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The Netherlands has three globally recognisable teams: Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven. Popular opinion suggests that Ajax and Feyenoord dominated Dutch football for decades, but while it is certainly true that the Amsterdam-Rotterdam axis stood astride the Netherlands in the 1960s, the 1970s belonged to Ajax. The Cruyff-led side won 12 major prizes in that decade, with Feyenoord winning four and PSV six. And in the 1980s, PSV won four Eredivisie, two KNVB Cups and of course, the European Cup. From the 1960s to 1990s, Ajax won 34 prizes (League, Cup and Europe) to 19 apiece by PSV and Feyenoord. But for most onlookers, the trio is: Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV, in that order.

It works

“They’re just a glorified works’ team,” said one grudging Ajax fan to me once about the third member of that triumvirate. “Philips pumps all that money in…without them, they would be nothing.”

That may have been true at once stage, because the club’s roots are most definitely in the once mighty electrical company and they were once the Netherlands’ richest club. In the 1950s and 60s particularly, most homes would have at least one Philips appliance in their home. Philips was a major consumer name, but in recent years, one assumes, the rise of the east and cheaper production costs – which doesn’t necessarily mean better quality products – have forced Philips out of the premier division. In some ways, the same can be said of the leading Dutch football clubs, but on the evidence of this season’s performances, PSV Eindhoven are on their way back.

Club at the end of the street

Club at the end of the street

PSV were founded as part of the Philips Sport Vereniging, basically the sports club for the Philips company. The good people of Philips looked after their workforce in a similar fashion to the way the UK’s Cadbury’s and other paternalistic organisations acted towards their workers. In the place of Bournville, the Birmingham-based workers “village”, Eindhoven has it’s own collection of houses that were designed to give Philips’ employees a good standard of living. The football club, which sits among these dwellings, started life as a recreational pursuit.

Philips no longer owns PSV. The two parties were amicably “divorced” in the early part of the 21st century, although PSV was able to purchase their ground for a token sum as a result. “We are still part of the family and Philips remains our chief sponsor,” said one of the PSV representatives on a guided tour of the ground ahead of the club’s game with FC Utrecht.

 The family home

The club’s ground has many features that make if special. Although not one of the uber-grounds of Europe – capacity 35,119 – it was once one of the most innovative and there seems to be a high degree of spectator comfort. It’s heated for a start, which in a country as flat and exposed as the Netherlands, is very handy. At one time, it was not an enclosed stadium, but when the club was chosen to host some of the games in the European Championship of 2000, the sides were filled in and some rather clever ventilation sections were used. The louvred panels open up during the week between games to ensure the stadium gets it’s share of Eindhoven air, but when the spectators fill the seats, the vents are closed – thankfully, I will add, as I sat in one of these sections and would not have fancied the winds from the polder lands whistling around my nether regions!

It’s easy to forget that PSV were once one of Europe’s most dynamic clubs. There’s not many clubs that can claim to have won two of UEFA’s premier trophies. The first of those, the UEFA Cup, was picked up in 1978, a two-legged victory over France’s Bastia, and a decade later, won the European Cup by beating Benfica in the final on penalties after a 0-0 draw. But they have also had some exceptional players down the years, including the Van der Kerkhof twins, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben, Ronald Koeman and Ruud Gullit, to name but a few. And among the handful of English managers they’ve had in the dugout was the late and much-respected Bobby Robson, who had two spells with PSV. It’s a club with a European and Dutch pedigree, as the trophy-laden walls will testify.

P1060141 (169x300)I’ve deliberately omitted one player from that list and that is Romario de Souza Faria, better known by the first of those names. The Brazilian legend was signed by PSV in 1988 in a transaction that has rarely, if ever, been repeated. And it was down to the club’s backers, Philips, that such a high profile and promising player found his way to the Netherlands rather than an Italian or Spanish giant.

In a debt-for-player swap, Philips bought Brazilian bank debt with a face value of USD 5m at a discount of 20%. Philips then sold the debt to the central bank of Brasil for 4.7 million Cruzados and in doing so, made a substantial saving. At the end of it all, PSV got their man, then one of world football’s most coveted youngsters, at a good price

Romario spent five years with PSV and ended with a record of almost a goal a game in the Dutch league. The fans loved him and today, the PSV stadium has a restaurant called Casa Romario in memory of him.

