Following the inconsistent start to the season, I decided to ring the changes at HFC Haarlem. The beauty of running an amateur club is that players are not under contract, so I can chop and change as I please in the hope of finding the winning combination. HFC Haarlem are back in Dutch football, having gone bust in 2010 and in our 125th anniversary year we have had a solid but unspectacular start to the season, leading me to release some players and bring in, hopefully, better ones.
Having scrapped the 4-3-3 I needed to change my full backs into central defenders and wingers into strikers as well as finding a few players capable of playing behind the front three so by the time the clash against league leaders ASWH came around I had released eight and signed five, finally some left footed defenders to provide a little balance. However, the constant changing of the squad was starting to feel a little Barry Fry.
ASWH came to the Haarlem Stadion full of belief, having won four and lost one so far this season. We came into the game barely recognising each other, an entirely new back three due to new signings and an injury to the skipper Cimen. The midfield also had two new faces, including 17-year-old Wessel Ronkers who looks like one hell of a prospect. Before kick off I was introduced to the new club President, Frank Van Hattum. I have to say, we’ve only been back in existence two months so a change in leadership is a little unsettling.
When we led 3-1 with just 14 minutes to go I thought we might be about to get a brilliant win. Brinkman had scored twice, assisted by Benda and Olde Monnikhof had scored another screamer but we couldn’t hold on and left with a 3-3 draw. Still, considering the changes I was happy. The result saw us slip to sixth, and next up was seventh placed Baronie, and they made me think of Dangermouse for some reason.
Baronie are one of the rare sides in this division that have their own club badge, so I was expecting a tough match. One change was needed, the RCB, Racaj, bruised a rib in the ASWH game and was ruled out but the skipper was back to take his place. Baronie must be a big club in the lower leagues as we ran out to a crowd of 10,000. However, this did not matter as the side we starting to click into stride. We put in a performance DM would have been proud of. Hok-a-Hin finally got off the mark with a fine opening goal, the skipper scored from a set-piece for 2-0 and then the young sub (well, they’re all young really) Kuipers leathered in a screamer from 25-yards to seal a big 3-1 win. We moved up to 4th.
Achilles Veen (there are some wonderful names in this league) were next, and they also had their own club logo so again I was a little worried. Probably a better guide to go on, but they were sitting in 5th next to us. I had young Hoekstra, a 6ft 6 giant of a 17-year-old centre back in the office wanting to leave as he wasn’t getting a game. With the rate we will pick up suspensions he is not going anywhere as I will need cover at the back soon. He was followed by Thijseen, who has just joined us as an AMC – again he will not be going anywhere as he is my only back up.
Olde Monnikhof was suspended so the young lad Kuipers was given his first start. A good November could see us pushing near the top of the table, so we were keen to get the first three points available. A spilled shot from Meesters gave them a cheap lead after ten minutes. We then had the crzy situation of Kuipers going off injured, then his replacement going off injured 60 seconds later! Big Bradley Brinkman fired us level before half time and then got another right before the 45 were up. A great comeback, but we had been here before against ASWH. Benda got the second half off to a flier, making it 4-1 right from kick off. Big Bram got his second on the hour from a great ball from HaH. We let them back in it when Cimen fluffed a pass back for 5-2 but we then closed the game out superbly. This was by far the best win so far! The only negative, Kuipers tore his calf and is out for five months.
We had a three week break before the trip to HSV Hoek who were occupying 8th place. We trained well and by the time the match came round I had a fully fit squad, apart from Kuipers. Olde Monnikhof was back in the central winger role (©@jlaspey) and I was hoping that we could continue very much where we left off in the last game. We were terrible first half and came in one down. A proper kick up the backside saw us start the second half brilliantly and Beumer boomed one home for 1-1. We couldn’t find another way through, and then in injury time Beumer unpicked the lock with a brilliant ball to Sadiek who netted calmly. 2-1! It felt like a total smash and grab, but my word we will take those points all day long! We were propelled to third place, just two points off top spot and we were starting to show some character as well as natural ability.
Yellow cards were starting to catch up with us – going into the last match, eight of the squad were one more yellow away from a one-match ban. According to the league rules (I edited a Dutch lower league database I found somewhere purely to recreate Haarlem) you get a one-match ban after picking up two yellow cards then a one match ban for each yellow card following that. I have no idea if this is true to life or not, but it means that many players will start being in and out of the side shortly! Two players were suspended for the match against De Valk, who were sitting at the foot of the table. Leegreg Fer had been playing brilliantly as a CM/D and was out, and Olde Monnikhof (who I hooked at HT in the last match) was also out. In came Lefeber and Thijssen, as well as match-winner Sadiek for the disappointing HaH.
We nearly got off to a dream start, Brinkman was on the brink of opening in the scoring (there will be many more bad Brink puns as this save unfolds) but his header cannoned off the bar. Two minutes later he put us ahead. Ten minutes later Benda blasted it home, a case of Wham Bram, and we were two nil up with less than sixteen minutes on the clock. Sadiek had the ball in the net once more before half time, but was ruled offside. Despite the half time chat of “don’t get complacent” we seemed completely that and allowed them back in the match, 2-1 within ten minutes of the restart. It actually woke us up, a lovely move ended with Brinkman getting his second with a cheeky little finish. They just wouldn’t give up though, winning a penalty to make it 3-2. With five minutes to go I was finally able to relax, Brinkman received the ball from a short corner, cut in and found the bottom corner for his first club treble. Another three points! We moved up again, second place. Brinkman now had ten for the season and led the goal scoring charts.
That match was the last game in November and my wish for a strong month had been granted. Since the cup hammering against NEC we had played five league games and were unbeaten, winning the last four. We ended the month in second place, two points off the top and the top goal scorers in the league. Things were looking good for December.
I’ll be back tomorrow as Haarlem continue their comeback as a football club. With only two games lined up for December we will probably push on through to the end of January, and by then I’ll have a real feeling as to whether we will be going up to the Topklasse!
Kom op Haarlem!