Nobody wants to be in Team VVCS, but whoever’s in it gives it all: ‘Heads up’

“It’s in the back of your mind, of course, that this is one of the last chances to put yourself in the spotlight”, says captain Bart Meijers. And Thomas Kok, midfielder: “You’re hoping that one of the scouts will pick you up and that you’ll get another chance.”

Meijers and Kok are players of Team VVCS, the team for clubless professional footballers. The players’ union team has been in existence since 2004, but never before have registrations flowed in so quickly.

Van Loen peps up his men

Trainer John van Loen picks up over twenty men for the practice game against PEC Zwolle one last time. “Are we ready? Everyone knows what to do,” he shouts through the dressing room. In the practice matches that team VVCS plays against VVV Venlo, Jong PSV and FC Twente, among others, his players have one mission: to enforce a pro contract.

“There’s a lot more of them than last year”, says VVCS director Louis Everard. “Over the last few years, the team has started cautiously with six, seven players. Now there were about fifteen of them at the same time. How can that be explained? That has everything to do with the effects of the corona crisis.”

In the first division in particular, many professional football clubs face financial problems: expiring contracts are not renewed and there is less room to attract new players.

In addition, the collective agreement on professional football has been amended in such a way that clubs at the second level next year only have to contract fourteen full-time players instead of the compulsory sixteen. Everard: “It’s clear that this makes it a lot more difficult than previous years.”

Our precarious situation

It leaves many of the soccer players in an uncertain situation. As team manager of VVCS, former pro Arjan Ebbinge sees what that does to his players. “To the guys who come in the first week I say: good that you’re there. But of course that’s very double. Actually we would have preferred not to have them here, because that would have meant that they would have a club now. This certainly does something to them, it’s just insecure.”

Thomas Kok, 22 years old, is one of the footballers who reported to VVCS. A few months ago, he was told that his contract with FC Dordrecht was not renewed. “There was too much uncertainty about the budget within the club”, he says.

“Many clubs are in money troubles and are waiting a long time before they attract new players”, says Bart Meijers (24), former player of NAC Breda and Helmond Sport. “That’s frustrating, but it’s how it is. You have to keep your head up and keep fighting.”

Scouts

At PEC Zwolle Team VVCS looks tireless from the first whistle to the last. The eagerness with which each ball is fought for betrays what is at stake in practice duels. But where in previous twenties to twenty-five scouts stood on the sidelines looking for bargains, now there is only a handful.

Henk Bons, scout for NEC, makes some notes in his notebook. “We’re almost done with our selection, but you never know. These guys are attractive because they no longer have a contract and are basically cheap to get.” Whether Bons has a specific player in mind, he can’t say.

Team VVCS tries not to be too busy with the men on the sidelines. “It can be counterproductive,” says Meijers. “Arjan often deliberately doesn’t tell who’s on behalf of which club.”

The sometimes difficult situation in which the players find themselves is discussed extensively by the group. “Every day we discuss whether someone has an offer, whether something is playing. We try to stay as positive as possible. But of course there is also a doomsday scenario: that there will be no club.”

Broken dreams

And different? “I’m doing a study next to football, that’s a backup plan,” says Thomas Kok. “But I haven’t really thought that there won’t be a contract yet.”

In the duel against the Zwolle formation Team VVCS makes a good impression: it wins 1-0. Nevertheless, team manager Ebbinge estimates that the number of boys offered a pro contract this year will be lower than normal due to the corona crisis. “I hope there are about six of them. Then I’d be happy.”

That means at least fourteen broken dreams. “That for sure. But it also means six dreams that will be restored. It may be their last chance, but it’s a chance.”