MVV, more than 100 years of football in Maastricht
December 2, 2008 Leave a Comment
For expatriates who want to get a true feel of Maastricht and its people, visiting a game of football club MVV (Maastrichtse Voetbal Vereniging) comes highly recommended.
Granted, the club is no longer a member of the Eredivisie, the Dutch highest football league, but statistically, it attracts an average of more than 6,000 spectators in Maastricht’s stadium De Geusselt. Quite an achievement, compared to some of the Eredivisie clubs.
MVV competes in the first division also known as the Jupiler League and is listed among the very few Dutch clubs that are in good financial health. Sadly enough, not many of the major clubs like Ajax and Feyenoord can say the same.
A sport for everyone
Football is definitely a sport of extremes, given the various angles one can look at it. There are the huge amounts of money paid in transfer deals, ranging from a few hundred thousands to even millions of euros. There’s the integration of international players who come to the Netherlands to give it their best shot, often literally! And there’s the football fandom in all its diversity, from criminally inclined hooligans to families consisting of three generations of die-hard supporters. Let’s not forget the business-to-business minded sponsors who mix networking with pleasure during a game, or the many aspiring youngsters dreaming of a career like Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten or Ruud van Nistelrooy. They’re all part of a sport which is known almost everywhere on earth.
And if one team wins, the other one loses. Football is all about joy and disappointment, laughter and tears, excitement and anticipation. Some call football a sport for the common folk. Others say it’s for everyone, regardless of education level, job description or social status. When people are gathered in a stadium and they’re all rooting for the same team, differences vanish in favour of the common denominator, if only for the duration of 90 minutes. This can be a powerful experience, especially when one is attending a game for the very first time.
Some of MVV’s loyal fans are very active on the internet, exchanging all kinds of information about matches, players and initiatives to support the club. www.mvvmaastricht.nl and www.ultrasmestreech.nl are just two of their most prominent sites, next to the official MVV supporters club.
A home for strangers
MVV was founded in 1902. The club survived two world wars and competed against the best clubs in the country. At times the club became champion or ended up second or third. Some of their players like Joke Soons and Jeu van Bun made it to the national team and went off to play abroad. In the 1950s, football in the Netherlands turned professional. MVV managed very well and continued its successes until the mid seventies. Degradation to the first division in 1976, however, marked the beginning of three decades during which the club’s inconsistencies sometimes caused concern for its survival.
Promotions, degradations, the departure of key players and financial mismanagement, MVV has faced it all, but the club started fresh and financially sound in 2004.
Although most club members come from the city of Maastricht and its surrounding villages, MVV has always employed foreigners. Names like Georg Hecht (player, Germany), Victor Havlicek (manager, Austria) are still fresh in the memories of a group of veteran MVV players (age range 70–83) who get together every Thursday morning in the cantina of the MVV training facilities at Klein Geusselt.
MVV welcomed players from Poland, Finland or Czechoslovakia, and some of them never left Maastricht. Others did go away, but returned and decided to stay. John Webb (UK) is one of them. His son Luke (21) remembers how it was like to grow up as a child of an MVV-player. “My dad is from Liverpool and came to Maastricht in the early seventies. In 1977 he left for the United States to serve out a contract in Chicago. He also lived in Canada for a while, but returned to Maastricht where he’s lived ever since. He met my mother during his MVV years and they have three children. When we were younger, he used to take us to many MVV games. Whenever they played in Maastricht, we were watching. I’m studying in The Hague now, so I can’t see them play that often, but try to whenever I can.” John Webb is now self-employed as a house painter and has a company, John Webb Schilderwerken.
MVV selection anno 2008
The current selection of MVV is very international. Dutch Manager Robert Maaskant left after serving a good season (2007-2008), and Belgian-Turkish manager Fuat Capa took over the club. His team is a mix of both experienced and younger players. Some were educated in MVV’s own Youth Plan. Out of the selection of 23 players, 14 come from abroad!
Captain Ole Tobiasen (33) is originally from Denmark, but relocated to Maastricht in 2007. He played as a defender for the Danish national team and spent a few years in the Netherlands with SC Heerenveen, Ajax and AZ Alkmaar. Because of an injury he missed out on some major international tournaments, but he takes pride in having experienced multiple highlights in his career so far.
Ole met his Dutch wife-to-be Sulai in a discotheque in Hasselt (Belgium). “Sulai is from Maastricht and that’s mainly why I decided to join MVV. After AZ Alkmaar, I returned to Denmark and played for my old club FC Copenhagen, but I was on loan and played for another Danish club in 2005. In 2006 I went to Norway. Sulai and I got married in 2005 and were expecting a child the following year, so we figured it would be much nicer for her to be closer to her family.”
“MVV was a very nice club that was doing well and I liked their manager Robert Maaskant a lot, he was a driven man with ambition. I made my choice rather quickly.”
