It looks like Sheffield, but the Eindhoven derby hasn't been on a level playing-field for 50 years. Ernst Bouwes goes in search of PSV's forgotten neighbours
When he saw Jan Louwers bending over to adjust the ball on the penalty spot, Lieuwe Steiger checked his position on the goalline once more by looking at one of the posts. Watched by a capacity crowd (and then some), the PSV keeper had been beaten by local rivals EVV once that afternoon. Now the score stood at 1-1. The losers of this local derby could be out of the championship play-offs for 1955, the first year of Dutch professional football. When Steiger looked up again to prepare for the penalty, he saw Louwers grinning sheepishly. There was a space on the penalty spot where the ball should have been. The Eindhoven striker had already taken the kick, hoping he could surprise the keeper. So he did, almost hitting a photographer with his miscue.
That missed penalty heralded the end of an era of close local derbies in Eindhoven. Willem II Tilburg were to be Dutch champions that year, with PSV third and EVV fourth in the post-season mini-league used to decide the title. Since the Twenties both had been among the leading teams in the south of the Netherlands and there wasn’t much between them. PSV were part of the Philips electronics company and attracted most of their support from its workforce, but a larger part of the fast growing city attached themselves to the blue and white stripes of EVV, usually known simply as Eindhoven. In the early Fifties they were both among the top teams in Holland. PSV were champions in 1951, Eindhoven, defeated in a play-off two years later, won the 1954 title.
Unfortunately, the European Cup would only start the following year. If they had got the chance to enter it, Eindhoven might have caused an upset, since they already had some international experience under their belt. They had appeared in the Festival of Britain tournament in 1951, visited Hillsborough a couple of times and crushed French champions St Etienne 5-1 on their own ground. We will never know if they could have stopped a Real Madrid or a Stade de Reims en route to the final.
Soon after that tense derby of 1955, Eindhoven went into steady decline, in contrast to their neighbours, who began to receive significant financial support from Philips. In the late Fifties PSV were among the first Dutch clubs to buy players from other regions and even other countries, such as the Welsh international striker Trevor Ford. The philosophy of the company, which became a world player in electronics in the Sixties, was that decent results would help to maintain a happy workforce. In later years the team was used to market the firm internationally. With its worldwide contacts it became also easier to sign big stars like Romário and Ronaldo, who arrived after the team had already won two European trophies. They haven’t missed a season in Europe since 1973.
Eindhoven, meanwhile, drifted into the lower regions of the second division and briefly played at the now defunct third level. Since the Fifties their international contacts have been limited to friendlies with Bristol Rovers and Tulsa Roughnecks and a couple of trips to Belgium. A row with the board broke up the 1954 title-winning team and the club failed to find enough talent to follow in their footsteps. While PSV signed one international after the other, Eindhoven once played the last months of a season with their reserve keeper up front (though he did at least become their top scorer, with 12 goals).
However, in an astonishing reversal of fortune, the pennyless blue-and-whites won the play-offs to reach the top division in 1975 after beating FC Groningen in front of an ecstatic crowd of 18,000. The huge attendance encouraged an income tax officer to wander into the ground the next morning to collect money the club owed. Bankruptcy was only evaded with the help of the city council, but there was no chance of strengthening the squad. Amazingly, the team survived at the top level for two seasons with half of the players well into their thirties. But it couldn’t last, and the club has performed more or less indifferently ever since.
Not that the supporters are much bothered by the lack of success. They have settled for an evening among their mates with the game as an amusing distraction. Although the arrival of seats has dampened the atmosphere a bit, it is still a pleasant gathering of a couple of thousand people, hoping for a decent match and a moan at the referee. Crowd trouble is non-existent, with the away fans isolated in their own area. It is even safe to walk around in a PSV shirt or red and white scarf.
The rivalry of the Fifties had been quite benign and these days most residents of Eindhoven probably support both teams, up to a point. When they met in the quarter-finals of the Dutch Cup three years ago it was a festive night with no segregation among the capacity crowd at PSV’s Philips Stadium. Luc Nilis, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Co demolished their hapless neighbours 5-0.
Surprisingly, though, the boards of the two clubs have never got along. PSV have always been reluctant to give their fallen neighbours a leg up, afraid that they might awaken EVV’s potential fanbase – which several polls in the city over the years have hinted is reasonably large. When the PSV chairman Harry van Raay lobbied UEFA with his Atlantic League scheme, he proposed Eindhoven should become a feeder club where PSV starlets could mature. It was also suggested that if PSV were ever to leave the Dutch top division (Eredivisie) to play in a European league, Eindhoven could take their place and the city would have the best of both worlds. However, last spring, a year after the start of the link-up between the two clubs, UEFA blocked Van Raay’s European plans.
With PSV stuck in the Eredivisie for the foreseeable future, there was no need to help EVV any more, so Van Raay pulled the plug on the joint venture. In effect he nearly killed off his neighbours, who had been counting on five PSV players appearing in blue and white this season. Without them, Eindhoven, who also saw their most talented player jailed for his involvement in a murder case, managed just two wins before Christmas. With some loan signings, they improved as the season went on, but still ended 17th. Back on their own feet they might do better next year, but the struggle for survival will continue. On a different planet entirely, PSV once again marched easily into the Champions League at the end of this season.
From WSC 185 July 2002. What was happening this month