Football in the Netherlands
The Dutch have a long and successful history in football. They pioneered the game-changing total football theory. The Dutch national side have won the Euros and are three-time World Cup runners-up. They have also produced some of the best players to ever grace the football pitch: Johan Cruijff, Wesley Sneijder, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp to name but a few.
In recent years, Dutch football has declined, with the national team not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia or the 2016 European Championships in France. This downturn has been reversed very recently with the national team making it to the finals of the 2019 UEFA Nations League and Ajax, Amsterdam’s football club, making it to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
So, to celebrate this revival of Dutch football, we thought we would bring you a guide to football in the Netherlands. Football is extremely important to the Dutch people, as it is all over the world, and their success in the sport has made it almost sacrosanct in the Netherlands. Once you have read through this guide, you should be able to walk into any pub on game day and be able to hold a conversation with even the most fervent football fanatic!
The Eredivisie (Premier Division) is the Dutch domestic football league and the highest level of football in the Netherlands. It was founded 63 years ago in 1956 and currently ranked the 9th best league in Europe by UEFA (the administrative body of European football).
It is managed, along with the KNVB cup, the Dutch amateur leagues and the national teams, by the Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond (The Royal Dutch Football Association). The winning team of the Eredivisie qualifies for the first qualifying round of the champions league and the team that places bottom is relegated to the Eerste Divisie, the second tier of Dutch football.
The "big three"
Almost every Dutch city has a football club, some even have more than one. However, the three most successful football teams in the Netherlands, known as “the big three” are Ajax from Amsterdam, PSV from Eindhoven and Feyenoord from Rotterdam. They are the only three clubs to have appeared in the Eredivisie every year since its inauguration.
Founded in 1900, Ajax is the most successful team in the Netherlands, winning the Eredivisie 34 times and the KNVB Cup - the domestic league cup competition, 19 times. They were particularly eminent in Europe during the 20th century and are often considered one of the most successful clubs in that era.
After winning the European Champions Clubs’ Cup for a third consecutive time in 1973 (the precursor to the Champions League), Ajax was allowed to keep the original trophy. They were also awarded a European multiple-winner badge in the 2000/01 season.
They last won the Champions League in 1995 under the management of Louis van Gaal. In 1972, they became one of only four teams to win a continental treble (they won the national league, UEFA Super cup and the European cup) and the Intercontinental Cup or Club World Cup in the same season.
The 18/19 season was a very successful one for Ajax. They won both the Eredivisie and the KNVB cup. They also had a fantastic run in the Champions League, eventually losing out to Tottenham Hotspur via the away goal rule. Ajax also won the 2019 Johan Cruijff shield at the beginning of the 19/20 season.
The club has been the home of some legendary players throughout the years including: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der Sar (current general director), Marc Overmars (current technical director), Clarence Seedorf, Marco van Basten, Edgar Davis, Luis Suarez, Dennis Bergkamp and Johan Cruijff, who scored 271 goals for the team.
- Stadium: Johan Cruijff Arena – 54.990 capacity
- Kit colours: Red + white (red block on a white background)
- Top scorer: Piet van Reenan - 273
- Official trophies: 74
- Current manager: Erik ten Hag
- Nickname: de Godenzonen (sons of God)
Philips Sport Vereniging (PSV) was founded in 1913 as a team for employees of the Philips company (yes, the huge multinational that sells everything from lightbulbs to blenders to toothbrushes). They have won the Eredivisie 24 times, the KNVB Cup 9 times and the Johan Cruijff Shield ten times.
They won their first European trophy in 1978, winning the UEFA cup against SEC Bastia. The two-legged final was won 3-0 on aggregate. They also won a European treble in 1988, winning the Eredivisie, the KNVB Cup and the European Cup under Guus Hiddink. Additionally, they managed to win the Eredivisie four times in a row between 1985 and 1989.
PSV have also been very successful in recent years, winning the Eredivisie ten times since 2000. In the same period, they won 2 KNVB cups and seven Johan Cruijff shields. Their most recent trophy was the Eredivisie title in 2018.
