Peter van de Ven
From the late eighties until about ten years ago, Dutch footballers regularly played in the Scottish leagues. Clubs like Motherwell, Aberdeen, Dunfermline and Rangers had several, but other clubs had their own contingent. Heart of Midlothian was no exception. Mark de Vries is the most famous one of course; an unknown striker in the Netherlands, but he remains a hero at Hearts. The other one is less well known: Peter van de Ven, who played for the Jambos from1992 until 1994. It’s been over twenty years since Van de Ven left Scotland, so this is a prime opportunity to look back on his time there.
“I played professional football for twelve years before I went to Scotland. First three years at Fortuna Sittard and then five seasons at Roda JC. In 1986 I was bought by Charleroi, which was my first adventure in another country. After three seasons, I went to Willem II. Piet de Visser had big plans with me. For me the move to Willem II was perfect, because I had just had a son and traveling to Tilburg to the family in Weert was a breeze. After just one season, however, Aberdeen came in and made me a great offer. I could earn three times as much. Previously a transfer to Ajax fell through, so I was very happy that I could move to Aberdeen which was a top club back then.
I arrived in Scotland because of manager Alex Smith. He wanted his team to play more like the continental teams, with fewer long balls. He wanted to do that by bringing Dutchmen in as our style of play appealed to him. In Theo Snelders, Aberdeen had a goalkeeper who didn’t just launch the ball forward. In midfield, Theo Caat was on the left and myself on the right, and up front we had Hans Gillhaus. Willem van der Ark was the fifth Dutchman but was more of a typical British striker. Eventually Smith managed to play in a more “Dutch” way. Of course, there were still plenty of Scottish elements to our game, but I think we played really differently from the rest of the teams in the league.
I liked life in Aberdeen. That city had grown from the oil industry and was therefore fairly cosmopolitan. There was a large community of Dutch expats so we were taken care of. They had their own tennis courts and parties where the players were invited. It really was a wonderful time and I wasn’t homesick at all. Sometimes we went back to the Netherlands, but only rarely. Someone like Hans Gillhaus did that more often. He departed Saturday after the game and came back on Monday. The manager gave him permission to skip training on Mondays. I understood Gillhaus, because he was single and loved to go to Amsterdam at the weekends.
That highlights the relaxed mentality of the Scots. In the Netherlands it would have been impossible to do what Gillhaus did. Yet I noticed that the distance between manager and player was greater than back home. We always referred to Alex Smith as “sir” or “mister.” I really liked Smith. I played almost every match and was named Player of the Year at Aberdeen. Unfortunately we were not champions in my first season. On the last day of the season we were sitting level with Rangers, but they had a better goal difference. That last game was at Ibrox. The whole stadium was filled with 50,000 Huns and it made for a great atmosphere. Sadly we lost 2-0 and Rangers won the title. I’m really happy with my career, but a title would have been the cherry on the cake.
The following year we won 2-0 at Ibrox, but that was one of the few highlights of the season. We finished sixth and didn’t win a single trophy. The board fired Smith and replaced him with Willie Miller, one of the legendary players from the days of Alex Ferguson. My contract expired, but Miller offered me a new two year contract. He said he wanted to keep me, but I probably would have played less. I didn’t look forward to being a fringe player, but I loved life in Scotland and wanted to sign the contract. Then I received a phone call from Edinburgh. Joe Jordan called and said that he wanted me at Hearts. He thought highly of me, so I signed for the Jambos.
I knew Hearts from playing against them with Aberdeen. I knew it was a very big club in Scotland. They had finished second the previous season, and Jordan wanted me as a sweeper. That sounded perfect to me. My wife and I decided to travel to talk to the club in Edinburgh. Frankly, I had never been in the city centre, but we instantly fell in love with the city. Aberdeen is a bit grey because of all the granite. Edinburgh is really beautiful. I didn’t hesitate and signed a two year contract with Hearts. At the time it was a smaller club than Aberdeen, but still one of the largest of Scotland. I was looking forward to it.
The club arranged a home for us in South Queensferry, a town just north of Edinburgh. We looked at that wonderful Forth Bridge. Truly a perfect location to live. Unlike in Aberdeen, we had much more contact with the locals because there was no large Dutch community in the town. Actually, I preferred living in South Queensferry to Aberdeen. We were much more involved in Scottish life and became friends with some local people. I really enjoyed my time there. My wife was also very happy. She really did want to stay in Scotland.
At Hearts I played as a sweeper, a good position. The team was not as good as that of Aberdeen and we were a mid-table side. But some things were better at Hearts compared to Aberdeen. At Hearts we trained at a local non-league club with a good pitch. In Aberdeen we just trained in a park. That was such a difference with the Netherlands. Aberdeen had won the Cup Winner Cup seven years before but didn’t have their own training complex. Training in Scotland wasn’t taken seriously. We played three times a week, so the training was there for relief and some fun. Especially in Aberdeen, where we played international games and always did well in the cups.
