Reigning Eredivisie champions Feyenoord competed in the group stages of this year’s Champions League for the first time since 2001/02. After a monumental title win last season, against all the odds, they had hoped to build on that success in this term’s competition, however it was not to be after they went crashing out in the group stages earlier this month. For this team, just being in the draw was reminiscent of a time when they were at the top of the pile.
De Stadionclub were drawn alongside Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F of this seasons draw, not the easiest of groups by any means. Unfortunately for them, they were unable to make a sizeable dent in this year’s competition, winning their only game on the final day to Napoli.
Hindsight is a great thing in football, however for Feyenoord, could they have done a lot worse than casting their minds back to 2002 and drawing on some inspiration and belief of the heroics of the UEFA Cup-winning team of that year? That was a side which grabbed the attention of Dutch football and etched their names into Rotterdam’s footballing folklore.
It is well-known to anybody that follows football, that Ajax are the pinnacle in Holland. If not now, then for decades previous. Everybody knows the Johan Cruyff stories and the overall jist of Total Football.
Teams like Milan, under Arrigo Sacchi, wouldn’t be renowned for what they are today if it wasn’t the injection of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard – three legends of the Oranje. Barcelona wouldn’t be the club that we know them as today, with their slick pass and move football and overall domination of the ball, if it wasn’t instilled into the club from Cryuff himself.
During his spell at the club from 1988 to 1996 his influx of style, that had led Ajax to eight league titles and three European Cups, paved the way for a whole new breed of football. Some might say the foundations were laid for LionelMessi and co. to showcase years later. The facts are there for all to see, Ajax were the masters.
While Ajax were off plying their trade with the best in Europe, one club was left behind, watching from a distance. Gawking on while your bitter rivals steal the show on a global stage through a period of sheer domination cannot be an easy pill to swallow. As one team scouts and recruits the best talent in the Netherlands, one is left feeding off scraps. This club was Feyenoord, fierce rivals of Ajax and one half of De Klassiker.
Feyenoord and Ajax is a rivalry that has transcended well beyond football and has developed into a long-standing city rivalry – Ajax of Amsterdam and Feyenoord of Rotterdam. It is a hostile relationship that has seen some absolutely brutal violence in its history between two sets of supporters so desperate to defend their city and beyond all, their club.
The atmosphere and tension in either city on match day has turned this into one of the most electric derbies in world football. As with most rivalries in sport, hatred leads to competition. With the pressure and intensity thrust upon both teams from the fans in the terraces and the fear of one outdoing the other on the pitch, it has led to one thing they both crave – success.
In 2002 Bert van Marwijk’s Feyenoord team were given a reality check. They came crashing out of Europe’s premier competition, the Champions League and after finishing third behind FC Nantes and Galatasaray, found themselves scratching their heads somewhat in the third round qualifying of the UEFA Cup. At first what seemed to be a disappointing and tame effort amongst the cream of Europe turned into a positive. They were now playing in a competition more suited to their level, witch a chance of making it to a final in their home ground, De Kuip. There was a real opportunity of silverware here.
Feyenoord would face Freiburg in their first tie. A slightly raw but well-equipped outfit. While they dispatched of the Germans 1-0 in the opening leg it was a much more difficult test in the return leg. Feyenoord eventually went on to claim a 2-2 draw, which saw them through on aggregate. Next up, Rangers.
On a cold February night (unusual for Scotland, we know), the Dutch side would travel to Ibrox for their first leg of the fourth round tie in what was sure to be a hair-raising atmosphere. Not least for former Celtic man and now Feyenoord striker Pierre van Hooijdonk. Despite the raucous atmosphere, Feyenoord equipped themselves well and took the lead after 72 minutes, Shinji Ono scoring the goal. Nine minutes later, a Barry Ferguson penalty tied the game up at 1-1. Feyenoord hung on and would head back to Rotterdam with the away goal advantage. The second leg was played out as a much more open affair and two more Van Hooijdonk goals would see them through in a 3-2 win.
