HE’S THE MAN OF EVERY MONTH!
IF ASKED to sell calendars, most footballers would start preening themselves for a photo shoot – but Kjell Knops quite literally flogged them while juggling a playing career in his native Netherlands.
In 2010, long before he became a part of Bruno Ribeiro’s revolution at Port Vale, reality struck Knops in the face after he was released by boyhood club Roda JC.
But, instead of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, Knops went to work as a salesman while playing semi-professionally.
That work ethic stayed with him, even when he made the move to second division club MVV Maastricht a year later.
He was a centre-back at the weekend and an account manager for the Dutch Calendar Factory during the week.
“It was really hard to get a new contract, so I played semi-professionally in the third league in Holland,” explained Knops, who also studied facility management during that time.
“I also went to work because I always knew there was life after football and I wanted to get as much experience as I could.
“Then, one of my old coaches asked me if I wanted to play in the second division, but still I wanted to work because I thought ‘you never know, I could get injured or I could drop out of the game again’.
“So, I worked for the first two years at MVV Maastricht. We had training in the morning and then I used to work from one to five for the company that sponsored the team.
“I used to go in a company car and sell their products: calendars, posters, cards, everything you can think of that is made of paper.”
The only piece of paper Knops now needs to concern himself with is Port Vale’s teamsheet – and Ribeiro has scribbled his name down for every game so far.
Knops, with the help of his agent, had to use all his selling powers once again after taking it on himself to alert other clubs of his talents.
“I didn’t know Bruno, but my agent got in touch,” he added.
“I think it was (assistant coach) Andy Smith. We sent a few videos. They liked what they saw and thought I was a good player.
“I’m 29 now and I wanted to go to another country. It was a good age to go. When the chance came to go to England, I didn’t even have to think about it.
“League One is a good competition and the fans are very different to those in Holland.
“The whole family lives by football. And, if you hit the ball over the stands in Holland, they shout at you. But in England they clap!
“I really like that because they always show you support.”
If a move from Maastricht to Staffordshire was an unlikely one, then the culture shock has been softened somewhat by the influx of foreign players through the doors at Vale Park.
Knops was the first of 17 signings by new boss Ribeiro, and a dozen of those players originate from other countries.
On this season’s evidence, little has been lost in translation as, up to last week’s humbling at the hands of Bury, the Valiants had won three of five games in League One.
Knops added: “There are a lot of foreign players at the club, so a lot of different languages, but some of them speak English quite well. It’s been fairly easy to adapt.
“We have got to know each other in the last four weeks.
“The manager has been clear on the attacking way he wants to play and we’ve tried to do that in the game.
“When I came over to Port Vale it was important that they wanted to play good football.
“That’s one of the main reasons I joined.
“Coming from Holland, we play a different style to most teams in England, but I think it’s quite similar to how we are trying to play at Port Vale.
“I like to be physical, but I also like to play good football. I’m not a typical defender.”
CALENDAR BOY: Kjell Knops sold stationery to supplement his football