In 1889 Pim Mulier, a 24-year-old Dutchman, founded the Nederlandse Voetbal en Atletiek Bond (NVAB) in The Hague. The organisation comprised nine clubs and Mulier was its president.
Initially the competition was somewhat haphazard with teams free to decide when they played their matches. However, the removal of the athletics element in 1895 and attendant launch of the Nederlandse Voetbalbond (NVB) heralded a more serious competition, beginning in 1897/98.
The NVB achieved wider recognition as a founder member of world governing body FIFA in 1904, and a year later the Netherlands played their first official international, against Belgium. By late 2009, the Low Country neighbours had met 124 times. The association's 40th anniversary in 1929 proved an auspicious occasion. The NVB received the designation of 'Koninklijke' (Royal) from the Queen, thus becoming the Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond (KNVB).
The KNVB was not the country's only football association, though, as religious sectarianism had caused Catholics and Protestants to form one each. The two merged in 1940 under German pressure, and remained united following liberation in 1945. In a land where religious segregation prevailed in areas of everyday life, here was football breaking down barriers.
The late 1940s and early 1950s saw many Dutch players leave for France and Italy as the KNVB resisted calls to introduce professionalism. The situation came to a head when two charity matches were staged to raise money for survivors of the great flood in 1953. The national team lost 2-1 at home to Denmark, while in contrast Dutch professionals beat France 2-1 in Paris. A year later the KNVB finally conceded and merged with the NBVB, a separate professional body not recognised by FIFA, signalling the arrival of professionalism. Fast-forward to 2010 and the barrier between amateur and professional football also came down – meaning amateur sides can be promoted to the professional First Division and professional teams relegated to the top amateur league.
Dutch football put itself firmly on the map in the 1970s. A national team featuring the Netherlands' greatest player, Johan Cruyff, reached the FIFA World Cup final in Germany in 1974, before repeating the feat four years later in Argentina. Despite losing both finals, their brand of football became synonymous with the Dutch game: total football.
Another milestone was reached on 8 April 1978 when the KNVB became the first, and still only, organisation in the Netherlands to register its millionth member, a certain Arjan Kruisinga. It had come a long way in a short time. After the 2008/09 season the KNVB counted almost 1.2 million members, including more than 112,000 women and girls.
The Netherlands' finest hour, however, came with a 2-0 win against the USSR in the 1988 UEFA European Championship final. Rinus Michels was the coach, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard the booted architects of victory. They join the likes of Johan Neeskens, Willem van Hanegem, Ruud Krol, Ronald Koeman, Dennis Bergkamp, Edwin van der Sar and Clarence Seedorf in the pantheon of Dutchman to have made a mark on European football.
Administrators such as Karel Lotsy, Lodewijk Brunt, Jos Coler, Jo van Marle and Mathieu Sprengers have set the players a good example, and most have honorary UEFA titles. Since March 2009, meanwhile, KNVB president Michael van Praag has been a member of the UEFA Executive Committee. Clubs like Feyenoord, AFC Ajax and PSV Eindhoven also continue to foster enormous respect for the Dutch game around the world. Four teams at the 2006 World Cup – the Netherlands, Australia, Korea Republic and Trinidad & Tobago – had Dutch coaches, and it was also one of their own, Bert van Marwijk, who led the Oranje to the final of the 2010 tournament in South Africa. That generation, which included Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, achieved third place in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but disappointment followed, when Guus Hiddink and Danny Blind were unable to lead the Dutch team to the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament in France.
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