Waiting for Feyenoord in the quarter-finals were fellow Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. These two teams matched up perfectly even over the two legs (1-1 in both ties) but De Stadionclub came through on penalties.
Feyenoord were into the semi-final of a European competition and on the verge of their first final since last winning the competition in 1974. Standing in their way were Italian giants Inter Milan. Despite the star-studded attacking talent in the Milan ranks such as Clarence Seedorf, Alavaro Recoba and Ronaldo, they couldn’t find their way past a resolute Feyenoord defence and it was an Ivan Cordoba own goal that settled a 1-0 away win at the packed San Siro.
In Holland, the return leg looked dead and buried after 45 minutes. The red, white and black raced into an early lead through tournament top scorer Van Hoijdnk and Jon Dahl Tomasson doubled inside 34 minutes. It was the dream start and although Inter fought back through Zanetti and Kallon late on, it wasn’t enough. The fans descended into raptures. Feyenoord were in a European final once more.
As May 8 approached, the port city faithful could be heard gleaming the length of the Rhine. They had witnessed a team mixed with rising stars and calm characters march their way to the final of a European competition. Could a powerful front three of Van Hooijdonk, Jon Dahl Tomasson and a young Robin van Persie fire them to the elite once more? Was it too early to begin picturing captain Paul Bosvelt with that trophy in his hand? One more push. One more game.
Having already beaten what Italy and Scotland had to offer, it was yet another German team that now stood between them and the cup, Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund.
The German champions had seen off AC Milan in the other semi-final and were strong favourites having recently clinched their domestic title. With Jens Lehmann between the sticks, Tomas Rosicky pulling the strings in midfield and giant Jan Koller up front, they were a powerful proposition.
The game began with a confident Feyenoord team creating chances early on. Ono came closest after ten minutes and was unlucky with a delicately chipped shot that sailed just wide over Lehmann, who he had spotted out off his line. This seemed to wake Dortmund up and they began to press.
Both teams traded blows and Rosicky came close after 20 minutes but against the run of play it was Feyenoord who were given a lifeline. Playing in his final game for Dortmund, Jurgen Koller got caught out of position and an outstretched arm pulled Jon Don Tomasson to the floor. penalty! The referee was decisive in brandishing the red card to Koller whose final night in Dortmund yellow would end in controversy.
Van Hooijdonk stepped up and from twelve yards out and confidently dispatched the spot kick. 1-0. Chaos in the stands ensued.
Now a man down and facing an even more rambunctious crowd, Dortmund began to struggle. They gave away a free-kick at the edge of their box. Who else? Van Hooijdonk with his eight goal of the tournament curled in a beautiful free-kick past the diving Lehmann. 2-0 and a man up, it was Feyenoord’s to lose.
After half-time Dortmund were awarded a penalty of their own. Marcio Amoroso was brought down by Patrick Paauwe and calmly tucked away the penalty. It was game on, sort of. Five minutes later, Tomasson evaded the linesman’s flag from an Ono pass and put it into the net to make it a 3-1 lead. Wave after wave of Dortmund attacks would follow this and with that, Jan Koller made it 3-2 after 58 minutes.
A man light and so desperately looking for the equaliser, Dortmund were relentless. But they would just come up short. Feyenoord would hang on. The final whistle blew and the pandemonium was something to behold.
Inside and outside of the ground was manic. 28 years since their first triumph, the Feyenoord fans had seen their team lift a second UEFA Cup. Amazingly the team had gone unbeaten since entering the competition in the third round. It was truly deserving of a side that showed such grit and determination all the way through. This night in front of their own fans could surely never be topped.
They waited 28 long years to see their side lift another European trophy in 2002 and having regained the Eredivisie title after thirteen years in 2017, Feyenoord are living proof that ‘good things come to those who wait’.