“I love it here. Maastricht is an old city, like Copenhagen, very beautiful with its old buildings and churches. Limburg has a lot to offer, there is plenty of nature, the small villages are lovely and whatever you need is around. Being inland, the only thing I miss is the sea. In Denmark, the sea is always nearby. I do miss my own family and friends, but we go back on vacation when we can, or my family comes to visit here in Maastricht.”
Ole’s experience with injuries made him realize that a career in football can be over before you know it. And although he still enjoys the whims and folly of football, he’s studying to become a manager once his active career ends.
“I have always been focused on playing football, so I don’t have any education in a specific direction. I do enjoy everything that has to do with football, whether it’s scouting for new talents, or training the youngsters. I’m always present at the A-youth practise, and also watch the matches of the second team. I like taking more responsibility and hope that some day I will be able to manage a team of elderly youth, and prepare them for professional football. Whether it will be here in Maastricht or perhaps even in Denmark, I can’t say.”
MVV player Ebou Sillah (28) was born in Gambia and moved to Belgium in 1996 where he played for several clubs, such as Club Brugge and FC Brussels. Former MVV manager Maaskant knew Ebou from RBC Roosendaal in the Netherlands where he’d been on loan. Still under contract with FC Brussels, Ebou went all the way to Israel in the season 2006-2007, again on loan.
But Maaskant wanted the winger/striker for his team and moved heaven and earth to get Ebou to Maastricht. He succeeded. “MVV and Maastricht make me feel comfortable,” says Ebou. “The club has a loyal legion of supporters and it’s close to where I live in Diepenbeek (Belgium). Compared to Gambia, everything is different. Here in Europe, we have all the facilities we need, but you have to work real hard and be disciplined. In Gambia, it is not so organized and with much lesser facilities or very few. Still, the weather is always good in Gambia, always sunny!”
Employing players from abroad and making them feel at home are not an easy task. Besides the language barrier, many questions can arise for the expatriate football players. In 2001, MVV assigned a team of volunteers to assist the newcomers in the selection. John Sliepen (teacher-mentor, secondary education) and Lei Bovens (corporate lawyer and management housing facilities) enjoy carrying out the many facets of this multi-tasking job. They’re MVV supporters and have a red-white heart, so what else is there to know?
The foreign football players are committed to take a Dutch course, three times a week, under the guidance of John Sliepen. Finding temporary accommodation or a more permanent place to live falls under the responsibility of Lei Bovens, who also takes care of all the necessary paperwork.
But the two volunteers do more than facilitate the players’ well being in a practical sense. They’re also there to assist the players’ partner and children. Whatever questions may arise in times of transition or in settling down in Maastricht, they’re the designated persons to turn to.
Derby MVV-Fortuna Sittard
It’s already been a few weeks, but the echo of a derby usually keeps lingering on for a while. On Friday, November 7, the Stadium De Geusselt was packed with more than 9,000 people eager to see the game, which was going to be broadcast live by the regional television L1.
A team from the national VARA TV channel, the Jackals of De Wereld Draait Door, was also roaming the MVV premises to film an item for their show on Monday 10. Presenter Ersin Kiris, from Dutch-Turkish descent, has been keeping track of MVV ever since the club recruited a Turkish manager and Turkish players (Bülent Akın, Güven Cavus and Omer Kulga). “It was my idea to come to Maastricht to film for DWDD and I had a very good time, it was a special day for me,” Ersin commented afterwards.
Vincent van der Lem, Ersin’s co-producer explained: “Ersin is a fan of Besiktas, a Turkish football club, and before the beginning of a game, a guy named Amigo always cheers on the audience. Ersin wanted to do that too and called MVV who liked the idea and invited us to come to the derby. Ersin got to cheer on the audience before the game and we filmed and broadcasted it on national Dutch television!”
The local, regional and national press was ready to cover the derby, photographers were hurrying to their favorite spots to set up their cameras and tools. In the office telephones were ringing, people wanted tickets. Are there still tickets?
MVV lost out to Fortuna Sittard with 0-2. It was a boost for Fortuna, because the club is on the verge of bankruptcy. For some MVV supporters the defeat was tough to swallow. Their misbehaving in the stadium however seems nothing compared to what’s happening now that Fortuna and Roda JC from Kerkrade have gone public with their plan to merge.
“Never a dull moment”
The Maastricht club however has no ambition to be part of a new format in the Limburg football landscape. It has faith in its own resilience.
As a longtime MVV supporter and a professional sports photographer for more than 15 years Paul Röling is a man who knows how to put things into perspective.
Throughout his career, Paul has captured thousands of moments of victory, glory and euphoria. But he’s also shot images of distress and anger. “MVV has had so many ups and downs,” Paul says, “it’s what football is all about. You can discuss about it until you lose track of time, it’s a fact of life. With MVV there is never a dull moment.”
Text and photographs by Gina Vodegel
Gina Vodegel (45), freelance writer/journalist
Editor MVV Business Magazine, MVV Gazet
MVV sings anthem of Maastricht
See also: Turkish football in Maastricht, a TV reportage by Ersin Kiris and Vincent van der Lem for De Wereld Draait Door (in Dutch)