Women’s football in the Netherlands

Women’s football in the Netherlands

2020 marks the 65th anniversary of women’s football in the Netherlands. So, in honour of this milestone, here is everything you need to know about women’s football in the Netherlands; from their initial struggles to appearing in the World Cup Final.

History of Dutch women’s football

Women first started trying to play football professionally in the 1890s, Sparta Rotterdam even tried to form their own women’s football team in 1896, but the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) banned them from doing so. The Dutch Ladies Football Association was formed in the 1950s and a women’s football league was established in 1955, which was subsequently banned by the KNVB.

Women’s football was played regionally until the 1970s when UEFA declared that all members would have to invest in women’s football. So, in 1973, the KNVB established the Hoofdklasse. The Hoofdklasse was a playoff competition between six regional champions, with the winner of the group crowned champions of the Netherlands.

Eredivisie Vrouwen

  • Current champions: FC Twente
  • Most championships: AZ and FC Twente (3 titles)

The popularity of women’s football rose during the 1990s and, in an effort to stop the best Dutch players for leaving to countries with professional leagues, the KNVB established the Eredivisie Vrouwen in 2007. The Eredivisie formally opened on August 29, 2007, with six clubs participating in its first season: ADO Den Haag, AZ, SC Heerenveen, FC Twente, FC Utrecht and Willem II.

In the 2010/11 season, several teams announced that they would not participate in the following season due to financial reasons. The following 2011/12 season marked the end of the Eredivisie Vrouwen, as the KNVB and its Belgian counterpart (KBVB) announced that they would be combining their women’s leagues into the BeNe League.

BeNe League

  • Last championship: Standard Femina
  • Most championships: FC Twente

The BeNe League was a short-lived league that combined the Dutch and Belgian women’s football leagues, intending to boost the quality of women’s football in the two countries. After the third season (2014-2015) the league was abandoned because of a disagreement between the KNVB and the Dutch clubs regarding their financial participation, and both nations returned to their own domestic leagues.

The BeNe League was made up of eight Dutch teams and eight Belgian teams. The eight teams from each nation would play in their respective national leagues, BeNe League Red for Belgium and BeNe League Orange for the Netherlands. The top four of each league would then go on to compete in Group A, the winner of which, was crowned the BeNe League champion.

The eight Dutch teams to take part in the BeNe League were: Alkmaar Women, Excelsior Barendrecht Women, ADO Den Haag Women, PSV Eindhoven, FC Twente, PEC Zwolle, Achilles 29 and Ajax.

Return to the Eredivisie

After three seasons, the BeNe League folded at the end of the 2014/15 season. The KNVB announced in April 2015 that the Eredivisie Vrouwen would restart that same year, with the seven Dutch clubs from the BeNe league participating. There are currently eight teams in the Eredivisie Vrouwen: PSV, Ajax, FC Twente, SC Heerenveen, ADO Den Haag, VV Alkmaar, PEC Zwolle and Excelsior Barendrecht. PSV are currently seven points clear at the top with 32 points, although the current season is suspended due to the coronavirus.

Netherlands’ national women’s team

  • Nickname: Leeuwinnen (Lionesses)
  • Head Coach: Sarina Wiegman
  • Most caps: Sherida Spitse (178)
  • Most goals: Vivianne Miedema (69)

The Dutch women's team played their first international game on April 17, 1971, against France. The game took place in Hazebrouck, northern France and ended in a 4-0 defeat for the Netherlands.

The Dutch ladies failed to qualify for a major tournament until the 2009 European Championships, this is largely seen as a consequence of the investments the KNVB made into women’s football and the establishment of the Eredivisie Vrouwen in 2007. The team performed well, making it to the semi-finals but losing in extra time to England. Since there was no third-place play-off, the Netherlands finished the competition in third, along with Norway.

They subsequently qualified for the 2013 Euros but failed to advance to the group stage. The team also qualified for the 2015 Women’s World Cup but only reached thirteenth place after losing their first knockout match to Japan.

European Championship 2017

In 2017, the Netherlands hosted the Euros and the mighty Lionesses surprised spectators worldwide by winning the competition. The Dutch ladies beat Sweden 2-0 in the quarterfinals and avenged their 2009 semi-final loss to England by beating them 3-0 this time around. The Netherlands then beat Denmark 4-2 in the final, with Miedema, Lieke Martens and Sherida Spitse getting on the scoresheet, to win their first European Championship.

Lieke Martens won player of the tournament and would go on to win UEFA’s Best Player in Europe award and Best FIFA Women’s Player later that year.

2019 Women's World Cup

The Netherlands qualified for the 2019 Women’s World Cup after finishing second in their qualifying group and advancing through the play-offs. The Netherlands then topped their group, consisting of Canada, Cameroon and New Zealand, and advanced to the knockout stage. The Netherlands then beat Japan, Italy and Sweden to make it into the final against the USA. The Netherlands lost the game 2-0 and finished second in the tournament.

Sari van Veenendaal won the Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper of the competition. Also, in the Netherlands’ 3-1 win against Cameroon, Vivianne Miedema scored her 60th goal for the Lionesses. This makes her the all-time top scorer for both the Netherlands’ women’s team and in Netherlands’ football overall, as she has long surpassed Robin van Persie’s tally of 50 goals.

Inspiring the nation

The Dutch women may have lost in the final of the 2019 World Cup but their performances on the pitch captured the hearts and minds of the nation, as well as footballing fans across the world. Thanks to their meteoric rise and results on the international stage, the Lionesses have succeeded in raising the profile of women’s football in the Netherlands as well as increasing its popularity.

The rise of the women’s national team is best encapsulated by their FIFA ranking. Back in 2008, the Dutch ladies were ranked 20th in the world, their lowest ever ranking. In the following ten years, the Lionesses successes have seen their ranking peak at third in the world (July 2019). As of March 2020, the team is ranked fourth.

Thumb picture: ©Ailura

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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