Sounds a bit apocalyptic, doesn't it? It's true though, the end is near, for three or four of Holland's football clubs. You see, FC Limburg is a concept, an idea that has been thrown around for nearly two decades, but it will end the existence of three to four football clubs.
In the business world, mergers are a fact of life and a straightforward way to gain size and market share. In football, we are rather more sentimental and the idea of clubs merging with neighbours who are (usually) bitter rivals is enough to send most fans into apoplexy.
Less so in the Netherlands, where, since 1958, there have been no fewer than 13 mergers among professional clubs. But the biggest could be yet to come. If the FC Limburg project goes ahead, Roda Kerkrade (a product of the merger of four clubs) in the country’s top division could combine forces with VVV Venlo, MVV Maastricht, and Fortuna Sittard from the second tier.
The four clubs boast a combined attendance of 29,600, which would make them the fourth-best supported club in the Netherlands. And while a merger would mean losing some die-hard fans, proponents of the FC Limburg plan (named after the area of the country that is home to the clubs) believe that it would be more than offset by the possibility of a bigger, more successful club attracting new supporters.
I suppose most of you have never heard of Limburg and couldn't care less, but I happen to live here and I happen to support Fortuna Sittard, so this is something I deeply care about. Please allow me to elaborate.
Limburg is the southernmost of the twelve Dutch provinces. It has a highly distinct character. The social and economic trends which affected the province in recent decades generated a process of change and renewal which has enabled Limburg to transform the drawbacks of its national peripheral location into advantages inherent in its European settings, linking the Netherlands to the southern part of Europe.
A consequence of this "international gateway" location is, for the last few decades international crime, often drugs-related is on the rise, especially in the southernmost part of this province.
Limburg is the dark-coloured area of the country.
This small province houses four professional football clubs, none of which have ever really had substantial and lasting success. In order to create a club that would be capable of challenging the traditional top-sides, a merger between all four was proposed.
As I said in the title and lead paragraph, this future might be upon us sooner then we expected. With Fortuna Sittard facing bankruptcy once again and Roda JC only existing by the grace of it's "sugar daddy" chairman, the situation is dire and desperate men resort to desperate measures.
The KNVB (the Dutch FA) has stimulated the idea, the provincial government would financially back the new club, while several multinationals based in Limburg have also vowed to support the merger-club.
The only reason the proposal hasn't been put into action is the conservatism in the board rooms. Yes, the die-hard supporters would be unhappy, but it's the only way for at least two of these clubs to survive and for a third to make a tremendous leap forward. The clubs would gain from this move, yet they are afraid to go ahead with it, out of fear for losing their identity and fans.
Ironically enough, Roda JC and Fortuna Sittard themselves were formed after several other clubs merged, yet now they're afraid to lose their precious identity. I say we, the fans, and they, the boards, should let go of the past and look towards the future.
Watching games of my own club, Fortuna Sittard, is a form of sadomasochism these days. The phantasms of a glorious past haunt the club and supporters. Occasionally we see flashes of pride and quality, more often we see a rage against the dying of the light. Deep down, everyone knows the glorious days of the past will never be brought back.
The players try to compensate by playing a physical and aggressive style of football, but they simply lack the quality. It's an act of desperation, a cry that shouts "we're still here, we're still fighting, we will not be forgotten."
The latter is exactly what will happen though, as bankruptcy threatens the very existence of the club once again. The players know this and they are desperate. All of them have to live up to high expectations, brought forth by a (fairly) glorious past.
They all suffer because of the burden of history, as the descendants of giants who were once the hub of the Dutch professional league. Fortuna '54 was one of the top-sides in Dutch professional football early on, but the team lost the momentum and was overtaken by pretty much all other Dutch sides.
Instead of looking back at a glorious past, other clubs—buoyed by wealth, have given it some extra effort, they dared to take a chance and they have left Fortuna and the other Limburgian sides in the rear-view mirror.
Many years ago, Limburgian sides were at the fore-front of Dutch professional football, bringing forth innovative ideas and making an impact in Dutch professional football. Now we should let go of the ghosts of the past and make another leap forward. We should become innovative again and take the initiative.
There's a pretty good chance we could take the league by storm. One of the best examples of such a move lies about fifty miles across the Belgian border. Belgian top-side Racing Genk is also the product of a merger and the club has fared well after this merger.
I say the clubs take a chance and try to mimic Racing Genk. Build a new club, challenge the traditional top three, and make us proud to be Limburgians once again.
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