They sit in the corner where the blows fall. In a place you’d rather not be. The tenth position in the big league, which eventually leads to a trembling end to the competition. The play-out ghost floats emphatically around the ladies of Bloemendaal, who know that it will be difficult to climb.
It was an extremely painful sight last Sunday. After the crucial defeat against Kampong (3-2), bloemendaal’s players walked straight into the dressing room. No circle, debriefing or comforting words. Only angry and sad looks. Captain Sonja Zimmermann furiously threw her stick to the ground. Her face on thunder. Had she come to the big leagues for this?
The catacombs of Kampong’s clubhouse were quiet. Noiseless. The silence was occasionally broken by happy players from Kampong, who had taken a big step towards survival through their win. And by a salvo of laughter from referee Coen van Bunge, who clashed with the Utrecht mascot Klappie. The ugly monkey came out of the dressing room somewhat rashly – next to Bloemendaal’s – and stepped into the hallway without looking.
After a few minutes, bloemendaal’s first players trickled out again. Like goalkeeper Danique Visser, a child of the club who imagined so many beautiful things about this year at the beginning of the season. Because yes, with international stars such as the German captain Zimmermann and the Argentine striker Majo Granatto – voted the best player of the last World Cup – things had to go much better than all those grey years in the right row.
The ugly duckling that didn’t turn into a swan
But the ugly duckling didn’t turn swan this season. They were outclassed by other teams and seem to be the worst team in the broad middle. “We are disappointed and angry,” Visser sighed. Her words echo down the empty hallway. “We have to look at ourselves in the mirror. We missed it ourselves against Kampong. We really wanted to score and sometimes you forget your own tasks.’ She pauses, “And then it’s chaos.”
Kampong’s winning 3-2 on Sunday fell shortly after coach Dave Smolenaars decided to play one-on-one at the back. In short: go all out for the profit. ‘That was indeed the intention’, Visser laments. “But after we went on the offensive ourselves, we weren’t lined up fast enough. We didn’t look where our girl was. The organization was gone. It’s not right in the head. That sometimes happens when we get tired, the stress and tension increase. It’s a mental thing. We are too afraid to make mistakes, which means that something goes wrong.’
It happened in a match in which Bloemendaal got no less than seventeen corners. Twelve (!) of those were given in the first quarter. ‘I do see a trend for teams to defend corners better and better’, Visser responds. “But if we get that many, you have to make more than two.”
Groningen-out for Granatto?
Moreover, Bloemendaal got the first goal against Kampong after only 51 seconds. That wasn’t an incident either. In three of the six defeats after the winter break, The Sparrows conceded a goal within two minutes. ‘That’s another thing with us’, Visser says. “We’re not one hundred percent on. Sometimes that’s not there in the first few minutes. Then we’re only fifty or seventy percent.’
It ensures that Bloemendaal is in that dangerous tenth place with eighteen points two games before the end. Two fewer than the number nine HDM. Moreover, the program is not tender: The Sparrows still play against leaders SCHC and Tilburg, which is in top form. “I know it’s going to be hard to avoid the playoffs,” Visser sighs. “If you want to make it easy for yourself, you have to win both games. That’s the goal. But whether that’s realistic, that’s another matter. I’m always quite positive, but this is going to be a difficult story.’
If Bloemendaal remains tenth, Visser and her teammates will play against the number three of the Promotion Class. “I follow that competition anyway. I’m a bit of a hockey nerd, I like that. I know that Groningen and Push are around that third place. If we get into those play-outs, I’m confident we can avoid relegation.’
With global stars Zimmermann and Granatto looking for, say, Groningen. That sounds like a crazy fact. ‘You can certainly say that’, Visser sighs. “We didn’t exactly sign up for that.”