This post was published here as well.
Right before every home match starts the FC Twente supporters sing the You’ll Never Walk Alone from Gerry & The Pacemakers. What the supporters mean to convey is that they will support their team no matter what; in good times and, perhaps especially, in bad times. The past weeks have shown that that was a lie. The vocal supporters of the FC Twente crowd, often referred to as ‘Vak-P‘, named after a stand in the previous stadium, are what one may describe as “fair weather fans“.
Of course, not all fans agree with Vak-P and not all fans have acted as Vak-P has in the past weeks. When I henceforth write “fans”, I am referring to those who belong to the vocal part of the FC Twente crowd, Vak-P.
FC Twente, Vak-P, and Steve McClaren
- A banner, demanding coach McClaren to leave FC Twente
In the past weeks the fans have grown dissatisfied and impatient with coach Steve McClaren and his team. During many games, instead of supporting their team in a positive way, disapproving whistling could be heard. Banners were shown in the stadium, calling for McClaren to be fired. The most notable protest was in the home match against Willem II. Vak-P decided to leave the stands empty for the first 10 minutes of the game. Moreover, over the empty chairs they showed a banner reading “CLEAN SHIT”, which referred to the less risky (but therefore more boring) tactic used by McClaren to start a game with the overarching intention not to concede a goal – to “keep a clean sheet”.
- The action by Vak-P, protesting against Steve McClaren and his team during the first 10 minutes of the game against Willem II
Another, perhaps equally intrusive action was to stop the bus of FC Twente players on their way back to Enschede after the 1-1 draw against PEC Zwolle. The fans demanded “explanations”. While doing so, they happened to destroy a photographer’s equipment – but hey, that’s in their rights, isn’t it?
Well, they finally got what they wanted: FC Twente announced today that coach Steve McClaren would leave them. It was indicated that the pressure from the supporters and the internal tensions it caused prompted him to leave.
- Steve McClaren in better times, with the Dutch “kampioensschaal”
Was this justified? Were the fans right to bully away this coach? Halfway the season, six matches ago, FC Twente was at the top of the table together with PSV. Let me say that again: a few matches ago, FC Twente was leading the Eredivisie. Right now they are 5th, only 6 points from leader PSV.
But maybe all of this was despite coach McClaren. So let’s look at his history at FC Twente. Wait, I found something that cannot be true. Or could it? McClaren was the coach of FC Twente when they became champions of the Netherlands in the season 2009/10. This was the first time ever that FC Twente ended first in the Eredivisie. Did McClaren steal this title, relying on the work done by others before him? No, he had a contract for years. In his first year he led FC Twente to an already amazing 2nd place, with attractive football. In his 2nd year, he coached them to the title.
So what does this tell us about Vak-P? Well, with all my creativity I cannot find a way in which one could possibly argue that they could be regarded as trustworthy, reliable, or loyal. I didn’t hear Vak-P complain when he led them to the title – did you? You’ll Never Walk Alone. Sure, they were there when FC Twente became the champion. But where are they now, when for the first time in YEARS they and their vocal support are actually needed? Crybabies. Big crybabies, that’s what they are.
You may wonder why I am so particularly upset about all this; after all, it’s not my club, is it? Firstly, although Feyenoord is indeed my first club, in the Netherlands I also always cheer for FC Twente (I always found the logic behind the argument that one can or should support one and only one team, well, nonexistent). Second, it is especially when I look at Feyenoord’s relatively recent history that I find that Vak-P can only be described as a bunch of fair weather fans.
Feyenoord is a big club. I think that worldwide Ajax has the most fans of all Dutch clubs, but I would say that Feyenoord’s domestic fanbase rivals, and probably tops, the one from Ajax. Feyenoord won the (predecessor of the) Champions League once, the (predecessor of the) Europea League 2 times, the national title 14 times, and the domestic cup 11 times. After winning the Uefa Cup in 2002, things went downhill, however. From 2004 onwards, Feyenoord ended at places 4, 3, 7, 6, and again 7 – classifications that strongly contrast with its succesful past.
Depressed results had financial consequences. Pay from participating in European competitions were not earned for years. The club, which had been constructed and had planned for success, failed, and came into financial distress. Most notably, where prior talents would only leave if Feyenoord received a significant transfer fee, and then also only to bigger, foreign clubs of the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, Feyenoord was forced to let its talents go to domestic competitors. In this matter, especially to FC Twente. Leroy Fer, Luc Castaignos, en Jerson Cabral all made their way from Rotterdam to Enschede.
The only other club in the Netherlands that is also associated with a version of the You’ll Never Walk Alone happens to be Feyenoord. So, how did Het Legioen, as Feyenoord fans are referred to, respond to a competitive downturn (that, let’s be clear, is of an entirely different magnitude than the one FC Twente experiences today)? They did not ask for firing the coach. Not even at the absolute lowest point Feyenoord ever got at – the 10-0 defeat in Eindhoven by PSV. Surely, they were grumpy sometimes, but Het Legioen always supported their team, and kept coming to the matches. They never did anything like Vak-P did the past weeks.
Lay off the You’ll Never Walk Alone
Vak-P exerted a massive pressure on their club FC Twente to lay off coach Steve McLaren, which I think was shortsighted, unfair, disloyal, and a lot more like that – but unfortunately also successful. It is clear that Vak-P spoils and befouls the tradition when they sing the You’ll Never Walk Alone, as it exists most notably at Liverpool FC, but also at my team Feyenoord, since they only sing it when the weather is fine and fair, and when the sun is out. FC Twente is not worthy of the tradition. Well, the club may be, but its supporters certainly aren’t.