How English boarding school teachers brought football to the Netherlands

Sports big shot Pim Mulier was responsible for the introduction of many sports in the Netherlands, including football. At least, that's the classic story. According to PhD student Jan Luitzen, this image needs to be adjusted. 'Mulier was an important promoter of English field sports at the end of the nineteenth century, but he is by no means at the beginning.' Central to Luitzen's thesis is Noorthey, a boarding school where English teachers introduced cricket and hockey from 1845 onwards, and football in 1854.

Ever since the publication of Pim Mulier's classic Athletiek en Voetbal (1894), the national canon has written that football was first played in the Netherlands in Haarlem ('in the winter of 1879-80'), and later also in Amsterdam, The Hague and Enschede. Jan Luitzen's research corrects this image based on the history of Noorthey (1820-1882), a Protestant Christian boarding school for elite boys in Veur (South Holland). Luitzen: ‘Cricket and hockey had been practiced there since 1845 and a form of football was played since 1854; English teachers took the ball with them from their homeland.’


Luitzen found the first real concrete evidence for a game of football on October 3, 1864, on the playing field near Noorthey, in a letter from one of the boarding school boys: ‘Now I will tell you what happened on Monday. At the beginning of the first hour the English teacher came up to me and said, "We are playing foot-ball." […] This game is very good when it is cold, as one has to kick a large ball, which is wrapped in leather and has almost 3 palm center line [= about 12 inches].’

Leerlingen en leraren op de speelweide van Noorthey, na een gezamenlijk potje voetbal (8 april 1894). Bron: Nationaal Archief.

According to Luitzen, it were the English teachers and students of Noorthey and later the alumni outside Noorthey who introduced English sports in the Netherlands. ‘For my research I really looked at a micro level: who exactly were involved and what exactly did they do? Then you get a different story than the one on a sociological level, which assumed that English traders, industrial craftsmen, sailors and diplomats brought the sports to the Netherlands.’

Jan Luitzen describes the step-by-step introduction and spread of the English sports of cricket, football and tennis in the second half of the nineteenth century. The group biography of the boys' boarding school also shows how the alumni later played a crucial role in further popularising English sports in the Netherlands, starting in the 1980s. ‘As sixteen or seventeen-year-olds Noorthey alumni moved, for example, to Amsterdam, The Hague and Haarlem. I know that one of them gave a speech about cricket at the gymnasium in Haarlem, after which a cricket club was immediately founded in the evening.' The Noorthey alumni founded the first sports clubs and also provided many directors of all kinds of sports networks.


Luitzen disproves several persistent myths, including the one about the foundation of the Haarlemsche Football Club: ‘H.F.C. is said to have been founded in 1879. But according to my research David van Lennep and Pim Mulier (with two others) started their cricket club Rood en Zwart in the spring of 1881. David was its first president. The boys switched from static cricket to more mobile rugby in the late autumn of 1881 and to association football in 1882 or 1883, renaming themselves from Rood en Zwart to Haarlemsche Football Club.'

Luitzen will obtain his doctorate from Radboud University on 23 November. The dissertation will be available as a commercial edition from November 25 under the title Vivat! Vivat Noorthey! A cultural-historical research into the introduction of cricket, football and lawn tennis in the Netherlands in bookstores or can be ordered via for € 19.95, ISBN: 978.94.6021.052.5.

Previous episodes of research in the picture can be found here.