Friday, 23 April 2010

Heracles Almelo (The Netherlands)

Herecles are a top flight team from Almelo on the Easternmost edge of The Netherlands. They were formed back in 1903, and are named after the heroic figure of Heracles, the demigod son of the Greek god Zeus. They have twice won the Dutch national title, in 1927 and in the war time tournament in 1941. Since that time though they had spent much time in the second tier, reclaiming their rightful place in the Eredivisie in the 2005/6 season, where they finished 13th at their first stab back.

In all they have spent ten seasons in the Eredivisie since its inception as a fully professional league in 1956, including their current five season stretch, which has seen them become a respectable and very watchable mid-table team. Their astroturfed Polman Stadion ground has a cosy capacity of 8,500, which it has come close to filling in most games since their elevation back to the top table of Dutch football.

The club are perhaps most notable for being the first in The Netherlands to employ a black player. South African Steve Mokone was beloved to Heracles fans as The Black Meteor when he arrived in 1958, after a short spell at Coventry City. He was a lively character, who also saw service at Cardiff City, Barcelona, Torino and Valencia, as well as being a regular star in the South African national squad for many years. He sadly also spent a spell in prison for knocking his wife about, and is the subject of a Dutch novel and film called De Zwarte Meteoor.

Other notable former Heracles players include the popular Dutch journeyman Ricky van den Bergh, the promising Japanese international Sōta Hirayama, solid Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan, much capped Canadian Rob Friend and the legendary Rudy Degenaar, a member of the Surinamese exhibition team the Colouful 11 who were all but wiped out in the worst plane crash in Dutch aviation history in 1989 - a plane that famous Dutch names like Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Aron Winter were all due to catch.

Of their current squad, Qays Shayesteh is thought to be the only Afghani currently playing in a major European league, and keeper Martin Pieckenhagen was Hamburg's first choice custodian for many years. For team team from such a rural location, they have a refreshingly cosomopolitan feel to them. All hail to the Heraclieden!

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