter too: @Markla94.