PSV’s sponsors get treated well, judging by the entertainment facilities on offer at the stadium. Their players are also well catered for with a state-of-the-art dressing room that differs dramatically to the flat-packed visitors’ room, which seems to be apologetically wedged beneath the stand. Our guide explained that when Middlesbrough and Seville played the 2006 UEFA Cup final in Eindhoven, UEFA insisted on improvements for the away room. The difference between home and away facilities underlines the psychological element within football – making the opposition as uncomfortable as possible. Even the most hospitable club can play the system!

P1060144 (169x300)The walls that surround the dressing rooms are filled with reminder of some of PSV’s greatest players down the years. Although this is meant to be motivational, it can also put added pressure on the crop of youngsters now wearing the famous red and white stripes.

Memphis nights in Lichtstad

PSV’s current hopes are being pinned on a 20 year-old forward who has been having a terrific season so far. Memphis Depay is his name and he looks likely to be the next export from the Netherlands that will yield his club a hefty fee.

Depay is leading PSV’s charge towards their first Eredivisie title since 2008. Ajax have won the past four championships, but PSV started well, including a surprise win at the Amsterdam Arena, and the run has just kept on going. And Depay, who made a bit of an impact in the 2014 World Cup, has been at the heart of the club’s resurgence.

So all eyes were on Depay when PSV looked to continue their unbeaten run, which following a midweek win in Breda, was now 14 games. PSV’s record couldn’t really be much better, just two defeats in 21 games before meeting Utrecht, who were only just above the drop zone.

In front of a crowd of 31,000 PSV made heavy work of a limited Utrecht side in the first half. Depay took an early knock and this caused a sharp intake of breath from the fans sitting around me. Depay played out wide and caused problems with his crossing, but didn’t often get the chance to cut inside and try his luck on goal. Utrecht rarely ventured into the danger zone and when they did, their tame efforts were greeted with ironic cheers from the home fans behind the goal.

These fans deserve a mention. Not only were they well behaved, although the political correctness police will frown at their cat-calls when two young girls walked past the massed ranks. There were no barriers of any consequence, the fans just walked down from the stand and along the front of the tribune. There were also only a dozen stewards to deal with them, which tells you that PSV don’t have the sort of problems Ajax and Feyenoord have.

The PSV fans didn’t really find their voice until the second half, however. The first goal came after 48 minutes, Depay working his way into the area, playing the ball across, and after it took various ricochets and failed clearances and winger Luciano Narsingh forced it home.

It didn’t take long for PSV to score again, and this time, Depay, switching flanks, received the ball, pushing it through the legs of a defender and sent a low drive across goal and into the corner of the net.

“La, la, la, la, la, la….Memphis Depay….la, la, la, la, la,la…Memphis Depay.” This prompted a couple of fans to jump out of the tribune and dance with a steward.

Utrecht pulled a goal back to near silence – a few murmurs and one or two Utrecht fans shouting – but it was a giveaway goal that should really have been prevented.The name seemed to peter out from there, but in the last minute, Depay was brought down just outside the area and got up to take a free kick that was given too much respect – an easy goal to wrap things up at 3-1. This sent the PSV fans home happy, singing their take on the 1967 hit by The Turtles, “Happy Together”. The curious songs football supporters sing!

“I hear Depay was the star man again,” said the barman at my hotel, which was just 300 metres from the Philips Stadium. “His price is going up all the time. I think an English club might be interested.” Among the clubs supposedly interested in this talented, but still untested, talent is Tottenham Hotspur. The Eredivisie has to be won first, though. It’s looking good for both PSV and Depay.

P1060171 (750x422)Nice club from a nice town

It’s hard not to come away from PSV Eindhoven with a good feeling. The very ethos of the club, and indeed its main sponsor, seems very healthy. Eindhoven, with its “Festival of Britain” look about some of its buildings (notably the railway station), doesn’t have the cosmopolitan feel of Amsterdam, but the influence of Philips is everywhere to be seen. I liked the story about the vacant seat in the stand where long-time president Frits Philips once sat and it’s nice to see old players honoured in an appropriate way (Rene and Willie Van der Kerkhof have rooms dedicated to them). I think that the city will have plenty to celebrate at the end of the season – new heroes to stand alongside messrs Koeman and his teammates and another silver salver to pin on the wall….