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Football’s brotherhood shines in Dutch prison tournament

A football tournament inside a prison in the Netherlands demonstrated football’s capacity to unite and act as a social catalyst – with Jules Rasoelbaks, one of the recent stars of UEFA’s #EqualGame campaign, a key contributor to a memorable day.

Jules Rasoelbaks (back row, second from right) and his De Hoop team
Jules Rasoelbaks (back row, second from right) and his De Hoop team ©Ien Wille

Football’s eternal power to unify, create hope and champion inclusion shone through joyfully at a unique tournament held recently inside a prison in the Dutch city of Dordrecht.

And among those helping to foster a wonderful spirit of togetherness at the event was Jules Rasoelbaks, one of the people who has featured this year as part of UEFA’s #EqualGame diversity and inclusion campaign, which promotes the essential value that football is open to everyone – no matter who you are, what you are, or where you come from.

In cooperation with the Dutch Justice Department, the PI Dordrecht prison hosted teams of detainees from other Dutch prisons, former detainees, social workers, former professional footballers and other stakeholders in the security sector – not only from the Netherlands, but also from Germany, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland – for the third edition of the Euro Football Festival. 

Match action in Dordrecht
Match action in Dordrecht©Ien Wille

The tournament is part of the “Dutch Sport Works” programme, a sport-based employability and re-socialisation project that is organised by the Dutch Justice Department in conjunction with grassroots and professional football clubs and other Dutch sports clubs. The European Football for Development Network (EFDN) – a network comprising professional football clubs committed to their communities and social responsibility activities – were also represented in Dordrecht. 

Jules Rasoelbaks, a former detainee whose heartening story of redemption was told by UEFA.com in April, is a coordinator with De Hoop, a Dordrecht-based rehabilitation centre that helps people with a drug addiction or mental health issue reintegrate into society.

Jules, whose work focusses on helping people overcome problems, change their lives and – as he did – make a new start, coached a team of footballers from De Hoop at the Euro Football Festival.

Jules Rasoelbaks enjoyed the tournament's unifying spirit
Jules Rasoelbaks enjoyed the tournament's unifying spirit©Ien Wille

“It’s great being here,” Jules said, “it’s a special tournament, because it shows the brotherhood that is created by football. It’s such a wonderful game because it unites people. Everybody here is bonded together for the day, it doesn’t matter what or who they are.” 

During the tournament, Jules stood calmly on the touchline guiding his charges, whose ages ranged from 17 to 32. The occasional word of encouragement and advice was all he needed to motivate his group. “I prefer to be relaxed – I like to let the team manage itself,” he said.

Jules spent several spells in prison and was a drug addict for over two decades. Now, he is earning considerable respect as a role model who overcame his problems and set out afresh on a new route in life. 

“He’s certainly a model for everyone,” said the “Dutch Sport Works” project leader Gerko Brink. “Jules was strong enough to change his life. Look what’s he’s doing now…he’s coaching people, motivating them.” 

Belgian goalkeeping legend Jean-Marie Pfaff played for one of the teams
Belgian goalkeeping legend Jean-Marie Pfaff played for one of the teams©Ien Wille

The day in Dordrecht saw Jules, his team and other participants sharing the stage with renowned ex-players such as former Belgian goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff and Dutch stars Andy van der Meyde and Sjaak Polak. Workshops saw best practice presentations with an English flavour, courtesy of the Fulham FC Foundation and Feltham Prison, who explained their reintegration work on behalf of young detainees, while the Dutch Re-integration Centre RIC highlighted their programmes for Dutch detainees. 

This was the third Euro Football Festival, and Gerko Brink was a proud central figure as he watched the fruits of his work, and that of the various partner organisers, coalesce into a friendly, animated occasion which featured a good number of talented players showing their skills on the Dordrecht prison’s artificial pitch, while also giving numerous stakeholders ample networking opportunities.

“My job is to make connections between prisons and the sports world in the Netherlands, Brink said. “For example, we try to get inmates into a new social environment with football clubs – starting out as a volunteer, and if they do a good job, they can be given a paid job within the club’s network.”

Gerko Brink is confident that the tournament will develop in the future
Gerko Brink is confident that the tournament will develop in the future©Gerko Brink

Brink explained the conditions for detainees to participate in the tournament. “It’s a gift for good behaviour,” he emphasised. “If you conduct yourself well in the prison, you can be here on a day like today playing football. So the tournament also has a motivational element.” 

Like Jules, Brink is using his love of football to create something special. “We’re showing the force of football,” he explained, “It’s a catalyst, it brings out the best in people. At this tournament, detainees are interacting together with prison staff and former professional footballers. It’s a family atmosphere – and everyone enjoys it.”

The same values as UEFA’s #EqualGame campaign are evident within the Euro Football Festival’s objectives. Brink is enthusiastic about UEFA’s work. “The UEFA campaign is fantastic and successful, because it shows that football must be for everybody. It links everyone.”

An entertaining tournament – competitive but notable for an exemplary spirit of respect and fair play – was won by the Goal Foundation, who beat the team of ex-pros, FC de Rebellen (The Rebels), in the final. Jules’ De Hoop team performed creditably, enjoying some positive results along the way, and Jules ended up a satisfied coach.

Good football and goals aplenty
Good football and goals aplenty©Ien Wille

“Today is not just about competition or winning, of course, it’s about enjoyment,” he reflected. 

As the Euro Football Festival came to a close, there was a clear general will to further develop the tournament in future years – welcoming more teams for this special target group and enhancing the social impact for those who take part. “I also hope that our football festival in Dordrecht could serve as an example for other countries to follow in the future,” said Brink.

Jules Rasoelbaks coached his team in a relaxed way
Jules Rasoelbaks coached his team in a relaxed way©Ien Wille

Meanwhile, Jules Rasoelbaks – a man who has put his own world back on track in impressive fashion – was pleased to play his part in an outstanding show of football’s undeniable and enduring strength as a social force. “I feel grateful and thankful for the chance I have,” he said, reflecting on his current path. 

“Jules is quite definitely an example to everyone who has problems in their lives,” Gerko Brink underlined. “He is certainly showing people that they can be given a second chance...”