On a typical summer afternoon, Leeuwarden, the capital city of Friesland, is filled to the brim with the many residents, students, and tourists hoping to get a seat in one of the many restaurants that sit along the beautiful canal that runs through the heart of the city.
August 5th was not your typical summer afternoon. Cars and people flooded their way towards Cambuursterhoek neighbourhood, the home of SC Cambuur, for the football club’s open day. Excitement, tension, and barbecue smoke filled the air as fans anxiously wait for the start of the new season.
A true Liwwader will tell you that the soul of the city lies here at Cambuurstadion, the 10,000-capacity-seat stadium that has been in the same exact location since 1936.
“We are Leeuwarden,” said Maarten van Tuinen, the president of SC Cambuur’s supporter’s club. Van Tuinen comes from a family of SC Cambuur fans, with both his grandfather and father sporting the traditional blue-and-yellow colors of the club. “We love our club and we love our city. Very proud, working-class people.”
The club will need all the support it can get this season as they are set to kick off on Friday, August 11 in the Keuken Kampion Divisie, the Netherland’s second division of football, after suffering relegation from the Eredivisie last season.
A club synonymous with its city
There are many football clubs around the world that take pride in their city. You don’t have to go far from the North of the Netherlands to see how Ajax has embodied Amsterdam or how Feyenoord resonates with the people of Rotterdam. However, few can say to be as connected as Leeuwarden and Cambuur.
Established in 1964 in Cambuursterhoek, the club dons a blue and yellow jersey. These colors are inspired by those on the coat of arms of Leeuwarden, making the city a key part of Cambuur’s identity.
SC Cambuur’s name derives from the Van Cammingha family, a noble Friesian family. The family’s castle used to stand where the current Cambuurstadion sits, the stadium in which they’ve played their home games since their inception and was built all the way back in 1936.
Even the club’s badge has a connection to the city, as the Van Cammingha family crest sits proudly on every SC Cambuur scarf, jersey, and piece of merchandise.
It is made very clear by supporters that Cambuur is Leeuwarden and Leeuwarden is Cambuur. It is almost an insult to suggest to anyone that there are other options when it comes to supporting a football team.
“If my daughters like football, that is their choice,” said Van Tuinen. “But you don’t have a choice for a football club.”
Much like there isn’t a choice for Liwwaders to support any team other than Cambuur, it is also clear that they intend to keep the club as connected to the city as possible. In the extremely money-dependent environment of modern football that sees foreign investment takeover clubs, Cambuur ensures that the club is made by the city, for the city.
“We are not a commercial club. We are a normal club from Leeuwarden,” said Van Tuinen. “Our club isn’t for sale.”
A season of lows…
As fans of all ages filtered into the Cambuurstadion to see their squad for the very first time this season, it was clear that something was different from the season before.
Instead of celebrating another year in the Dutch top-flight league, SC Cambuur will have to ply its trade in the unforgiving second division, the Keuken Kampion Divisie, after finishing in the relegation spots of the Eredivisie the season prior.
Their tumble into the second division was confirmed on the 6th of May after losing to FC Utrecht but it was clear for Cambuur fans that their season was over well before that date.
The game against Volendam on the 8th of January is when most of them had given up hope that their beloved club would survive.
“We still had 19 games [to go]. Volendam was 18th [last] and we were 17th. They had 3 points less than we had. After 9 or 11 minutes, it was 0-2 and that was it. We all knew we would get relegated,” said a dejected Van Tuinen.
Although it was clear to supporters that their club had very little chance of staying in the Eredivisie, Van Tuinen relayed that this is just the way that SC Cambuur operates.
“You always have the power of the new club in the Eredivisie for the first 6 to 8 months. Then after that, everyone knows how Cambuur plays,” said Van Tuinen, “We don’t have a plan B. The trainers don’t agree with me but it is certain that we don’t have a plan B.”
…Both on and off the pitch
While matters on the pitch fell to the wayside with the club certainly headed towards the second division, matters away from it did not make things any better. Henk de Jong, the manager who was at the club for a total of 10 years through various roles, was forced to vacate his position in October 2022 when a cyst was discovered inside his head.
