4 February ~ HFC Haarlem finally lost their struggle to stay afloat when they were declared bankrupt on January 25. With annual costs of €1.8 million (£1.6m) nowhere near offset by an average income of approximately €500,000, the club's debt – currently €2m – was growing by the day. Against a background of dwindling crowds and an absence of willing investors, the result was sadly inevitable.
Although the team haven't made the headlines in recent years – their best finish over the last two decades was eighth place in the Dutch Eerste Divisie (the second-tier national league) – Haarlem have a considerable tradition. They are the second-oldest club in the country (after Sparta Rotterdam), founded over 120 years ago. They twice won the Dutch cup, in 1902 and 1912, and even took the national title in 1946.
More recently, Haarlem won the First Division championship three times in the 1970s and early 80s. After the last of these triumphs in 1981, the club enjoyed a successful year in the top flight. With a young Ruud Gullit in outstanding form, the team finished fourth in the 1981-82 season, qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Unfortunately the success came at an inevitable price – Gullit was transferred to Feyenoord in the summer.
The team's European sojourn also had a bleak conclusion, although the Haarlem players didn't know at the time. During their second round, first leg tie away to Spartak Moscow in the Luzhniki stadium, a rush of departing home fans trying to return back up the stairs because of a last-minute goal had disastrous consequences. The resulting stampede killed 67 people according to official figures, although unofficial estimates put the death toll as high as 340. Bizarrely, the Haarlem players did not even find out about tragedy for another seven years because of state media reporting restrictions.
Haarlem were relegated from the Dutch Premier League in 1990 and never returned. With the Dutch FA requiring that clubs in the First Division maintain a first-team pool of full-time professionals, the operating costs remained stubbornly high, while an ongoing decrease in the number of paying customers made the situation increasingly precarious. Recent plans for a new stadium fell through because of the financial crisis and an arrangement with Ajax, whereby the Amsterdam club would lend players and coaching staff to their near neighbours, failed to produce any material difference on the pitch.
Haarlem therefore became the first club in the Dutch competition to declare bankruptcy since FC Wageningen and VC Vlissingen, both in 1992. Given the ongoing problems with many other clubs in the country, some of whom had been bailed out by their local councils in order to stave off financial meltdown, it's unlikely we'll have to wait another 18 years for the next. Derek Brookman