Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Roda JC survives!

At UF, we love a good, heartwarming story, and Roda JC's is no different. As you know, Norwich weren't as lucky in their relegation battle -- sorry Bigus, next year! -- but our Limberger friends in the Eredivisie were, and Joep Smeets had this to say about their final weekend.

Nick Hornby once wrote that it is only acceptable to sell your soul to two clubs when they are so different they are unlikely to ever meet. Hornby spoke about Arsenal and Cambridge United; my father raised me to love Roda JC and Barcelona. This past week, those two clubs and my emotional state couldn’t have been at two further extremes.

After the explosion of joy that was the win against Chelsea, Barcelona started preparing for the league title. Roda started to prepare for a last, desperate reach to get out of the seemingly bottomless relegation hole they had dug themselves into. One game to go, in need of a win but away at Feyenoord, relegation would be a fitting end to a disastrous year.

After signing a multi-year extension at the end of last season, Roda’s coach had to go early into this one. He did not go quietly. The mudslinging between club and coach, the outspoken reluctance with which his assistant took over and a long and fruitless search for a suitable (and, sadly more importantly, affordable) replacement were diversions an already under-performing team really didn’t need.

And then came the merger.

Roda is from Kerkrade, located in the southernmost point of Holland. In this small area are two other professional teams; Fortuna Sittard and MVV, both second-leaguers, both perennially in financial trouble. The south of Limburg is an economically troubled region, so there are too few sponsors to sustain all these three clubs. Roda, too, has always been dependent on transfer income and personal investments of Nol Hendriks, a local industrialist.

When Governor Frissen took a long hard look at this situation - all three clubs performing poorly in their leagues, and even more so financially - he concluded it would be a smashing idea to concoct a merger. And while the clubs are no more than thirty kilometers apart at most, there are enormous cultural differences in that tiny region and as a result, the rivalry between them borders on civil war.

The Dutch Football Association, who had repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in recent years by adding new clubs to a league in desperate need of the exact opposite, saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Their decision over the fate of Fortuna Sittard (which would have suspended their license) was postponed on the sole condition they would merge with Roda; MVV, in a bewildering momentary state of financial security, had opted out.

Roda, meanwhile, was steadily heading for the relegation zone.

It would take a book to write down everything that happened in those months. A commission, existing solely of people who had already spoken out in favor of the merger, was formed. They came to the surprising result that the merger was indeed a good idea, in spite of heavy fan protest and accusations they had not done enough to see if the teams could still manage to go on separately.

When they decided to go through with it, it turned out that the raise in budget the commission had promised would have had to come from the city government; except nobody had told them. They were quite surprised to hear they had to cough up about four million euros, which may explain their reluctance to do just that. Without a raise in budget, the prime argument for a merger, it was blown off (as it had been before in 2000).

Through all this, Roda kept steadily digging away at the ground beneath their feet. They conceded a last minute offside goal in Week 33 that sent them into 18th place, the only spot in Holland that guarantees automatic relegation. Considering Roda’s already poor financial health, relegation virtually equaled bankruptcy.

So, without a single away win all season long, Roda traveled to Rotterdam. I was at work at Ajax – FC Twente when the game started and I don’t remember anything of that game. There are about 100 small screens inside a television truck and I had all of them that showed Roda within my eyesight shut down. I couldn’t watch. I was kept up to date by about five different people and with each text message I soared or fell. One goal up, then two goals and one man up. A team that hadn’t shown any character all season long was grabbing on to their last chance.

Feyenoord came back, 1-2. Roda countered, 1-3. Then 2-3 and another red card for Feyenoord. This was the point where our director, knowing I couldn’t see the game, thought it would be funny to say Feyenoord had tied. I’ve never felt worse in my life than how I felt knowing my team, the team I’ve loved for all my life, the team my father took me to when I was a kid, would effectively cease to exist. When he saw the expression on my face, he was so shocked he apologized immediately and profusely for his cruel joke. I didn’t care.

From the corner of my eye, on a small screen on the other side of the truck, I saw the referee blow the whistle. My team was saved. For now.


The Fan's Attic said...

Fight on Limbergers!

EbullientFatalist said...

The fan reactions after that first red are priceless.

jjf3 said...

Congrats, Joep!