“So, do they come to Quick thinking it is a Dutch, establishment club?”, I asked Dennis regarding SC Remo.
“Yes, of course. But, they don’t come to the club, looking for a fight, or to square off. There are always some tensions – but, that is just the same against other clubs. And, there are always players in these teams, who are play a role of calming things down; making sure that nothing gets out of control.”
“After the game I spoke with one of the players for about fifteen minutes. Asking him about his career, his club; how things were going. He played to quite a good level, but has been injured. Relations are quite normal.”
“Things are different in The Hague than from in Amsterdam, or Rotterdam, which are both larger, more cosmopolitan cities. The Hague is much more compartmentalised; football is one way for the very different communities of The Hague, to meet and interact. When we go there, we have a coffee afterwards. It’s a simple way for our communities to interact.”
“These are normal guys. They keep their tradition, their culture. And that is to be respected.”
On a recent Sunday morning, I went to The Hague for a brief football excursion. My neighbour, Dennis, had invited me to watch his team, Quick, play.
The train is late departing from Leiden: only by five minutes, but it is still a reminder of those other trips where the trains are late, later and later again and then diverted meaning one has to change trains in some peculiar place and then take the sprinter (slow train) stopping at every unknown location along the way before arriving at one’s destination. The train arrives and the carriage is empty except for one other passenger at the front who is making an urgent phone call – I understand nothing except to know that it is urgent, has to be discussed loudly, quite loudly and almost loudly. Business not mine. Untypical of a slow, football watching morning.
I’ve got a little time with a book and a little more time again when I get to the station and can wait for Dennis to pick me up. The other passenger, dressed in tight jeans and clicking shoes briskly makes her way to the exit. I pick up a coffee from the white-decored shop; a youth plays gently upon the free and open piano opposite; a man asks me for directions to the taxi rank – I give him an answer thinking I know where they might be. No excuse me or no hello or no thank you, just where are the taxis? I wonder outside to where I think Dennis will pick me up. He arrives on time in his Skoda station wagon – I admit I was expecting him to drive a Volvo. I sit down after removing a copy of The Economist and we head off.
“Quick – HV and CV Quick, in full – was founded in 1896 along with the cricket club. It is the third oldest club in The Hague and is regarded as a middle-class club. The founders were grocers; middle-class. Business-owners. There are a few other old football clubs that are known for being the clubs of lawyers, doctors and so-on, the upper-class clubs. The road Laan van Meerdervoort that runs east-west through The Hague is regarded as the road that splits the poorer parts of The Hague from the wealthier. The division isn’t so uniform, but, it is one of the clichés that people know The Hague by. Some other clubs think of us as being cocky, as being rich-boys. We are always seen as an upper-class club too. But in fact we aren’t. We are really middle class. But it is true in some ways. We have excellent facilities and an excellent youth training system. But that’s because we have some very smart and capable managers. We have been able to build new a new club house over the last couple of years, costing over a million, and we’ll be able to pay the loan-off over about seven years.”
“The Club funded the costs itself: there was no input from the KNVB or the local council. The council does, however, help in terms of pitch maintenance since the grounds are owned by the municipality. The Club has around 1,200 members. In total there are about 70 football teams and about 20 cricket teams. The main football team plays in the Sunday Hoofdklasse (fourth division). The first cricket team were champions of The Netherlands last year. There are of course many young teams, but as the children get a little bit older, they have more choices and other activities that they are interested in, so, the number of teams gets smaller. The fees are the most expensive in The Hague – it costs 350euros per year to be a playing member, or 200euros to be a non-playing member. But, you can see, we have good facilities and a good atmosphere. We don’t take it for granted.”
I ask Dennis a little about his family’s connection to the Club. I see that his family’s business, Van Peppen Assurantie, is one of the sponsors of the club.
