Feyenoord find fun amid the depression
Every league has one. The promising, well-supported big club that repeatedly creates its own downfall. In the Eredivisie this season it is Feyenoord's turn to slip on the notorious banana skin and skid into the headlines of all the papers.
In the summer they sold one of the most potent, but trophyless, strike forces in Europe for more than €20milion to the Premier League, without having replacements lined up. The club's lack of success meant the transfer money disappeared into the coffers of the bankers. Feyenoord had borrowed heavily in the hope of earning Champions League money, but found themselves almost broke last season after four years in the UEFA Cup.
In dire need of a striker the management did the unthinkable and bought Angelos Charisteas, who spent most of his time on the bench at Ajax.
Fans were appalled and turned against chairman Jorien van de Herik, who saved the club from bankruptcy in 1990, and now lives on borrowed time. The supporters have not forgotten his rescue act but, as one fan put it: 'When someone saves a baby, it does not give him the right to throw it in the river fifteen years later'.
The chairman's despotic government has frightened away other investors, while he has occasionally lent the club millions against interest above market rates- not something to endear yourself to the supporters. After the lucrative sale of strikers Salomon Kalou and Dirk Kuyt this summer they never expected financial collapse and the abysmal home defeat against Ajax typified their poor start to the season.
Yet it is the erractic style of the club that makes Feyenoord so appealing. There is always something going on.
When Ajax or PSV are going through a rough patch, it means they might drop to fourth or maybe fifth place in the league. For Feyenoord anything is possible. Only three years after winning the UEFA Cup in 1974 against Spurs, they could not win a single away game for 14 months. This low was followed by the high of a Dutch record 44 games unbeaten run in all competitions. Not that it helped them win any trophies.
Yet when Ajax were inventing 'Total Football', Feyenoord sneaked away with the European and Intercontinental Cup in 1970. While in 1989 they flirted with relegation for most of the season.
Feyenoord's exit in the UEFA Cup in 1998 was typical, when current Poland manager and former Real Madrid coach Leo Beenhakker was in charge. Having beaten VfB Stuttgart 3-1 in the old Neckarstadium in the first leg he was asked during the press conference what he thought was wrong with German football. 'Haben Sie eine Stunde?' (Do you have an hour to spare?), said Beenhakker, earning a big laugh. One can get away with such a stunt at Ajax, but at Feyenoord such a comment will come back to haunt them. A fortnight later mid-table Stuttgart comfortably outplayed the unbeaten Dutch league leaders to go through 4-3 on aggregate.
While Ajax can rely on their flair and arrogance, Feyenoord are just the unlucky nephew who keeps falling flat on his face. Yet like a character in a comic they always get up as if nothing has happened and think success might well be around the next corner.
'Being a Feyenoord-fan is not about having fun', is a well-known saying around Rotterdam. The club was one of the few European Cup holders to crash out in the first round of the following season. Faced with the colourless Romanian champions UT Arad, and only three months after the glorious victory over the almost invincible Glasgow Celtic in the San Siro, it stumbled into the greatest shock in Dutch post-war club football with two draws.
To rub it in Ajax went on to win three cups in a row. Their only title between 1974 and 1993 was won when Johan Cruyff played in De Kuip for one season in 1983, just out of spite when he fell out with the Ajax-board.
The mood around Feyenoord is always very passionate and De Kuip has been a full-house since the war, except in the eighties when hooliganism scared thousands away. They once said that it would even fill up if legend Coen Moulijn and his chums played cards in the centre circle. They supposedly have a bigger support than Ajax, whose fans can quietly mind their own business when times are bad. And even if it is 3-0 in the Amsterdam Arena the season ticket holders can moan all the way home over the missed chances.
Not at Feyenoord, where every goal is wildly celebrated and points are more important than the score. With his lack of technique but a sensational work rate, team spirit and genuine 'Average Joe' appearance Dirk Kuyt was the quintessential Feyenoord-player.
His routine of applauding the fans after a game for several minutes, even though his colleagues are already almost on their way home, stems from his days in Rotterdam, where this was considered quite normal. He had an incredible connection with the supporters.
Shortcomings are forgotten in De Kuip as long as the players are willing to work their socks off on the pitch. Therefore the departure of Kuyt is much more regretted than that of Salomon Kalou - while Robin van Persie seems almost forgotten. He left on a free for Arsenal, but the fans considered him a troublemaker.
At the moment supporters groups are increasing the pressure on chairman Van de Herik to leave, but there is not one successor in sight. The search party is out for a wealthy benefactor who has his millions burning holes in his pockets and loves a good-natured raucous and menacing atmosphere in his life. On the pitch the team will have to get its act together very soon to keep the season interesting.