Dutch sides Roda JC and Fortuna Sittard are preparing to merge to create Limburg FC due to respective financial difficulties but such a unification means size matters greatly in modern football.
Lloyds TSB and HBOS did it, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch are set to do it, and now Roda JC and Fortuna Sittard are preparing for it. But while the above two examples involve financial institutions recently hit by the credit crunch, the latter involves two Dutch football clubs from the province of Limburg. Yes, Roda JC and Fortuna Sittard are preparing to merge to create FC Limburg while the other two clubs in the province, MVV and VVV-Venlo may not have an option but to join them in the near future.
Roda JC are currently ply their trade in Holland’s top flight, while Fortuna Sittard are in Eerste Divisie but once fully merged, the newly formed FC Limburg will compete in the top division. They will play at Roda’s Parkstad Limburg Stadion while the Fortuna Stadion will then be used as a youth training centre for the club.
It is certainly a curious merger but one which both clubs, and indeed the Dutch federation feel necessary. Fortuna are in greater trouble of the two as they are on the brink of bankruptcy with debts of over €16 million and rent costs of €1.2 million per season. It is hoped the merger will increase finances by €20million (£18million), and in turn improve their on-field fortunes.
The clubs tried to merge in 1996 but opted against it though this time round are set to go ahead with it even if some fans are not happy. Some fans and sponsors of Fortuna Sittard have started a foundation named Trots op Fortuna (Proud of Fortuna) in December 2008 to save the club. Since then almost €300,000 have been raised while €500,000 would mean they could place someone on the board. In theory the move will attract a larger fan base but die-hard fans may not have the same affection for Limburg FC as for their former clubs.
The merger may be a sign of things to come. There are other small clubs in Dutch football who some may feel are just making up the numbers. The Dutch FA is seeking to reduce membership of Holland’s second tier to 18 clubs and the current financial environment may mean there is no other option but to join forces.
But while it makes sense financially, the rivalry, passion, glory and the individual identity that makes football is not there in the business world.
This move is necessary to prolong the life of the involved clubs, albeit in a different form and has shown that as football becomes more globalised, size matters in order to be successful. If the other two Limburg clubs of MVV and VVV join, the four clubs would boast a combined attendance of 29,600, which would make them the fourth-best supported club in the Netherlands.
Arsenal had to move to a bigger stadium to compete in the long term and even if small clubs can perform wonders it is difficult to sustain. Germany’s Hoffenheim are currently top of the Bundesliga but even with a wealthy backer how well can they compete, especially in Europe? They have a relatively small fan base while the money coming in may not be enough just as Portsmouth have recently have found out. Maybe mergers are not too distant a reality in English football?