It is an emotional summer in the Netherlands. This week marks the return of ADO Den Haag to European football with a Europa League second qualifying round game against FK Tauras in Lithuania, while last month the Muzee Scheveningen opened an exhibition to commemorate the last match of Holland Sport in professional football forty years ago.
ADO and Holland Sport are eternally linked following their merger in 1971, much to the dismay of many fans with a soft spot for the smaller club from Scheveningen. Although Holland Sport only played seventeen seasons, their history is more action packed than many other clubs that have survived a century.
Holland Sport started with a bang in the first year of professional football in the Netherlands, emerging from the remains of the rebellious Profclub Den Haag. Local rivals ADO had a boring, civil-servant atmosphere and still felt the dark shadow of the war years. They did win two titles, but suffered a reputation as a supposedly German-friendly environment.
When the better-supported HBS were relegated from the top-flight in 1954, most of their fans travelled to the new club in Scheveningen rather than ADO's Zuiderpark. Holland Sport attracted sponsors which helped them to sign regional legends like Bertus de Harder and Mick Clava and stormed to the top of their division, with the Houtrust Stadium packed to the rafters for each home game.
Their rise achieved immediate international recognition. When French sports paper L'Equipe invited the best teams from 16 nations to a meeting for the inaugural European Cup in early February 1955, a representative of Holland Sport was seated next to board members of Anderlecht, AC Milan and Real Madrid. They even went into the draw that night, but in the following weeks the Holland Sport board acknowledged their lack of experience and handed the invitation to PSV Eindhoven.
In March, Holland Sport travelled to London to play Second Division West Ham United and held the Hammers to a goalless draw, of which the second half was broadcast by the BBC.
By June of 1955, the team looked certain to qualify for the Dutch league title play-offs as they held a five-point cushion over NAC, yet two defeats slashed their lead to one point ahead of a showdown between the two clubs at the Houtrust Stadium.
On the day, a police raid had to clear the roofs of nearby houses of ticketless spectators as the game was sold out. A draw would have sufficed for the home team, but NAC left with an easy 3-1 win to reach the play-offs. During the match, Holland Sport goalkeeper Wim Landman let in a couple of howlers and was later suspended amid allegations of bribery.
Meanwhile, club owner Jo Röpcke had an agenda of his own as he had an interesting offer from Feyenoord to buy-out Holland Sport. The club from Rotterdam were struggling to qualify for the following season's Hoofdklasse (then Dutch football's second tier) and if they had failed, chairman Cor Kieboom would buy Holland Sport's shares and their licence for a complete takeover in order to continue at the highest level.
Although Feyenoord squeaked to safety on the final day of the season, Kieboom did buy Holland Sport, signed their four best players for Feyenoord and sold the remains to a couple of ship owners from Scheveningen.
The club, stripped of its biggest assets, restarted as SHS for the new season. Although the attendances were still sky high, the team could not qualify for the newly-formed Eredivisie in 1956 and had to settle for a place in the Eerste Divisie, one division lower (just as ADO did, by the way).
Four years later a story surfaced about BVV, from Den Bosch, attempting to bribe the aforementioned goalkeeper Wim Landman. He took the money and then returned it, but the eventual 5-1 result helped BVV into the Eredivisie. For not reporting the attempt to fix the match, Landman was suspended for a year. During the ban, SHS were struggling in their first Eredivisie season. Losing their excellent goalkeeper was a major blow. The first home game without him was a 9-2 defeat to Ajax and SHS were eventually relegated.
SHS, renamed Holland Sport again in 1964, maintained a healthy crowd in the Eerste Divisie, but kept running into all kinds of financial trouble and had a particularly large turnover of board members and shareholders. The club never managed to stay out of the headlines for long. If it wasn't their unruly fans, one of whom kicked a referee in the groin after a disputed penalty, it was because animals had run onto the pitch during an opponent's attack or on one occasion for the fact that a post broke under the weight of goalkeeper Kutterink and two men had to keep the goal up until half-time in the absence of a new piece of wood.
Yet despite their troubles, and flirting with relegation to the second division on a few occasions, Holland Sport finally returned to the Eredivisie in 1968 and enjoyed two good seasons with a 10th and a 9th-placed finish.
Sjaak Roggeveen became a Netherlands international, who scored twice on his debut, and in Jan Boskamp they had another international, although his Oranje career was brief. Near the end of 1970 rumours started to circulate about negotiations by the boards of ADO, Holland Sport and the city council on the future of professional football in The Hague. The club had slipped down the league and the crowds were lower than in the Eerste Divisie era. Somehow people sensed the end was nigh.
While ADO had a members' council who could influence the board, Holland Sport was in fact run by some rogues who did not necessarily have a heart for the club. When the merger was agreed, the Zuiderpark was assigned as the home ground and FC Den Haag the new name.
After the first win in the league for FC Den Haag the former Holland Sport chairman gave all the players a hundred guilders note in the dressing room, which used to be unthinkable at well-organized ADO, highlighting a symbolic difference between the two merged clubs.
The new squad had only two survivors from Holland Sport, Roggeveen and Paul Roodnat, who both left the next summer. Although it did take until 1992 before ADO returned in the name of the club.
Scheveningen still keeps a lingering feeling of nostalgia for Holland Sport, a small-town club in a big city, which materialised in the exhibition in the Muzee (open until September 11). On the museum's website, it claims that older inhabitants of Scheveningen can still become emotional when you mention the name Holland Sport on the street. It is worth a visit.