Hol­land Feyeno­ord end 18-year wait

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There is a phrase for Feyeno­ord’s league per­for­mances over the past 18 years: “De Coolsin­gel

bli­jft leeg”. It means “the Coolsin­gel re­mains aban­doned” and is the ti­tle of a book by Hugo Borst which mon­i­tored Feyeno­ord for the 1995-1996 sea­son – a cam­paign dur­ing which they won noth­ing.

Coolsin­gel is the street in front of Rot­ter­dam’s city hall where the club cel­e­brates its suc­cesses. Pro­vid­ing there are any.

On May 15, the Coolsin­gel looked any­thing but aban­doned as 140,000 fans gath­ered to see Dirk Kuyt and coach Gio­vanni Van Bron­ck­horst with the much cov­eted cham­pi­onship plate. Af­ter 18 years of drought – al­though the club did win the 2002 UEFA Cup and the na­tional Cup twice – those sup­port­ers have stayed loyal to Hol­land’s most pop­u­lar club.

Emo­tions aside, the signs had been clear that the team were in with a good chance of win­ning their first ti­tle since 1999. Van Bron­ck­horst had kept his squad to­gether and dis­cov­ered, in Dan­ish striker Ni­co­lai Jor­gensen, the miss­ing piece of the puz­zle.

Feyeno­ord were top for the en­tire sea­son, al­though Van Bron­ck­horst had to deal with is­sues that threat­ened his au­thor­ity. He kept the vet­eran Kuyt out of the start­ing line-up on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, much to the player’s dis­plea­sure. He also stuck with for­mer Liver­pool goal­keeper Brad Jones de­spite Ken­neth Ver­meer be­ing fit again in the later stages of the cam­paign. But un­like in his de­but year, when he had to ac­cept Dick Ad­vo­caat as ad­vi­sor af­ter seven con­sec­u­tive de­feats, the ex Ar­se­nal and Barcelona mid­fielder demon­strated con­sid­er­able lead­er­ship.

With two matches to go, his side looked home and dry. All they needed was a win at strug­gling Ex­cel­sior, who were once Feyeno­ord’s satel­lite club.

But then the un­think­able hap­pened. Ex­cel­sior, need­ing a point to avoid the rel­e­ga­tion play-offs, were not ready to co-op­er­ate and a lack­lus­tre Feyeno­ord lost 3-0. Sud­denly their lead was down to just one point.

Need­less to say, a week of cri­sis, tears and ris­ing pres­sure dom­i­nated the lives of play­ers, staff and sup­port­ers. Many thought that Van Bron­ck­horst should have started with Kuyt against Ex­cel­sior, and with Tonny Vil­hena sus­pended for the fi­nal game of the sea­son, against Her­a­cles, the coach grabbed the op­por­tu­nity to make amends.

Kuyt took the ul­ti­mate re­venge. He scored within a minute of the kick-off be­fore com­plet­ing a hat-trick to put all doubts to an end. The 36-year-old was des­per­ate to win the ti­tle since it was his first in his home­land – and it would also be his last as he an­nounced his re­tire­ment the next day, tak­ing up a fu­ture man­age­rial job at the club.

So what’s next for Feyeno­ord? Well, that de­pends on the trans­fer win­dow. Vil­hena will stay, but El­jero Elia has an­nounced his de­par­ture and Steven Berghuis has re­turned to Wat­ford.

How­ever, even if there is a big ex­o­dus, that is no ex­cuse to keep the fans wait­ing an­other 18 years to have the next party at the Coolsin­gel.

Hat-trick hero...Dirk Kuyt (sec­ond right)

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