Sometimes you have those days when you see certain stadiums passing by. Old, dilapidated and full of nostalgia. You fall in love, get goosebumps and imagine what it looked like fifty years earlier. I had that at the Royal HFC, in Haarlem. I continue my Local FC trip and like a child so happy I walk around the complex of ‘The Good Old’ for hours.
“Pim, thank you!”
There is a nice breeze, but the sun makes up for a lot. I can’t remember when I left the house without a scarf and gloves, but today was one of those days that I dared. I therefore decide to travel from Deventer to Haarlem by public transport. The club is also called ‘The Good Old’. And today’s club is the oldest football association in the Netherlands. So old, that I almost want to take a course in old Dutch to understand how the history of the football club works. But I’m coming out.
According to the club you can say that football as you and I know it was invented in Haarlem. Pim Mulier introduced football on a field in 1879, playing around three poplars. What did those trees matter to him? They played around it. If only he knew it would eventually become the world’s greatest sport. This also made the first football association a fact. HFC Haarlem. According to the history books, the first game was played against Amsterdam Sport, in 1886.
Pim, may I thank you for this? What would I do without football? If I look at it that way, at least my life is much more boring without football. Take last weekend. Yes, international football. But I’m cooking something easy on Saturday and then adjusting with a plate on my lap to the half past six game on television. I turn on FOX Sports to watch the first game of Saturday night, there is nothing. I can hardly handle a weekend without football. Anyway, enough about me. I quickly have to click on the stop button on the bus, because I arrive at the Blauwe Brug stop in Heemstede. Heemstede?
I have an appointment with a legend from the Royal HFC. Tony Geerling. He doesn’t want to do it himself, but he’s a person I once admire. In the past, when the goalposts still had corners, the fields were standard mud pools and you didn’t all wear exactly the same uniform, Geerling frolicked in the vanguard of the Haarlem club. And now the best man is the complex manager of Royal HFC. Anyway, you’re probably wondering why I’m getting off in Heemstede. Until 1927, Heemstede was still an independent municipality. After an annexation, the place belonged to the municipality of Haarlem, as a result of which the current sports complex now belongs to the municipality of Haarlem, but is a stone’s throw from Heemstede. And even that is still a long way off. When you step onto the grounds of the sports complex, you are in Haarlem. If you walk back a few meters, you are in Heemstede.
You can already see the beautiful complex from an alley. Between the houses you look at the army green colored clubhouse. You imagine yourself back in time when you pass the entrance gates. ‘Haarlemsche Football Club’ is proudly displayed there. Ton Geerling is already in the clubhouse canteen. I walk towards the clubhouse, but I see the main stand on the right. True cult. At that moment there is a strange feeling in me. That feeling of when I was a little kid. When it was your birthday, you had just received your presents, but were not allowed to unwrap them yet. I’d rather walk to the grandstand first. ‘Just wait a little longer until the visitors arrive, Jeroen’ I can already hear my mother say. Okay, I’ll unwrap that present later. On to the clubhouse.
‘Always on european cup evenings’
I walk in and find a beautiful canteen. Old, brown, chandeliers, the smell of coffee and Ton. ,,Hi Jeroen, can you wait a little longer, take a seat there”, he says. Ton can be found at the club almost every day and on Mondays he does the money matters with another volunteer. While waiting I realize that during this trip different accents have passed in review. The rustic ‘ooo’ in Hardenberg, the soft G in Groesbeek, the flat in Werkendam and here in Haarlem Ton at least has a somewhat cocky accent. Funny. ,,So, you are from De Local FC. Do you want coffee?”, I hear Ton ask from the other side of the canteen. Black please, Ton.
The canteen may look old, but we do take a seat on real Chesterfield benches. We are in Haarlem after all, so why not. Ton expects a cross-examination on my part, but I never really write down questions. Have a nice chat, walk around the club and then the best stories will come. ,,You haven’t experienced all that, of course, but everything used to be more beautiful,’ begins Geerling. ,,I played football at HFC, but did you think we got our uniforms from the club? I just had to make sure I had an old shirt or something. I cut it so that it was a competition shirt. For a long time, no one in our team wore the exact same uniform.”
