The Dutch Connection – Pt.1

By Keith Brookman

The recent signing of goalkeeper Jordi Van Stappershoef means that he is the fourth Dutch player to join Rovers.

Of the other three two of them, Michel Kuipers and Kelle Roos, were also keepers, meaning that the only Dutch outfield player to have been on our books is Sergio Ommel.

Michael Kuipers was born in Amsterdam in June 1974, played in goal in one game for Rovers in March 1999 and then enjoyed a decade on Brighton’s books.

Fellow goalkeeper Kelle Roos, born in Rijkevoort in May 1992 and formerly with RKSV Nuenen, played for Wimbledon against Rovers in March 2016 and played 16 times in the League on loan with Rovers the following campaign.

Roos actually made his Rovers debut in a game that was expunged from the records and those who were at Swindon on 27th August 2016 will know why. The match, which remained goalless, was abandoned after an hour because of a waterlogged pitch following a thunderstorm and torrential rain during the half time break.

He appeared in goal for Derby County in the Championship play off final against Aston Villa in May 2019 and has signed a new three year deal with the Pride Park outfit.

Sergio Ommel was born in Den Haag in September 1977 and played for both Groningen and Stormvogels Telstar from Ijmuiden, before joining Rovers in November 2001. He returned to these shores in August 2018 when he played in Ashley Belsten’s Charity match at Mangotsfield.

His eight goals in 18 (+5) League games made him Rovers’ second highest scorer in 2001/02 and on his release at the end of that season he returned to Telstar.

sergio Ommel - Photo Credit Alan Marshall
Sergio Ommel  [Photo Credit – Alan Marshall]
Stappershoef may be interested to know that there are many other links between Rovers and his home country.

For instance, Rovers beat the Dutch National side in a friendly match played on Sunday 16th November 1930, just 24 hours after a League match and following an overnight North Sea crossing, Rovers won 3-2.

Rovers were reported to be surprised by the ball playing skills of this emergent nation, 22 year old outside right Adje Gerritse (1908-95) of Hilversum catching the eye and centre forward Gerrit Hulsman (1900-64) scoring twice.

Nonetheless, Ronnie Dix’s two goals and one from Arthur Attwood earned Rovers a deserved victory. Eight of the Dutch side that day won full caps for their country: Jan van Diepenbeek, Tap Wim, Henk Breitner, Adje Gerritse, Eef Ruisch, Gerrit Hulsman, Jan van den Broeck and Joop van Nellen.

On 5th April 1948 Rovers hosted Racing Club, Haarlem at Eastville and ran out 1-0 winners courtesy of Vic Lambden’s tenth minute goal.

Programme cover from 1948 - Rovers v Racing Club Haarlem
Programme cover from 1948 – Rovers v Racing Club Haarlem

Apparently the game was a great success as in the match programme for Rovers’ game against Notts County on 10th April it was stated that; ‘The match with Racing Club, Haarlem gave the spectators a most interesting exhibition of soccer, and although it was only a friendly game there were thrills enough to send most people home happy on a Monday evening.

‘The Chairman of the Haarlem Club told the writer that the sportsmanship of the Bristol crowd tremendously impressed both their players and officials.

‘There is little doubt but that this match, together with the social side which accompanied it, created a most happy feeling between the two clubs.’

 ‘In connection with the visit to Bristol, the work of the Supporters Club in organising so well the tour of a tobacco factory and the coach trip to Cheddar was greatly appreciated and provides one more example of the splendid job they are doing.’

News of a Rovers tour to Holland was mentioned in the club’s news bulletin dated 29th July 1948 which read; ‘latest information from Holland leaves no doubt but that the Rovers party will be having a first class tour. The opening of the Haarlem Flower Week and Illuminations, its first post war revival, comes on the Friday that the Rovers arrive.

‘Apart from the two matches to be played (on Saturday August 7th and Tuesday August 10th), the party have a very full programme of sightseeing arranged for them by our hospitable Dutch friends.

‘The tour closes with a Dinner which has been arranged by the Netherlands Football Association, and the Burgomaster of Haarlem will be presiding.’

On 5th August 1948, 14 Bristol Rovers players, accompanied by four directors, two representatives from the Supporters Club, the club secretary, trainer and Mr WA Wilkins, the MP for Bristol South, left Bristol for an overnight stay at the Grand Hotel in Southampton Row, London.

