‘Feeling you can make history here’
It took a bizarre semi-final in which goalkeeper Nordin Bakker stopped three VVV-Venlo penalties – the fourth went over. If Almere City also beats FC Emmen in the final of the playoffs for promotion and relegation, it can become the youngest professional soccer club to enter the premier league.
“That is also the most beautiful thing, the feeling that you can really write history here,” said captain Danny Post.
Because historic promotion is within reach. The polder club has never played in the premier league and next season could be the first time. Supporters can’t wait. The club reports that tonight’s home game was sold out within three quarters of an hour.
Where does Almere City’s success come from? The short answer: club love is right. From players, supporters and sponsors alike.
Almere City was founded in 2001, the birth year of as many as six players of the current selection. Not everyone was born and raised in Almere, but if you have a bond with the club, it often stays.
For example, Damian van Bruggen (captain now Post is suspended) started at Almere as a small boy until he was snatched away by Ajax, returning to his base after premier league and foreign adventures.
The same goes for Hedwiges Maduro, the assistant coach. The 38-year-old former pro (Ajax and Valencia, among others) was born and raised in Almere. Late last year, PSV and FC Groningen were scavenging for him, but he remained loyal to Almere.
‘Let the sun into your heart’
And then there are Jochem Ritmeester van de Kamp and Stije Resink, two young base players from Almere’s own youth academy. “I know them all,” says Lalenya Veldkamp, a loyal supporter and member of the 40+ supporters association for nine years.
In her head sounds continuously “Let the sun into your heart,” the goaltune that Almere brought back to the Yanmar stadium at the request of supporters since this season.
“Everyone is there for each other and everything is celebrated together,” Veldkamp explains the success. “Whether they win or lose, the players always walk up to us to thank us.”
That unanimity agrees with Rayen Halfhide, who played for Almere City when he was 14 and went to school with captain Van Bruggen.
“I am so happy and proud of him. The selection he is part of does not consist of world-class talents, but it does include many guys with previous premier league experience. Some even in big leagues abroad. Their strength is that the team is more than the sum of individuals. If they are in a good flow, they can bang.”
Third in league
Almere City finished third in the Keuken Kampioen Divisie this season, behind former league champions Heracles Almelo and PEC Zwolle. The owner since 2010 has been brick millionaire Lesley Bamberger, who recruited new sponsors, had a new stadium built and invested in youth training. Something that paid off with Jong Almere, which even got promoted to the second division.
“I’ve mostly played against Almere over the years,” said routinier Post (34), active in Flevoland since last summer. “But you could always tell they were on to something here, you could tell by the facilities. It’s a club with potential.”
In the final, FC Emmen is the opponent. The premier league club is on the verge of relegation and must win to stay out on the highest level of the Netherlands.
The omens for Emmen are just not that favorable, data analyst Bart Frouws told NOS Langs de Lijn. “The last team that managed to maintain itself in the premier league, that was Roda JC in 2016/2017. Since then, all premier league teams have been relegated in the nacompetition.”
Thriller from five years ago
Almere also played the final of the playoffs five years ago, when De Graafschap proved slightly too strong after a thriller.
“Everyone believes it can work out this year. We’ve played at the top of the first division all season, with the prospect of spot two for a long time,” Post said. “Since we are now entering the nacompetition as the highest ranked team, promotion is a realistic goal.”
Post is gloating in the stands, after red against his old club VVV-Venlo. The return he may join again on Sunday. “That will also be the first final for me personally, after all the times I have participated in the playoffs. Despite all the experience I have gained, I will not sit quietly in my seat.”