At Heracles and PEC Zwolle, ‘relegation was a blessing’
editor of NOS Sports
editor of NOS Sports
It’s crisis at relegated FC Groningen. The club plays its – for now – last match in the premier league today. But hope springs to life.
PEC Zwolle and Heracles Almelo last year also went through a season in trouble and now – barely a year later – the world looks rosy again for those clubs: immediately promoted again and completely revived.
“The relegation was a blessing.” At Heracles and PEC Zwolle, that phrase has been uttered several times in recent weeks. A kind of reset, which has brought the Overijssel clubs, above all, more togetherness.
Togetherness. Something FC Groningen could use. Today the Pride of the North plays in an empty Euroborg – supporters are not welcome due to previous incidents – against Sparta Rotterdam before the first division awaits.
Unrest among fans was also evident at Heracles and PEC Zwolle last season. At Heracles, which crowned itself first division champion a week back, steering committees were set up immediately after the relegation in which sponsors and supporters were involved.
“Our administrative structure went up a notch at their request. There came a Supervisory Board,” says Rob Toussaint, general manager at Heracles.
Also at PEC, which already forced promotion to the premier league in April, supporters were invited to the club early this season. “They were surprised that they were welcome at all,” says Xander Czaikowski, general manager at the Zwolle-based club.
“We didn’t always agree, but we found a solution to every problem. Everyone wanted the same thing: to be back as soon as possible.”
Sponsors remained loyal
Toussaint noticed that sponsors, partly through good conversations, stayed connected to Heracles. “It was incredibly important that they remained loyal to us during that time. We had to give up a lot of television money. Last summer we still sold players. That boosted our buffer a bit.”
Both Heracles and PEC Zwolle did not tinker with their financial housekeeping and kept their employees – with all their salaries – on board. Mainly because of its considerable equity, Heracles could easily absorb relegation. PEC Zwolle, as well as FC Groningen, did not have that and thus took risks.
Czaikowski: “That’s why we also benefited tremendously from the sponsors. They promised to pay the same as in the premier league and did not use a relegation clause. As a result, the loss was not too bad.”
Goals and three-pointers
When you win, you have friends. “And if you don’t win that, you get grumbling,” Czaikowski also knows. “For Groningen it’s a matter of putting together a good selection, with a lot of goals. We and Heracles scored a lot of goals.”
“Then you get a nice evening of soccer,” adds Czaikowski, a native of Zwolle. “Everyone has the Friday afternoon drinks in, eats a burger here and goes quietly to watch a game. Then when you also win, it creates a positive atmosphere.”
More fans than ever
The relegation even then delivers a lot, both clubs see. “Every away game this season has been sold out,” Heracles director Toussaint tells us proudly. “That’s fantastic to see.” More season tickets than ever seem to be sold for the upcoming premier league season as well.
At PEC Zwolle the same picture. Czaikowski: “Last season we had record sales in the merchandise, hospitality and ticket departments. We have now sold 1,500 more season tickets than ever. It’s Murphy’s law in reverse: everything is suddenly up then, too.”
But, the director adds, “Attractive soccer ánd immediate promotion is necessary.” Because PEC would have had serious financial headaches if promotion was missed.