Two legendary PSV players are current record-holders in the Eredivisie. Willy van der Kuijlen, one of the greatest Dutch strikers, played 528 games for PSV over 17 years and scored 308 times, both of these being club records. He also holds the record for the highest number of league goals, namely 311. Pim Doesburg, who spent his career between Sparta Rotterdam and PSV holds the highest number of league appearances at 687.
PSV has also played host to some more well known legendary footballers throughout the years and has established itself as a stepping-stone for world-class players. Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Romario, Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), Phillip Cocu, Jaap Stam, Ji-Sung Park, Arjen Robben and Ruud Van Nistlerooij (who they received their largest-ever fee for, €30 million, when they sold him in 2001) are all players that have moved from PSV to a larger, more successful club.
- Stadium: Philips Stadion - 35.000 capacity
- Kit colours: Red + white (stripes)
- Top scorer: Willy van der Kuijlen – 308
- Official trophies: 46
- Current manager: Mark van Bommel
- Nickname: Lampen (Lightbulbs)
Feyenoord was founded in 1908 under the name Wilhelmina. It underwent various name changes until SC Feijenoord was settled on in 1912 and then SC Feyenoord in 1974, as people who didn’t speak Dutch found it hard to pronounce the "ij". In 1978, they finally switched to Feyenoord Rotterdam. The club has won 15 Eredivisie titles, 13 KNVB cups, four Johan Cruijff Shields and 4 European cups.
Feyenoord enjoyed much of its success in its early history, winning 14 Eredivisie titles, 3 European cups and 10 KNVB cups before the turn of the millennium. In 2002, Feyenoord beat Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Super cup final, the first European cup for the Netherlands since Ajax won the Champions League in 1995, seven years prior.
Feyenoord suffered from financial problems during the 2000s as well as poor management. They lost crucial players and the club headed into a downward slump. Things did not pick up for Feyenoord until the appointment of Giovanni van Bronckhorst in 2015. After eight years without any silverware, the club finally won the KNVB cup for the 12th time and came third in the league at the end of the 2015/2016 season. The following season, they won the Eredivisie for the first time in 18 years.
After some tough years, Feyenoord is slowly starting to taste success again. In the last 20 years, they have won nine trophies: 2 Eredivisie titles, 3 KNVB cups, 3 Johan Cruijff shields and the UEFA Super cup in 2002.
Feyenoord share a long, historic rivalry with Ajax. When the two clubs play each other, it is called the Klassieker (the Classic) and is considered the biggest game of the season. Clashes between the two groups of fans (who represent the rivalry between cities as much as football clubs), often turn violent. Besides Ajax, Feyenoord shares a rivalry with Sparta Rotterdam and Excelsior, both clubs from Rotterdam.
- Stadium: Stadion Feijenoord (AKA De Kuip) – 51.117 Capacity
- Kit colours: Red + white (half and half)
- Top scorer: Jaap Barendregt – 196
- Official trophies: 36
- Current manager: Dick Advocaat
- Nickname: De Trots van Zuid (the pride of the south)
The Dutch national team
The Dutch national team played their first match in Antwerp against Belgium in 1905, which they won 4-1 in extra time. With the brilliance of Johan Cruijff, the Dutch team implemented the concept of Totaaltvoetbal (Total Football) in the 1970s. This saw them become a powerhouse in international football and reach the 1974 World Cup final, the semi-final of the 1976 European Championship and the 1978 World Cup final.
From 1996 to 2014, the Dutch national team excelled in international football. They finished fourth in the 1998 World Cup and, after failing to qualify for the 2002 World Cup as well as being dumped out of the round of 16 in 2006, the Netherlands finished second and third in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups respectively. They reached the semi-finals of the European Championship twice, in 2000 and 2004.
The team fell into a decline after 2014. Failing to qualify for both the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup in Russia. However, this changed when Ronald Koeman took over the reins in 2018. The Netherlands qualified for the top group of the UEFA Nations League, where they qualified for the final four and beat England in the semi-finals. They eventually lost to Portugal in the final.
- Stadium: Johann Cruijff Arena + De Kuip
- Kit colours: Orange and white
- Top scorer: Robin van Persie – 50
- Most caps: Wesley Sneijder – 134
- Nickname – Oranje
- Highest FIFA ranking: 1st in 1978, 1988-90, 1992, 2002-03, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2014