Last updated 2 weeks ago by Michael Darmanin
The seventies; during those days not too many in the starting eleven donned jerseys flaunting a number greater than 11. However, on 30 October, when Johann Cruyff returned to action for Ajax against PSV after suffering a groin injury early in the season, he found midfielder Gerrie Mühren had put on his usual No. 9. Hence, the master took field in No. 14. That was it. Number 14 became his forever, the most famous jersey number after Pelé’s No. 10. With time it has assumed mystical proportions, especially in Holland.
Something else happened in Dutch football that year. Towards the end of the 1960s, the municipality of Utrecht had initiated talks with the professional football departments of the local clubs DOS, Velox and USV Elinkwijk. The intention was to ensure a high standard of professional football in Utrecht. The move resulted in the official renaming of the club to ‘FC Utrecht’. The club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
DOS, the largest of the three clubs, was struggling. It was on the verge of relegation from the Eredivisie due to their unimaginative and defensive style of football while on the brink of bankruptcy because of mismanagement. When it escaped relegation for the third successive year by the skin of its teeth, some said “The club can do nothing, not even be relegated.”
Velox had been close to promotion to the Eredivisie a few times, but in 1968 had been relegated to the second division. USV Elinkwijk had alternated the last few seasons between the bottom of the Eredivisie and the top of the first division. It was this club that gave rise to some misgivings about the merger, with its Zuilen roots and apparent lack of enthusiasm about the deal. However, with pressure from the municipality, the management gave in.
The resulting fusion created FC Utrecht in the summer of 1970. Since DOS had managed to keep a foothold in the Eredivisie during the 1969-70 season in spite of stutters and stumbles, the club could start at the highest level immediately. The DOS home base, Galgenwaard Stadium, became the home of the club. The red and white colours and the coat of arms of the city became the identity.
Bert Jacobs, the 29-year-old trainer of Velox, took over as coach. The three cultures and identities were soon forged into one. The starting team consisted of the former stalwarts of DOS, Velox and USV Elinkwijk. There was only one outsider, namely no other than defender Co Adriaanse who came over from the Amsterdam club De Volewijckers; a transfer worth 125,000 Dutch guilders at the time.
In the first season itself Leo van Veen, the DOS forward, made his debut for FC Utrecht. He would go on to represent them till 1982 variously as forward, attacking midfielder and libero, appearing in 390 matches and scoring a club record of 146 goals. Later, he would coach the side from 1993 to 1995. In 2018, a hall in the newly renovated Galgenwaard Stadium was named after him.
Since their formation, FC Utrecht remains the only club outside the traditional ‘Top 3’ of Ajax, PSV and Feynoord never to be relegated from Eredivisie. They have also been the only club outside the ‘Top 3 to win the Eredivisie, which they did in remarkable style in 2004. At the Amsterdam Arena, they trailed Ajax 1-2 till three minutes from full time before Belgian mid-fielder Hans Somers scored twice in the final three minutes. And then the Suriname winger Darl Douglas made it 4-2 in the injury time.
They have also won the KNVB Cup three times, in 1985, 2003 and 2004.
The 2003-2004 period was indeed the most successful, with the team led by Foeke Booy, including players of the stature of Dirk Kuijt, Tom van Mol, Jean-Paul de Jong, Pascal Bosschaart and Stijn Vreven.
There have also been appearances—albeit not overwhelmingly successful—in various European competitions.
Alongside the successes have been the usual problems that dog football clubs. An investigation by FIOD in 1981 found a series of financial malpractices, including non-payment of national insurance contributions and fraud with receipts. A supporting campaign followed, raising 66,000 signatures. Alongside there was the recording of a single titled ‘We geven het niet op’, performed by the players and led by captain Hans van Breukelen. All this finally convinced the Utrecht municipality to rescue the club with financial aid.
Down the years money problems and bickering at the management level have been a regular feature. There have been the usual manager changes, imminent collapses, selling off important players to tide over financial difficulties, debts accumulated after building a new stadium, last minute deals to prevent total collapse.
To a great extent things stabilised after 2008 when Frans van Suemeren, former director of Mammoet, purchased 63% of the club’s shares, thereby becoming the owner. This made FC Utrecht the second club in the Netherlands to be owned by investors.
Records and heartbreaks
Down the years there have been astounding records—such as goalkeeper Jan Willem van Ede taking the field for 17,201 continuous minutes between 1989 and 1995, without missing one moment for the club’s games.
There have been heartbreaks too. Popular French defender David di Tommaso came over from CS Sedan in 2004 and won both hearts and the most valuable footballer award in the 2004-2005 season. And in November 2005 he succumbed to cardiac arrest.
Since then, at the end of each season, the David di Tommaso trophy is awarded to the most valuable player, the winner determined by an internet poll. Di Tommaso’s jersey No. 4 has been retired and will never be worn again at Utrecht FC.
While enjoying a major fanbase in the Utrecht province, and being part of the folk-culture, the club is also infamous for the Bunnikside—their most fanatical supporters. During the first ten years of the club’s history, there were fewer achievements on field than the statistics toted up by the destruction caused by the Bunnikside hooligans.
Between 1970 and 1980, there were 402 incidents of hooliganism in Dutch professional football. Utrecht FC were at the top of this dubious table, being involved in 58 of them, Feynoord finishing second with 54 and Ajax a distant third with 47. Riots and fights apart, there have been incidents of demolition of trains and other public property.
The rowdy fans were somewhat brought to order post-1980. With the opening of the New Galgenwaard Stadium, there were tighter controls and increased penalties. Contact between the club and supporters was also promoted to ward off future incidents. However, the Bunnikside remain the most notorious supporters in the Netherlands. In 2019 they even had a book written on them titled De Rebellen van de Bunnikside.
At the same time FC Utrecht has the reputation of being a real folk club. It enjoys an important social position, driving a large number of community projects. Aimed at the young people, Support It aims at propagating norms and values within and outside the football field. It involves visits by players and trainers to schools and community centres.
Scoring for Health is a national project of the Eredivisie and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport that calls on primary school students to commit themselves to a healthier lifestyle. There is also a similar project Scoring for Neighbourhood. FC Utrecht is deeply involved in both.
In addition, players and staff are regular visitors to hospitals and rehabilitation centres in the area, including the Diakonessenhuis, the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital and the Hoogstraat Rehabilitation Center.
On 30 September 2005, on the occasion of the club’s 35th anniversary, FC Utrecht opened their own museum on the fifth floor of Stadion Nieuw Galgenwaard. The museum provides a fascinating glimpse into the club’s past.
Just three months before the opening of the museum there had been the demise Herman Berkie. A major comedian and singer, he was also a passionate supporter of FC Utrecht. In the many difficult times of the club, he regularly came forward to the rescue them.
Berkie was also the founder of FC Utrecht music, with songs such as Utereg me cluppie gaat Europa in, het Strijdlied en Bij ons in Utereg. These songs have become part of the club folklore.