Much to the annoyance of Three Lions fans, Germans do not consider England to be their biggest sporting rivals. Supporters in Europe’s largest country (economically and demographically), the continent’s most successful Football nation as defined by FIFA World Cup trophies and the subject of the name of this very blog simply have bigger fish to fry.
Polish animosity towards Germans is commonplace. The Danes still seek any opportunity to get one over on their neighbours. And the French will continue to enjoy an extremely complicated relationship with Germany…. probably until the end of time. But it is in the popular culture of the Netherlands where we see such a brazen mistrust and dislike of all things German. The Dutch really do have it in for the Deutsch, especially in matters of Football.
Put aside the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup for just a second, the single historic event that has most contributed to a Dutch-German rivalry is, quite understandably, the invasion of the Netherlands by the National Socialists in May 1940. After initial carnage and destruction, 5 subsequent years of occupation were both humiliating and painful for the Dutch. More Dutchmen died during WWII than did Brits, Belgians or Frenchmen. Naturally, today’s compassionate Germans are entirely apologetic to descendants of those who suffered under Nazi rule. However, wounds in the Low Countries have been slow to heal. Many a Dutchman is yet to truly forgive his Teutonic neighbours for the torment that Holland (and notably Rotterdam) was subject to.
Evidence of this is a very common Dutch joke that became popular shortly after Princess Beatrix married Klaus van Amsberg (from Germany) in 1966. In the joke, a Dutch officer shouts to a young man who has just parked his bicycle in front of the Royal Palace. “I am sorry Sir, but you cannot park your bike here; the Prince is coming”. To which the Dutchman replies; “Don’t worry. I’ve locked it”. The humour derives from the fact that as the remaining German soldiers stationed in the Netherlands retreated in 1944, many looted and stole possessions of Dutch civilians to sell back in Germany. A common object of theft was bicycles. Thus, for right or for wrong, contemporary Dutch pop culture associates Germans with bike theft. Laugh if you like, the point is that it demonstrates continued Dutch resentment towards Germans.
Yet in spite of everything you have just read, it may be a surprise to discover that there is one Dutch Football club that bucks the trend. While fans of Vitesse Arnhem, Fortuna Sittard and NAC Breda may dislike their German counterparts, fans of FC Twente openly celebrate their freundschaft with leading Bundesliga outfit FC Schalke 04, an alliance that is over two decades old.
Why would fans of clubs from countries that see each other as sporting rivals be so inclined to call each other “brother”? Geography surely plays a role.
Enschede, where FC Twente is located, is only 150km away from Gelsenkirchen, Schalke’s home. It therefore takes less time for FC Twente fans to drive to Schalke’s Veltins-Arena than it does to get to the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, for example. It is understandable that this close proximity breeds familiarity, from whence friendship can blossom. While this is not the norm in Football (clubs closely located to one another more often than not identify each other as major rivals), it does kind of make sense. But is the proximity of Enschede and Gelsenkirchen enough to override a generic Dutch dislike for Germans? Well, there could be another reason why FC Twente supporters are more prepared to openly celebrate friendship with a German fan group than fans of other Dutch clubs are.
The word “Twente” refers to the historic Twente region, a place that enjoys no contemporary administrative authority within the Netherlands but nevertheless clings to an identity that is culturally distinct from the rest of the country. “Twents” is an officially recognised dialect, understandably influenced by certain German dialects across the border. Indeed, parts of the historic Twente region are actually located within modern Germany. And, significantly, Twente remains largely dependent on agriculture economically, relative to other parts of the Netherlands. As a result, big-city Amsterdamers and Rotterdamers are often quite dismissive of bumpkin Twents speakers. In his book “Why the Dutch are Different”, author Ben Coates explains that your average Dutchman will see Easterners from the Twente region as “yokels and farmers”.
As such, it is understandable that citizens of Enschede and of Twente may resent their compatriots from Holland. A natural response to such mockery would be to proactively celebrate their belonging to an historic culture; unsurprisingly local interest in the Twents language grown in recent decades after a long period of decline. And, when it comes to sports, we can safely assume that FC Twente is viewed as a vehicle for proud citizens of Twente to celebrate their regional culture instead of their nationality; the prancing white horse on a deep red background seen in FC Twente’s logo is almost identical to the flag of the Twente region. And, those who actively choose to define themselves not as Dutch but as citizens of another entity are obviously less likely to internalise a value that largely defines modern Dutch culture; a rivalry with Germans.
FC Twente is a Big Club in every sense. Eredivisie champions as recently as 2010 and KNVB Cup champions in 2011 (when a certain Luis Suárez played for the club), it is one of two clubs to have disrupted the triumvirate of dominant teams in Dutch Football stretching back to 1964 (the other being AZ Alkmaar). And, oh my, FC Twente is popular. In the current Eerste Divisie season, it is the only competing side that boasts an average home attendance of over 10,000 (25,800 at time of writing). The next highest average attendance in this season’s Eerste Divisie is Sparta Rotterdam at 9,050. And FC Twente has also seen mild success in European competition, having reached the round of 16 in the 2012 Europa League where they were knocked out by, you guessed, Schalke.
Those giddy days of continental club Football in Enschede have been put on temporary hiatus. The club is in a slight rut at the moment. A disastrous 2017-2018 campaign saw FC Twente suffer relegation from the Eredivisie, but the club is among the front runners this season for promotion back up. Our trip to watch the team play away against SC Telstar was a memorable one, with an assertive 3-1 victory for the Reds only trumped by a spectacular and very vocal away following from Vak-P, FC Twente’s ultra group, complete with choreography.
All eyes are on FC Twente this season. Promotion of the team that represents the Twente people is expected. One the Netherlands’ big names will surely pick up where it left off when the 2019-2020 Eredivisie season starts later this year. And if it doesn’t, Schalke 04 will probably get a few fans hopping the border to see Bundesliga action next season.