“Henk de Jong is the Messiah here. Cambuur as a club is a collective. Not one person is above but maybe Henk de Jong is,” said Van Tuinen.
In his place came a young and energetic coach by the name of Sjors Ultee. Replacing a club legend like De Jong was never going to be easy but he had the perfect opportunity to prove himself.
With six weeks between his appointment and his first game in charge thanks to the 2022 World Cup break, Ultee’s Cambuur would face Volendam in the fated game many describe as the final nail in the coffin.
“We lose his first game in charge. Okay, that’s fine, it’s your first game but you had six weeks. He made some choices we don’t understand. I’m not a football coach, I can imagine why he wanted to change something. We were 18th (last),” said Van Tuinen.
“After we went down, [Ultee] said, “It’s not only my fault, it’s like a year and a half already that it is not that good.” That’s not very smart to say even though I think he’s right but you can’t say it.”
Although Ultee only managed to win three out of the 16 matches he managed, Van Tuinen still believes that the club should back him for their upcoming season in the Keuken Kampion Divisie.
“Ultee is a new-generation coach and I think he’s very clever. Very smart,” said Van Tuinen. “His theories are very good but maybe his practical side needs to develop but I support him. He’s the trainer of my club.”
Other fans aren’t as convinced. Van Tuinen says he’s not that popular with the majority. But he laughs it off. “That is typical Cambuur fans,” he says. He pleads for them to support their manager during their attempt to reach the summit of Dutch football.
“He has good energy. Give him a chance.”
Promotion or bust
Perhaps fans may not be sold on Ultee and may lament the fact that Cambuur must play second-division football again but Van Tuinen sees a change to previous times when the fate of Cambuur was the same.
“We’ve been relegated three times before and always the start of the season is so negative,” said Van Tuinen. “But this is the first time I don’t feel it. Everybody knows their position. We are Cambuur. We are a big club for our fanbase. We are an Eredivisie-side but just not yet.”
In order to be the top division side Cambuur aspires to be, there is only one thing on the mind of every single fan that will fill out the 10,000-capacity seat Cambuurstadion.
But it’s much more than just finishing in one of the top two positions that guarantee automatic ascension into the Eredivisie. While the identity of the club off the pitch is very much embedded with Leeuwarden, fans hope to regain their playing style on it.
“Don’t only defend like the last half year,” said Van Tuinen, “Just attack. You’re allowed to make mistakes but attack. That is Cambuur”
With the new acquisition of Youns el Hilali in attack, the return to full fitness of Silvester van der Water, and the addition of a more reliable keeper in Yannick van Osch, SC Cambuur is revving up for the start of the new season with the goal to be a top dog in the Keuken Kampion Divisie.
Their first match takes place at the Cambuurstadion this Friday when they meet FC Emmen in a northern clash. Although Emmen was another of the clubs that suffered relegation from the Eredivisie, Van Tuinen is certain the boys in blue and yellow can get the season started the right way.
“What I’ve heard so far about our team, it’s real technical football and Emmen isn’t playing that well. Lots of injuries. I think I’m confident. 2-1 win.”
A move from east to west
The east side of Leeuwarden has long been considered to be the Cambuur region since the club has played there for the last 59 years. However, from the start of next year, SC Cambuur will move to the west side to fit into their new stadium on the Elfstedenpark.
What is more eye-catching than Cambuur leaving their beloved home is the fact that the new stadium is a huge step towards ensuring the sport we all know and love becomes more sustainable. The construction of it supports circularity, almost guaranteeing that every pillar, step, and seat is made from recycled material.
“It would be the most sustainable stadium in the Netherlands,” said Edgar van Perlo of Ons project, the project leader of the new stadium, to Alles Over Sport. “Cambuur feels socially responsible. In the design of the new stadium, this sense of responsibility has been translated into five themes that are in vogue in Cambuur’s history – part of Friesland and West Groningen: vitality, nutrition, energy, water, and circular.”
The new stadium, which is yet to be named, is expected to have 15,000 available seats for SC Cambuur fans, 5,000 more than the current stadium.
With this set to be the last year in the iconic Cambuurstadion, fans are hoping to get one last hurrah before they say goodbye to a monumental piece of Leeuwarden’s history.
“Make it a good season,” demands Van Tuinen.
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