The great pioneer of Dutch international football was Bok de Korver. He set the standard and helped build the reputation of Oranje as a football powerhouse from the sport’s first tournament in 1908 until today. In 1905 Holland played its first international match. In 1907 Holland suffered its worst ever defeat, which was inflicted by England in Darlington. In 1908 Holland took bronze at the Olympics. In 1912 Holland took bronze again at the Olympics. In 1913 Holland defeated England for the first time. In each of these occasions the pivotal player, the playmaker, was Bok de Korver. The legendary center-half from Sparta Rotterdam was the axis around which Holland’s first successful generation was built.
Born in 1883, just four years after Pim Mulier founded the first club in Holland, Bok de Korver grew up during the sport’s pioneering days. De Korver’s talent was recognized at an early age and he was already playing for Sparta as a teenager. In 1905 official international matches were being organised all over Europe and despite numerous attempts to play England, Holland’s first opponent was Belgium. The twenty-two year old Bok de Korver was selected as center-half (spil). In the first two years of Oranje, de Korver’s role was especially important as the team played without a trainer. He would eventually dominate the national team almost a decade.
Bok de Korver
Bok de Korver was the most complete player of his generation. Not only was he renowned for his great defensive skills, de Korver was a playmaker of great vision, insight and intelligence. His abilities as the on-field leader made him much more important to the team than his goal grabbing peers. His generation had the arduous task of laying the foundation on which almost a century of tradition and standards have been built. De Korver’s leadership was instrumental in making this first Oranje one of the best teams on the continent. Indeed, after the 1908 Olympics, the London press was full of praise of the skills of the mustached leader of Oranje. Four years later Oranje was widely viewed as one of Europe’s best teams and consequently amongst the favourites to take the gold. This status took a dent when de Korver was sidelined with an injury sustained in the first match against the Swedish hosts. Holland ultimately had to settle for the bronze medal but were welcomed as returning conquerors by their fellow countrymen. De Korver and his men were treated to the first scenes of football hysteria Holland had ever seen. The players were paraded by horse-drawn carriage through the mob-lined streets of Amsterdam.
A year later Oranje attained its greatest triumph until then with the defeat of England at the Haagse Houtrust. De Korver was instrumental in that match and held his team together during many an English attack. When Holland had taken the lead again, de Korver consolidated his defense and the Dutch strategy became one of resistance, it worked. It was to be, however, the last great feat of his international career, he retired from the national team shortly thereafter. The great pre-War generation which he had molded were heavy favourites to take the 1916 Olympic title but the outbreak of the World War I prevented them from attempting to realise their ambitions. The War marked the definitive end of the career of the great visionary from Sparta.
All in all, Bok de Korver played 31 international matches (16 were against Belgium) in 8 years. He was captain of Oranje fifteen times, collected two Olympic bronze medals and scored one goal. De Korver lived to see Holland continue its dominant role in international football up until World War II. Unfortunately his death in 1957 was during Oranje’s darkest period. The legendary pioneer of the Dutch international game was never able to see the great heights of Total Football, a time when Oranje was again as feared as when he had graced its fields.