‘This is most beautiful thing’
‘Just’ putting on his soccer boots again, fooling around with teammates, kicking a ball at goal – perhaps Ralf Seuntjens missed those simple things the most in recent months.
“That you all walk onto the field together, can taste the atmosphere in the locker room again, have lunch together. That’s something unique, the most beautiful thing there is. Then it tickles in your body.”
How different Seuntjens’ life has looked for the past nine months. Just beginning his ultimate soccer adventure with Japanese club FC Imabari, he received an all-changing diagnosis in May 2022: He had lymphoma.
Head over heels, he flew back to the Netherlands for a tough treatment regimen of surgery and chemo. An “emotional rollercoaster with ups and downs,” he calls that period. “I had tough and uncertain weeks, but there were also beautiful and warm moments.”
A few weeks ago, he received some redeeming news. “Euphoric” he calls the moment he was declared clean by his doctor. With a broad smile, “I had two children and that was really wonderful, but this surpasses it for me personally, I think.”
Seuntjens back on training pitch after cancer treatment: ‘Jitters are back’
For lover Seuntjens, almost 34, making a comeback immediately haunted his mind. Sparta Rotterdam offered solace: he can train with the club’s first team and rebuild his condition there.
“Maurice Steijn said: come here. We know each other from the time I played soccer at VVV-Venlo and he was trainer there. We always had a special bond and it felt familiar right away. I am incredibly grateful that the club shows me this humanity.”
Back to Japan
Seuntjens has only trained with the team three times, but already seems fully part of the team. He jokes around with Bart Vriends, and chats with Koki Saito during the rondo. Coach Steijn looks on with satisfaction.
“He has always been a lover of training and soccer. I think he’ll fit in with the group,” Steijn laughed. “We’re going to get him fit as soon as possible. Conditionally you notice that he has been ill, but football-wise I still see the Ralf of old. He can train as long as he wants, so he can return to Japan in the summer.”
Because that is his dream, Seuntjens’ “final goal”: to return to FC Imabari, to the club that supported him so much during the past tough period, and where he is under contract until November. To play one more game would be so nice, even if only for 15 minutes.
Stocky, worn-out body
In Den Bosch he was called “Seun of God,” a nickname that traveled with him to Telstar, VVV-Venlo, De Graafschap and NAC Breda. But his body now often draws him back to reality.
Sometimes he is confident it will work out, sometimes not. “That varies from day to day. Now I come off the training field and feel fine, but tomorrow I wake up with a stiff, lumbering and worn-out body. The chemos and treatments have physically broken everything internally. I will have to do very carefully. It will be a process, also to regain confidence in my body.”
Seuntjens now trains twice a week at Nieuw-Terbregge, more often he physically cannot manage yet. Still, ‘just’ being able to train again, although on a cold and windy pitch, is more than enough for now.
In Sparta’s jersey, surrounded by teammates and with one foot on the ball, he feels like a soccer player again. “That’s incredibly valuable to me. That just puts a smile on my face.”