The heart of the game



Sports are one of the biggest unifying factors for human beings, and some may say that football is the biggest connector of all. We play sports with our friends, celebrate our local team’s wins, and support each other through the losses. At the amateur football club DoCoS, the largest of its kind in Leiden, many people have dedicated themselves to the club as volunteers. How do they do this, and what are their reasons?


It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday morning, and a sunny day sets the scene for a matchday at DoCoS football club. Walking past the clean-cut pitches, the Whitney Houston classic ‘Greatest Love of All’ is blasting from the speakers spread across the terrain. Today will not be busy; the club is only hosting three matches. Despite this pace, a team of volunteers is still present at the football field. They’re watching the matches and giving the players some final training and advice. 


Reasons for volunteering

Most helpers at DoCoS started volunteering because their children began playing at the club. One volunteer, Sandra (51), who is at the start of her shift at the club’s bar, begins to disassemble the coffeemaker and clean all of its parts. She started working here 17 years ago when her sons began playing football at DoCoS. Her reasons for becoming a volunteer are clear to her. “I think that if your child plays a club sport, you need to participate and be involved as a parent,” Sandra says. “When I played netball as a young athlete, my parents were always there to support me. That’s when I realized how important it is to be involved in your child’s club as a parent.” Now, after both of her sons have quit playing football, Sandra is still actively involved in supporting the club. She’s been working for the club as the association’s manager since September of this year. If members or their families have questions, they can rely on Sandra for help. One of Sandra’s main reasons for continuing to be involved at DoCoS is the lack of helping hands at the club. “DoCoS doesn’t have a big board of directors, like at a pro club. Everything here is run by volunteers,” she adds. 


Brenda (49) stands at the large fridge behind the coffee machine, refilling Powerades and Cokes. Like Sandra, she also made her start volunteering at the club when her daughter began playing football. Brenda’s daughter has since quit, but her youngest sons are still actively playing at DoCoS. Brenda has been volunteering at the club for ten years now, but she was initially intrigued to come help because of a special club offer. “Parents could get fifty euros back from their child’s membership fees,” Brenda says. “That arrangement is not in place anymore, but I kept volunteering because the club feels like a family. Also, I  think it’s important to help your kid’s club because your support makes it easier for them to just relax and enjoy playing football.” 


Outside the clubhouse, the speakers have changed from Whitney Houston to Guns ‘N Roses. On the pitch in front of the clubhouse, John (33) and his father Kees (65) are training a team of twelve-year-old boys and girls. While he lets his son take over the training, Kees says that he has been involved at DoCoS for a long time. Kees started playing football for the club in 1970, but had to quit after 10 years due to a torn ACL. When his son John started playing football, Kees returned to DoCoS. “One day, after a match John played, a trainer from the club came up to me and asked if I’d also like to coach,” Kees says. “I agreed because it seemed like a fun idea. After taking some courses, I started coaching my son’s group.”


Kees trained John and his team for around fifteen years, until John was done playing football. After John left the club, Kees decided he also had enough, and quit volunteering once again. However, when John’s eight-year-old son walked onto the field at DoCoS, Kees made his second comeback. Kees: “I remembered how much fun it was to coach the younger teams, and I wanted to feel that thrill again.”


After Kees walks back onto the pitch to analyze the young player’s skills, his son John starts to discuss his reasons for helping the club. After John’s son began playing football, John himself felt like he could teach the young players a thing or two about the game. “I wanted to share my experiences and my passion for football with the kids,” John says. The father-son team is grateful to have the chance to participate in their hobby together. “It’s just nice to spend time with your dad… and it’s fun to teach the kids together and to watch them grow, that makes volunteering worthwhile,” says John.


The club feeling 

Back inside the clubhouse, Sandra has finished cleaning the coffee machine and has started helping Brenda with refilling the fridges. Sandra talks more about why she stayed as a volunteer after both of her sons left the club, “I just made so many good friends. You come across so many people when you’re helping in the club, and that makes it truly worthwhile.” Brenda agrees with her: “You get to know everyone here. On Saturday mornings, I’m always right here, behind the bar. People come up to me for a small chat, or young players come by to tell me that they scored a goal. It’s heartwarming, and I love  to see everyone passing by.”  


After carrying the empty soda crates into the back of the kitchen, the women both tell how the club is a very tight community. “During COVID, for instance,” says Sandra, “we tried everything to keep the players in training. We made little tournaments and made sure there was always something to do.” Brenda continues: “One of the events that I think is very special about our club is the Manon Pagnier tournament. Manon Pagnier was one of our club coordinators, and she passed away very suddenly two years ago. We created the tournament in her honor. Activities like this make our club feel like a big family.”


Back out on the field, the kids have finished their training. At the sound of ‘Simply Red’, they slowly gather the balls they used on the field and run back to the dressing rooms. Kees and John remain outside and talk about what they like most about the club. “One of the things that I appreciate is the interaction between all the teams,” says John. “Every week, we elect a different junior team as ‘Team-of-the-week’. The junior players can walk up the field with our big league players and take penalty shots on their goalie during the break. You can tell the kids enjoy that.” Kees agrees with his son: “It’s beautiful that these junior teams can play alongside the older, more experienced teams within the club. The junior’s want to impress the bigger players, and I think it motivates them to push to their full potential. The motivation you see on their faces when their older peers watch them play is indescribable.”


At DoCoS, the pitches are starting to get empty. Brenda and Sandra are cleaning up the last tables inside, wiping away some crumbs into a trash can. John and Kees pat their pupils on their backs, thank them for coming and praise them for their work. ‘Simply Red’ is turned off on the speakers. The volunteers walk to their cars, start the engine, and drive away. Their job is done for today, but they will keep showing up for their club.