Geerling thinks it’s a cliché to call him a child of the club. However, I will soon mention a number of aspects that come close. Played football at the club from an early age, then was active in various capacities on the board and as a volunteer. And now even complex manager. ,,And then I also live a few hundred meters away from the club,’ he adds. And the fact that Ton has now become a complex manager is not entirely illogical according to him. ,,Oh boy, when I was still playing football I was already doing a lot of things off the field. Holy shit, what a beautiful complex had and has HFC say. That main stand, you don’t see something like that in many places anymore. There used to be a grandstand right behind the goal. Unfortunately, it was lost in a huge fire.”
,,What am I doing? For example, every Monday we do the finances. But I also go around the main field with the skewer to clean up waste. Get the lemonade ready for the youth. Know the bar like the back of my hand, allowing me to serve everyone. It’s a rewarding job,” he says with a smile. ,,Whether the club has become more hospitable because of me?’, Ton repeats my question. “I don’t like to talk about myself, but I agree. Everyone knows that they can come here every day from 15:30. They see my face and know it’s okay.”
The veteran feels comfortable with this volunteer position. He has been running it for years, although he was previously on the board. “I only did that for three years. Nice conversations, but they could often be dismissed in a few minutes. And it was always planned on a European Cup (read: Champions League) evening. I had finished watching the summaries, so I stopped my managerial positions so that I could watch Messi live on the tube.”
Nostalgia at its best
‘Jeroen, now you can open the presents’, I hear my mother say. I put on my coat, grab the camera and imagine myself in another time. Back when football boots were still called ‘kicksen’. A free kick was called a ‘free kick’ and offside was simply ‘offside’. That’s just English, Jeroen. Yes, but that’s how my eighty-year-old grandfather puts it anyway. He also knows what he is talking about, as a former AGOVV member. Good.
That grandstand, man what a gem. A roof of wood and rusted iron. Windows that are completely rotten. Wooden benches, with a large sandbox underneath. That sandbox probably serves for the number of butts that are thrown into it. Or cigars. There are white megaphones hanging from the roof, but they are so dirty that it can almost be called black. For many people this is a normal, old and dirty grandstand. For me this is the main prize. It breathes football.
The stands are as rotten as the current era of football, where money and power are all about money. You can hear the silence of the wooded area around you, with the Haarlemmerhout behind it. There used to be an entrance from the Haarlemmerhout. This can still be seen from the classic entrance gate, which is now locked and attached to a new gate. Then gentlemen in long coats with headgear walked to the club. Cheering with two arms outstretched in the air after a goal, instead of kissing the field, dabbing or weird dances.
Anyway. I continue to the other side of the main field. And even if the royals have to watch the money, there is real grass here. And with significantly less income than other clubs from the Second Division, and logically also clubs from the Jupiler League and Eredivisie, I wonder why in God’s name that is not possible at all ‘artificial grass clubs’. Artificial grass on training fields, fine. But you kill the game with artificial grass on the main field. Well, I don’t know anything about money. On the other side of the field is a small loft. It turns out to be some kind of coffee corner. On top of that ‘corner’ is normally the camera that films the match. You can really tell from these kinds of things that I’m in an amateur club.
‘On our Spanjaardslaan’
Back at the clubhouse I am offered another cup of coffee. A summary of PSG – Real Madrid can be seen on the television. ,,It is nice, that top football, but I like to think back to the past. When your contract was still written on a beer mat. Or that another club wanted to take you over and they only offered you new shoes, that’s all. Delicious”, says Geerling with a laugh. No, the Royal HFC does not have it easy as a Second Division club. I can taste very well that the club has to watch the money. It is not for nothing that the complex looks outdated. But piece by piece I see people walking in with a smile. The club song fits very well with a day like I experienced in Haarlem. ‘And whatever may happen. Our flag always remains at the top. The blue and white proudly at the top, on our Spanjaardslaan.’ Thanks ton,