At Hearts the club cared about the players and their families. We always played on Saturday afternoon and after the game we went with the staff, the players and their wives and children to a pub in the centre of Edinburgh for something to eat. It was really good for bonding. After dinner the women and children went home and the players had a few pints together. We also regularly went to a barber in Gorgie, just across from the stadium. I don’t remember the name of the barber but it was ideal to relax. You sat there for a couple of hours with some teammates. I’m curious to know if that barber is still there.
A major difference between Aberdeen and Hearts was that you had no real derby at Aberdeen. The games against Dundee United were a semi-derby. There was only one club really hated by everyone at Aberdeen and that was Rangers. Even days before we played the Huns, you knew it was a special game. The fans really hated Rangers. At Aberdeen the fans didn’t like Celtic, but their hatred was much less towards them. Precisely because of that it was extra painful that we lost that deciding game in 1991 at Ibrox.
For the Jambos the match against Hibs was the most important. The bragging rights of the city were at stake. The derbies were always great games. You felt the rivalry inside the ground, but outside it was pretty friendly. I can’t recall seeing any riots. I never had any hassle because of the fact that I was a Hearts player. In that respect, it was really quite different in Glasgow where there was a lot of sectarian hatred and you couldn’t go out in the city centre. The Edinburgh derby is much friendlier then the Old Firm. I never lost to Hibs in the six derbies I played. We were really the dominant team in those years. I believe it was during a run of 22 games in which Hearts did not lose to Hibs.
I know Hearts are originally viewed as the “protestant” club in Edinburgh and Hibs the “catholic”, but it didn’t felt that way when I played for the Jambos. Nobody ever asked me if I was a protestant or a catholic. Religion never came in to the equation at Hearts. Oddly enough, they only time somebody asked me about my faith was at Aberdeen. During my introduction there I was invited into the boardroom – that was a very classy event and quite formal – one of the board members asked me about my descent and whether I was protestant or catholic. That’s really the only time that religion was discussed in my time in Scotland. Perhaps it would have been different if I had played in Glasgow.
Talking about Glasgow, I quite liked the city. There is always a lot of criticism about that city and it is certainly not Edinburgh, but not as ugly as many people say. The centre is quite nice with lots of beautiful buildings. You can see that Glasgow had a rich past. What I did notice every time I was there, was the smoke that hung around the city from all the industry there, which was really different to Edinburgh. I loved playing games in Glasgow. Matches against Rangers and Celtic were always very important, both at Aberdeen and Hearts. Those are the best games to play in. Home games against the two Glasgow clubs were always special with lots of away fans. Tynecastle really shook to its foundations when they came to Edinburgh. Tynecastle is a very special ground. Wedged in to Gorgie, the fans are right on top of you and there’s the smell of the brewery next to it. I still remember the smell of that brewery.
Edinburgh is a lovely city. We lived in South Queensferry, but that is actually a suburb of Edinburgh. Within half an hour you are in the city centre, where we often went. You had nice restaurants, lots of shops and there was plenty on offer. A very pleasant city. I never suffered from homesickness in Scotland. There were a few things that I had to get used to however. It was strange for it to get dark so early in the winter (around 16:00), especially when I lived in Aberdeen. But you get used to it very quickly. I can’t really say anything negative about Scotland. A very nice place to live and I am grateful that I got to experience the adventure. It has certainly enriched my life.
Unfortunately, in 93/94 my Scottish adventure suddenly came to an end. My father died and I wanted to live closer to my mother in Limburg. I had the chance to sign for Racing Genk and of course that was perfect. But to be honest, it wasn’t easy to leave Scotland. My wife and I were very happy living there. In Scotland, life was much more relaxed. People have much more time for each other. I think it’s because Scotland is isolated in terms of location. Scottish people need each other much more then in the Netherlands. People are much friendlier too in Scotland. Whenever I went to pick up the Sunday papers at the shops I had a chat with the vendor. He was also a Hearts fan and we would talk about how well the team had played, or not.
I’ve been back to Scotland twice since my career finished. Of course, I stopped in at Pittodrie and Tynecastle. They still knew who I was. One of the coaches at Hearts was a guy I had played with. I have seen a lot more of Scotland during those two trips than in all the years I lived there. As a footballer you live in a kind of rhythm. I knew Aberdeen and Edinburgh quite well, but during these trips I also seen other parts of the country. I also paid a visit to my friends in South Queensferry and went to visit Theo Snelders, who still lived in Scotland. I would love to return to Scotland in the future. I promised my son to take him with me to see a match between Hearts and Aberdeen. Actually, I should do that next season.”