“My cousin, is the linesman of the team; a role he took up after injury forced him to retire. My grandfather started the business in 1946; and my father and uncle have also worked for the business. I don’t work for it though; I wasn’t interested in selling insurance. I studied political science at university and I wanted to travel. For a while I was in the States, coaching and playing football. And then, later on I lived in Romania for eight years, before coming back to The Netherlands. I was a decent footballer when I was young, but, when I got to 17, I suddenly slipped behind. Or, the other boys, they went ahead of me. I had started training with ADO Den Haag, but I wasn’t there for too long. I kept playing at Quick, but I moved to another The Hague club named HVV when I was 21.
“After I came back from Romania, some friends invited me to join HVV again. But, then, after a while, I came back here at Quick because the team where I was playing in at HVV wasn’t very good and because my old friends that I grew up with playing at Quick asked me to come back. So, as a senior I’ve now been playing for a few years, in this same team. We have a lot of experienced good players that used played pro or in the first team of Quick. We always play the same system. We are good in the passing game because many of our players still have great technical football skills. We play smart so that we don’t run as much as the other team does. We have to because physically we cannot compete against the much younger teams we play against most of the times. Because we play smarter we win most of our games. Our team plays on the smallest field so that we don’t have to run that far.”
“I think I played okay today. Playing at full-back one isn’t expected to be spectacular; I just have to do my job, shut out my man. One doesn’t need to be noticed, but one’s player shouldn’t also be noticed-too much. We were very efficient from our attacks. They on the other hand, had a lot of the ball and much more energy, but, they also didn’t have too many clear shots on goal. Their average age was about 23, ours is about 40. Most of the teams we play against are much younger.
“After we scored the first two goals, from our first two shots on goal, they started to argue amongst themselves. This went on throughout the whole game. So basically, we felt that we had an edge on them and that they wouldn’t be able to come back. They got the score back to 2:1 ten minutes into the second half, but, we still felt we had an edge over them. Their team is very mixed, ethnically – their players mainly come from families who settled here from Morocco, Turkey, Surinam, and elsewhere. Sometimes this results in tension, as some players feel that different ethnic groups are getting privileged over others. Perhaps this was part of some of the tension today. The teams that are more homogenous are much more unified and cohesive. Even though there was some tension during the game and among them, the game was still played in good spirits. After the game we talked in a relaxed manner with them, and there were no hard feelings about any refereeing decisions or the way the game was played. Often times there might be more trouble with the other ‘Dutch’ teams that come other parts of The Hague, but with whom we have a long-standing rivalry with. Our club has a few players from immigrant families, but, this is a relatively recent phenomenon.”
Spectators are gathering approaching the main game for Quick, to begin at 2pm. But, we leave before 1pm. The Club’s second team , playing in the ‘reserve hoofdklasse division’ is losing to their local rivals, in the derby, 0:4. It’s not pretty and one player gets a yellow card for clapping his hands in the face of the referee after the awarding of a penalty and the subsequent goal. The players run hard, are slim, and the passes move about swiftly and are generally on target. Here are some players with ambition; imagining how good they will become. It’s a touch different from the game of Dennis’s team – reserve, third class, where playing is mixed in with socialising, catching up, joking.
The team has no coach; those sitting on the covered bench were the substitutes. They’re the only team without a coach. The activity in the technical-area was generally limited to laughing at the anger and gesticulations of the Away coach. The coach and the players sat huddled against the back of their coach’s box on this mild-November morning. They seemed so relaxed and detached they could have been watching the game on tv. There were more players than spectators: hello, casual football. There is little glamour, but much familiarity.
The train departs quickly for Leiden and arrives without delay. A passenger asks if the train also stops at Amsterdam Centraal, I say it doesn’t, only Amsterdam South. I don’t have Dutch as a language, but, I can hear the names of stations. The weather has turned sour after a few brief moments of sunshine during the second half all the way back in The Hague. A city becomes knowable through its football clubs; each one asserting its separateness from others. Football clubs can mediate interactions between different communities and facilitate the negotiation of shared values. The football pitch, on this foggy morning, sees disputes and resolved.