The End Of An Era: Roda And Fortuna To Merge

Two illustrious Dutch clubs will no longer exist after this campaign has come to an end. Roda JC and Fortuna Sittard have made the decision to merge and continue under the name of Sporting Limburg.
Fortuna Sittard were a relative young outfit, founded in 1968 after a merger between Sittardia and Fortuna’54. The latter were the first professional football team ever in The Netherlands and were quite successful. They won the KNVB Beker twice and finished second in the Dutch league in 1957. The Sittard side used to play their matches in De Baandert. However, they left their home ground for a new stadium in 1998. The Fortuna Stadion has a capacity of 12,500.

Despite the fact that Fortuna have never really made a huge impact on Dutch football when it comes to results, they were still responsible for several shock results when current Holland coach Bert van Marwijk was in charge from 1997 until 2000. Big teams such as Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord never travelled to Sittard with a comfortable feeling in that period. Their best European result dates from the 1984-85 campaign. They beat Copenhagen and Wisla Krakow before eventually being stopped by Everton in the quarter-final of the Cup Winners Cup.

The Sittard outfit might not have won too much silverware but there have certainly been some illustrious players at Fortuna. Local hero Rene Maessen made almost 450 league appearances, while English forward John Linford developed into a local hero with his workmanship. Furthermore, players such as Ruud Hesp, Kevin Hofland, Wilfred Bouma, Fernando Ricksen, Willy Dullens, Faas Wilkes and Frans de Munck were all active at Fortuna in some point of their career. The most famous player with a Fortuna history is Mark van Bommel though. The current Bayern Munich skipper made his official debut at the age of 16 and was appointed Fortuna captain two years later. Van Bommel not only made several international appearances for Holland, he also played for big teams like PSV and Barcelona.  

Like Fortuna, Roda JC are no strangers to mergers either. The Kerkrade side came into being by the merger of Roda Sport and Rapid JC in 1962. The latter won the Eredivisie in 1956 and were a force to be reckoned with back then. Roda played their home fixtures in Sportpark Kaalheide, but moved to Parkstad Limburg Stadion in 2000. Their current stadium has a capacity of 19,500 seats.

Roda were promoted to the Eredivisie in 1973 and the Kerkrade side have been regular top 10 finishers in the Eredivisie for the past 20 years. They even finished runners-up in 1994-95. They achieved their biggest successes in the KNVB Beker though. They won the cup twice and lost four other finals. The club's most memorable European campaign was in 2001-02. After a 1-0 defeat to AC Milan in Kerkrade, Roda caused panic at the San Siro by winning the return leg by the same score. Roda even took the lead in the penalty shoot-out, but ended up losing the series.

The Kerkrade side also had a string of notable players to suit up for them. Johan de Kock, Ruud Hesp, Eric van der Luer, Marco van Hoogdalem and Rene Trost are among the more famous local players, but African stars like Tijjani Babangida and Arouna Kone also played for Roda. However, most famous Roda player is without a doubt Dick Advocaat. The current Zenit St. Petersburg coach managed the national teams of Netherlands and South Korea and was also head coach at Rangers and PSV.

However, Fortuna have been struggling to keep their heads above water ever since 2002’s relegation to the Eerstedivisie, while Roda are battling against relegation from the Eredivisie this campaign. Additionally, both sides are being plagued by financial trouble. Especially Fortuna, who were fighting against bankruptcy and the KNVB had reportedly made it clear that the Sittard outfit wouldn’t receive a license for next season. Roda on the other hand had their hopes high that Australian businessman David Thorne made the decision to invest in the club. However, things did not go as planned and negotiations about a merger were re-opened, much to the dismay of the fans of both teams.

When Limburg's regional leader brought up the FC Limburg idea a year ago he needed police protection for a month. A series of demonstrations took place against the merger and several other higher-ups were also threatened. A group of Fortuna fans started the Proud of Fortuna (TOF) foundation in order to raise funds in a last attempt to save the club’s own identity, but their plans eventually failed and a merger appeared to be inevitable. It remains to be seen though whether the new club will attract a big home crowd when you have a look at the reactions at fan sites of the two teams.

“I’d rather die than visit a match of Sporting Limburg.”

“A bunch of people without any knowledge of football have killed two beautiful teams.”

“This merger won’t help either of the two teams, it’s a crappy solution and I can’t support this side.”

Sporting Limburg is officially the result of a merger between Roda and Fortuna Sittard and the new team will play their home matches in Roda’s current stadium Parkstad Limburg Stadion in Kerkrade. Additionally, they will use Roda’s license and the majority of the squad will be former Roda players. Angelo Simone is the only Fortuna Sittard player with a contract for the upcoming campaign; all the other Fortuna players have expiring deals. It seems very unlikely that more than two or three other Fortuna players will be offered a contract at Sporting Limburg. The only thing that will possibly make the Fortuna fans smile a bit is that Sporting Limburg’s youth academy will be located in Sittard.

The new team will start in the Eredivisie next season. However, if Roda are relegated, it would mean that Sporting Limburg would start their new adventure in the Eerstedivisie. They don’t look too ambitious anyway though and target a regular top 12 finish in the future. Nevertheless, the most important part for Sporting Limburg is that they will make a fresh start, without any of the financial troubles from the past.

Goodbye Fortuna Sittard, Goodbye Roda JC, Welcome Sporting Limburg!

Stefan Coerts,