The following morning the tour party travelled to Liverpool Street Station and then on by train to Harwich where they took the boat train to the Hook of Holland. They would arrive at their destination at 6.45pm when another train journey would take them to their hotel in Haarlem.

For reasons unknown, neither manager Brough Fletcher or his assistant, Bert Tann, made the trip and Chairman Con Stevens was also absent, though he did send the following message to his fellow director Jim Bissicks.

“I know that not only you but George, Lew and Ernest (directors) will do all you can to maintain amongst the boys the feeling that although they are going over to play football and, at the same time, to enjoy a pleasant holiday, you are really going to Holland as English ambassadors and the good and friendly behaviour of our boys will do much to strengthen the friendship between two nations.”

Dressing up day on tour - Josser Watling seated on the extreme left
Dressing up day on tour – Josser Watling seated on the extreme left

 The day after arriving in Holland, the party took in a visit to the battlefields where airborne troops had landed and fought in 1944. It was also the day of the first game of the two match tour, against Dutch First Division side NEC.

The game was played at Niymegan, on a pitch described as a miniature Wembley, in front of a crowd of 14,000 and according to reports Rovers were; ‘Decidedly unlucky to lose by the only goal, scored in the closing stages.

‘NEC included three guest players in their lineup, all internationals, and their half backs played a sterling game. Rovers, tired after some 36 hours of travelling, acquitted themselves well.’

The itinerary for Sunday and Monday of the Dutch Tour, rusty staples and all!
The itinerary for Sunday and Monday of the 1948 Dutch Tour, rusty staples and all!

The following Tuesday Rovers took on Racing Club Haarlem in a match that had been arranged following the Dutch side’s visit to Bristol just a few months earlier, and first half goals by Lambden, Watkins and Lockier put them in control. Lambden added a fourth in the opening minutes of the second half before the hosts scored twice to make the scoreline more respectable.

Mr Wilkins the MP appeared to double up as a reporter for this game. Saying; ‘Once Rovers were three up they gave a grand exhibition of football which was thoroughly appreciated by the Dutch spectators.’

Skipper Ray Warren said; ‘The matches gave us a chance to get together before our trials next Saturday.’

Club secretary John Gummow added; ‘There was no sea sickness, no injuries and no luggage lost. In fact, it was a very happy trip altogether.’

 The next Rovers News Bulletin, issued on 19th August, went into great detail about the tour and here are just a few extracts of what was said; ‘There is no doubt that the tour in Holland will live long in the memories of all those who made the journey. The immense hospitality and great kindness shown to the party will have created a lasting impression.

 ‘The two games were contested splendidly and in the initial match the Rovers were decidedly unlucky to lose by the only goal, scored in the closing stages……It was in this match that the visitors came across the difficulties of the Continental referee and his interpretation of the rules and also the strangeness to be experienced when playing with a white, highly enameled ball.’

 ‘The Blue and Whites benefitted from a good rest before taking the field for the second game and netted three goals within nine minutes during the first half and another goal in the opening minutes of the second half clinched the issue.’

The windmill tells you that this was taken somewhere in Holland
The windmill tells you that this was taken somewhere in Holland

 ‘So much was seen and done in a crowded five days, for instance journeying through the maze of Amsterdam Canals in the same launch that Mr Winston Churchill made a similar trip earlier in the year, left no doubt as to the authenticity of that city’s claim to be the Venice of Northern Europe.’

 ‘The visit to the islands of Marken and Volndam brought the most mirthful episode of the tour when half a dozen or so members of the party changed into Dutch National Costume, much to the delight of the slimmer and possibly more sedate lookers on…Jim Bissicks, John Gummow, Jack Pitt, John Watling, Len Hodges and Vic Lambden provided as funny a spectacle as could possibly be imagined, more especially as clogs and pantaloons were not all of the correct size.’

 In much more sombre mood was the laying of wreaths at the British Airborne Cemetery at Arnhem and the visit to the graves of the Dutch Underground Movement near Haarlem. Impressive was the inscription ‘It is better to die standing than to live on your knees,’ So few words with so much meaning…’

In 1951 there was a fortnight of football to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951, whereby various European clubs toured the country.

Rovers’ sole fixture in this period was a goalless draw at home to the Dutch side EDO Haarlem on 14th May 1951.


Watch out for Pt.2 of the ‘Dutch Connection’ – coming very soon…

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