The Diary: Long-range lover from Rotterdam

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The Independent Online
HANS DE ROON lives on the south side of Rotterdam. "Five minutes from Feyenoord's ground," he said. Not that the retired town hall clerk ever makes the trip to De Kuip, The Tub, as the Stadion Feijenoord is popularly known. De Roon is as passionate about his football as any Rotterdammer. Probably more so. Indeed, just to be with the footballing love of his life he endures a gruelling 20-hour trip. The Rotterdam resident is a season-ticket holder at Sunderland's Stadium of Light.

"I set off at 9pm on Thursday," he told The Diary as he prepared to take his seat in the West Stand yesterday. "I take a Eurolines coach from Rotterdam to London Victoria, via Calais and the tunnel, then a National Express coach to Sunderland. I arrive at 5pm on Friday and stay with my good friends Rob and Gill Ford and their daughters, Nichola and Leanna. The journey is long and tiring but when I'm in Sunderland I am always happy.

"I do have a soft spot for Feyenoord. I used to support them. But the passion for football in Holland is nothing compared to what I have found in Sunderland. I will go to see Feyenoord again one day, I hope... when they play Sunderland in the Uefa Cup."

The long-distance love affair began for de Roon back in the 1950s, when Sunderland were in Rotterdam for a friendly against Sparta. "I just heard the name, 'Sunderland', and was fascinated by it," he reflected. He took out subscriptions to the Sunderland programme and the Football Echo and started to make regular trips to Roker Park.

Then, in 1994, he moved in next door to his beloved red and whites: he took early retirement, at the age of 50, and bought a terraced house in Roker Avenue. Though he returned to Rotterdam 14 months ago ("I missed my family, my friends and my music - I play banjo in a Dixieland band"), the devoted Dutchman kept his seat in the Stadium of Light.

"For me, it's a perfect combination, living in Holland and coming to Sunderland for the home games," he said. "There have been many low times in supporting Sunderland - relegations and the play-off disaster at Wembley - but that makes the success we are having now all the more enjoyable. I keep turning to page 324 of BBC teletext to look at the league table. To see Sunderland in fourth position... Ah, it's a wonderful sight."

Kicking his heels

UNLIKE Hans de Roon, Estelle Cruyff was never very keen on the North- east of England. Johan's niece has been a happy woman since her other half, Ruud Gullit, has rejoined her at their luxury pad in Amstelveen on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Instead of catching a flight from Schipol to Newcastle, Gullit, having bitten the managerial bullet at St James' Park, merely takes a five-minute drive to Buitenweldert to maintain an involvement in the beautiful game.

While licking the wounds he suffered in his losing battle with Alan Shearer, and waiting for "the right offer" to come along (John Toshack's old job at the Bernabeu was, apparently, a wrong 'un), the dreadlocked Dutchman has been playing fifth-team football for the Amsterdam club AFC. And he has been doing so for pounds 1m less than the pounds 1m salary he was earning at Newcastle. AFC are an amateur club.

Other side of Koen

RUUD GULLIT may still be a tidy sweeper at the age of 37 but Fanny Blankers- Koen is still a sprightly soul at 82. The "Flying Dutchwoman" who struck gold four times at the London Olympics in 1948 leapt to her feet, punched the air, and screamed "I've won! I've won!" when it was brought to her attention - at the International Amateur Athletic Federation's annual awards gala in Monaco - that she had been voted the female athlete of the century.

Not that the octogenarian possesses an ego the size of her towering track and field reputation. Far from it. She was simply overwhelmed with surprise. She thought she had been invited to the awards press conference merely to talk about her track and field memories in the 20th century. A quarter of an hour passed before the penny suddenly dropped - and a deserved penny too, it has to be said.

No other female athlete, before or since, has won four gold medals at a single Olympic Games. And Blankers-Koen could have won more. She was restricted by the rules of the day to competing in four events - the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4x100m relay. She held the world records for the high jump and long jump but was precluded from contesting either event. She also, of course, lost the best years of her sporting life to the Second World War.

It was Jack Crump, secretary of the Amateur Athletic Federation, who spurred Blankers-Koen to her famous quartet of victories. He said the mother of two was too old, at 30, to do anything other than hope for a medal. He was wrong. But, then, so was Blankers-Koen. "When I got home from London I thought people would soon forget," the golden great- grandmother reflected. "But I don't think they're going to, are they?" Certainly not.

Otto's new motto

IN THE likely absence of a footballer of the century award, Heine Otto is happy to have been voted the 27th best player to have worn the red and white of Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder spent five seasons distinguishing himself in struggling Boro sides. He was top scorer in the 1981-82 season - with four goals.

These days he has a job not so much with a future as a job at The Future - as the Ajax youth complex, De Toekomst, is called. Otto, Boro old boy made good, is the man in charge of the envied Ajax academy.

Price of failure

AND FINALLY... four months after Ruud Gullit, the manager, became surplus to requirements at St James' Park, Ruud Gullit, the autobiography, has become surplus stock at the Newcastle ground. Copies of Ruud Gullit: My Autobiography can be found on the bargain shelf at Newcastle United's club shop - knocked down from pounds 16.99 to pounds 2.99.

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