9 July ~ Next week ADO Den Haag return to European football after a 24-year absence. The club are hoping to rekindle the good times they enjoyed in the 1960s, when they were a regular presence in the top five of the Eredivisie. In 1967, playing as the Golden Gate Gales, they could have been American club champions if it was not for a needless 2-1 defeat in Dallas against Dundee United, known as Dallas Tornado. It led to their finishing second in the Western Division, behind Wolves (Los Angeles Wolves) who would beat Aberdeen (Washington Whips) in the only final of the short-lived United Soccer Association.
Smack in the middle of the Summer of Love, ADO played their home games in San Francisco's Kezar Stadium, where they beat Sunderland, playing as the Vancouver Royals, and Glentoran (Detroit Cougars) both 6-1. Local football in the city has not had many heydays since. A forced merger with local rivals Holland Sport in 1970 was opposed by the latter's fans. The new club slowly slid down the Eredivisie table while attracting a hooligan element to the old Zuiderpark Stadium. Bombs on the pitch, a burned-down main stand and several games abandoned due to trouble on the terraces dominate the history of the region's last remaining professional club and the authorities treated their away games like a war was about to break out.
As recently as 2007 head coach Frans Adelaar decided to leave his post after the threats and hatemail became too serious. When the new Forepark Stadium was ready a few months later, Den Haag had just been relegated. The move to the outskirts of the city could have been the end – local commercial interest in the club had declined to the extent that the local authorities had to bail them out several times. A promotion play-off victory the season after their relegation saved them from bankruptcy.
A new spirit has swept through the club now and, mainly thanks to new chairman Mark van der Kallen, old supporters are returning, new sponsors are arriving and families feel welcome. The stadium is a Health and Safety showpiece and the first with an eye-scanner at the turnstiles to bar anyone who has been banned. Yet when last season started the pundits once again had ADO among the relegation candidates. They opened with two defeats, but then Russian striker Dmitri Bulykin came on loan from Anderlecht.
With his goals, the results picked up. Playing an attractive attacking style, ADO beat champions Ajax twice, and PSV in Eindhoven for the first time since 1971. A bad finish to the season cost them direct qualification for the Europa League, but after a sensational play-off final with FC Groningen – both sides won their home leg 5-1 – they triumphed in a penalty shoot-out. They be playing FK Tauras in Lithuania in a Europa League second qualifying round game next week.
As with many surprise successes these days, most of ADO's best players have now left and they even lost their coach, John van den Brom, to Vitesse last week. But for the fans who have experienced the club's phoenix-like ascent over the last five years, playing in Europe again will feel like a return to the summer of 1967: a great new dawn. Ernst Bouwes For more Dutch football stories go to totalfootballnl.com