Rood en Wit's president Michel Derckx: 'We need a "Delta Plan" for youth cricket".
Founded in 1881 and second only to HCC in the number of national championships it has won, Rood en Wit Haarlem is a club with a great past, a modest present, and an eye firmly set on a great future. The days may be gone when their ground on the Spanjaardslaan in Haarlem was, along with De Diepput, the Netherlands’ international venue of choice, but a return to the top flight in time to take part in the first-ever Topklasse season is a token of the club’s ambition.
The side which took the Eerste Klasse title last year may have been full of imports, but Rood en Wit’s long-term strategy is strongly based on youth development. They fielded nine junior sides in 2009 – only HCC had more – and chairman Michel Derckx insists that that points the way forward.
‘We don’t only aim to be contenders for the national championship within three or four years,’ he says, ‘but we plan to do so with a team at least half of whom will be graduates of our own youth system.
‘That’s why we employ former Canterbury head coach Garry MacDonald, who’s coming back this year for his third season in Haarlem. We’re investing in our youth, and we want to raise the level so that our most talented young players can scale the heights of Dutch cricket.’
With products of the youth section like the 17-year-olds, seamer Paul van Meekeren and batsman Sverre Loggers, already establishing themselves in the first team, there are signs that the policy is beginning to bear fruit.
‘Our policy as a club is the same as that which the KNCB embraced two years ago,’ Derckx adds, ‘to strengthen the top and broaden the base.
‘And that applies as much to girls’ cricket as it does with the boys: we have a total of 30 girls aged between six and 18 playing in our teams, and nine of our girls were in last season’s Dutch under-17 squad. To be honest, though, that says as much about the commitment of other clubs to girls’ cricket as it does about Rood en Wit!’
Derckx is another chairman who emphasises that there’s more to cricket than success on the park.
‘We also want to be one of the friendliest and most gezellig clubs in the country,’ he declares. (There’s no really satisfactory translation of gezellig, which expresses the Dutch ideal of sociability and having a good time, and possibly only having a hazy recollection of how much fun it all was.)
‘Success and enjoyment should go hand in hand. It was great when a player wrote to us recently: “’I really enjoyed playing here for last two seasons; it was not only a cricket club but more like a family to me.” That describes exactly what we’re aiming for – to be more than just a cricket club.’
The Rood en Wit chairman links this to his club’s role in the national Twenty20 competition, where they have reached the finals day twice in three years.
‘That competition has had an unbelievably positive effect on the club,’ he says, ‘and our home matches on a Friday evening turned, both literally and metaphorically, into one big party.’
Looking beyond his own club to the national scene, Derckx has praise as well as criticism of the way the KNCB is heading.
‘We fully support the concept of strengthening the top and broadening the base,’ he states, ‘but since those goals were set there’s been much more attention devoted to the first, and not nearly enough to the second. ‘Out of a total budget of €1.7 million for 2010, only €56k. is allocated for promotion and stimulation of breedtesport. If you do that, you’re just not taking the aim of expansion seriously enough!’
Part of the problem is, he thinks, structural: it’s difficult for the clubs to have any real impact on the Bond’s financial policies once the budget is presented to a general meeting. In Derckx’s view, it would be preferable for the clubs to be consulted about the allocation of money at a much earlier stage of the budgetary process.
But he is positive about a new openness which he detects in the management of the KNCB.
‘The clubs were given a role in working out this season’s domestic programme,’ he says, ‘and we’re involved in a bottom-up process with the development of the proposed club charter. These are great initiatives, and it’s also very encouraging to see the new CEO doing the rounds of the clubs to hear their views and their concerns.’
Again, Derckx sees youth policy as crucial at national as well as at club level.
‘In my view we need a “Delta Plan” for junior cricket,’ he says, referring to the process by which Dutch sea defences were comprehensively improved after the disastrous 1953 floods which cost 1800 lives and displaced 100,000 people.
‘It’s not enough to achieve a ten per cent increase in junior numbers; we have to double or treble the number of young players.
‘We’ve got to involve the schools in a really professional way, we’ve got to persuade the local authorities to get behind us, we’ve got to support smaller clubs and help them to build up youth sections. It all demands lots of time, energy and money, and you can’t achieve it by appointing one Cricket Development Officer.
‘Just like the strengthening of the top, expanding the base calls for serious investment, and at present we just don’t see the balance.’
The Rood en Wit chairman points to the example of Dutch ice hockey as an image of how it can all go desperately wrong.
‘In 1980 The Netherlands made it to the Olympics,’ he says, ‘and suddenly ice hockey flourished, with lots of media attention, sponsorship and crowded stadiums. But then it all fell away, and the top players, who had mostly learned the sport in Canada, went home.
‘Nothing had been done to build up the base, and once the euphoria was over there was very little left. It’s crucial that cricket doesn’t repeat their mistakes, and that means making sure that we create a base which will ensure the future of the sport.
‘The club charter can have a big influence on that, but the investment has to come from the KNCB as well as from the clubs.’
If one of the key ideas in a charter scheme is to be ‘best practice’, spreading the most successful ways of doing things far and wide across Dutch cricket, clubs could do no better than to examine carefully the Rood en Wit approach to developing the game.