Why not Blaak but Verbeek (18) is below the bar at OR

Those who don’t know any better would think that Pirmin Blaak was ‘just’ under the bar at Oranje-Rood in the past three games. In terms of result (only four goals conceded and a collection of seven points) and in terms of appearance (red legguards, green shirt and helmet with Dutch flag). But nothing could be further from the truth: Nieki Verbeek (18) is currently taking the honours. 

The reason why is less. During the warm-up of the game with Amsterdam three weeks ago, things went wrong for the 35-year-old goalkeeper of the Orange. A shot from Jelle Galema was so hard that his helmet did not provide sufficient protection. Some dizzy he went to the ground, with a wound on his forehead. Young Verbeek saw it all happen from the sidelines. He quickly flew in his goalkeeper’s suit. While Blaak was being taken care of, there were the first big league minutes for the youngster. 

He now has three games under his belt. And he’s still undefeated. He can be satisfied, with seven points and only four goals conceded. But really used to that place under the bar? No, it doesn’t. The tension is still there. ‘But fortunately not as bad as it was against Amsterdam. That was really bizarre. At that time I really didn’t know what to do with myself’, the goalkeeper of the Dutch Junior Team looks back on that moment. “But it was really cool. I think it’s so cool what’s happening.’

Nieki Verbeek in the goal of Oranje-Rood. Photo: Frank Kerbusch/Orange Pictures

‘on my body’

The enthusiasm can be heard in his voice. And is certainly reflected in his game. He holds his own in the Tulip Big League. Especially for a goalkeeper who played in JO18-1 last year and only played a few minutes with the second team of the club from Eindhoven this season. He himself is convinced: ‘This is really a dream come true for me.’

Last weekend against Bloemendaal (result 2-2) he had to beat twice. On shots by Tim Swaen and Thierry Brinkman. But while those names are widely known in our sport, he’s pretty upset about them. “I’m glad I was able to make some saves after that. If you let two through, you really have to make up for it.’  And he made up for that against the reigning national champion, especially in the final quarter. He turned a backhand shot from Brinkman and from Casper van der Veen. “It was those balls on my body. Which you still have to process. That makes it difficult, but it went well. I’m glad I was able to put things right.’

Clapping and jeering 

With every save he makes, there is clapping and jeering from the stands in Eindhoven. His name is called as if it were Lauda’s instead of Verbeek’s. The young man is loved. De Brabander joined Oranje Zwart at the age of six and put on the goalkeeper’s suit when he was eleven. “I don’t know if I really wanted it then. But everyone told me I was good at it. Then I did it.’ 

From the D-youth onwards, Verbeek was trained by Blaak. “He’s been my role model for years. Sometimes it’s crazy to realize that he’s my friend now and you’re standing next to him,” he says. He hopes to walk the same path as his predecessor. In Orange, and in Orange-Red invariably below the bar. ‘He gave me a replica of his helmet when I was selected for the Dutch Junior Team two months ago. The helmet with red, white, blue and orange. I think that’s very special.’

‘Looks like a study’

Blaak is slowly getting better. But who will defend the Eindhoven goal next weekend in that important match with Pinoké is not yet known. With a win, the Orange-Red grabs the last playoff ticket. “We’ll see. I believe we can win. I prepare myself optimally. I look at images, read in. It’s like a study. But a very nice one.’ 

The interview ends abruptly. The watching and waiting children can’t hold it anymore. They want a signature from the closing post. Their hero. And Verbeek hands them out. He’s been practicing it for years at school and it’s finally coming in handy. One on a stick, the next on a shoe and then on an arm. He laughs. Especially when he hears what the children then say to each other: ‘I was never this arm again!’ 


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