The end of 2019 is upon us, and as such, Club 25 owes its readers a Christmas Special before breaking out a new calendar for 2020. It’s been a succesful year for the site both in terms of the standard of shirts features and visitor numbers, but just like last year our ‘Christmas’-shirt has but a tenuous link to the holidays – namely it being red and green this time around. Introducing a matchworn shirt of Dutch side N.E.C.;
You’d typically be hard-pressed to find clubs who play in red and green. Fluminense of Brazil spring to mind but they play in maroon and green, leaving a handful of teams the world over like Maritimo Funchal and the national team of Portugal, CS Sedan of France, Lokomotiv Moscow from Russia, Glentoran from Northern Ireland, Ternana from Italy, and coincidentally, the Maltese club we visited last month.
N.E.C. are thus one of a select few in terms of their colours, although the particular configuration seen on this 2009/2010 shirt – a ‘harlequin’ with black side panels – is neither the classic nor the current design associated with the club. Instead, that honour goes to the ‘Balkenshirt’ which is plain red with a green hestband piped in black. Long considered one of the ugliest in Dutch football, the club decided to get rid of it in favour of plain red in 2000 before introducing the first variant of the red/green harlequin in 2001.
For 15 long years, fans bemoaned this decision to rebrand with many calling for an immediate return to the Balkenshirt when finally, in 2016, the club’s board allowed for a vote between the classic chest band and the modern kit. The winner would be pressed into production as home shirt for the 2016/2017 season, and with a slim majority (53,51% versus 46,49%), it was the Balkenshirt that came out on top – restoring the plain red with green chestband for good.
This leaves our shirt in a slightly awkward position as a modern relic. After all, this design was worn for just 15 seasons, making it nowhere near as long-lived or loved as the Balkenshirt. Yet, for younger fans, it was really the only type of shirt design they had ever seen their club wear. N.E.C. have nonetheless stuck to the shirt (the tops for the years following 2016/2017 all adhered to the Balkenshirt model even without being put to a vote), and sales figures are believed to be quite good, so it would seem that the half-and-half shirts worn between 2001 and 2016 are now well and truly consigned to the kit hamper of history.
That’s not to say that they don’t still look quite good; although perhaps not to everyone’s tastes, red and green make for a solid colour combination that was effectively punctuated by a healthy dose of black. Because N.E.C. were also not bound by tradition during this decade-and-a-half, they also saw fit to experiment quite a bit with how much black was used; the 2005/2006 shirt was dominated by this colour, while it was almost completely absent in 2015/2016. An anomaly on a whole other level was seen in 2004/2005, when a quartered shirt was introduced.
The club’s crest, which is still in use at the time of writing, was introduced alongside the harlequin shirts in 2001. It effectively makes use of the club’s three colours, augmented with white outlines and a semi-circular cutout to house the city’s name and the club’s year of founding. The initials N.E.C. stand for Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie (Nijmegen Unity Combination).
The two stylized eagles, almost comical in how angry they appear to be, are taken from the city’s coat of arms; these stem from Nijmegen receiving town privileges from German King Henry VII in 1230, which included the right to use a heraldic dual-headed eagle. However, the city’s history can be traced back much further, to around 5 AD and the time of the Roman Empire when it was called Noviomagus (meaning as much as ‘new market’ or ‘new plain’). This makes Nijmegen one of if not the oldest city in the Netherlands (most of which was still submerged by the North Sea when the first settlers arrived on the banks of the river Waal, where modern Nijmegen lies).
Although a great honour for the city, N.E.C. itself is beaten in age by a few other Dutch clubs including their much-hated rival of Vitesse, who play in Arnhem which itself is a stone’s throw away from Nijmegen. The two teams contest the Gelderse Derby (after Gelderland, the province in which both are located) which is one of the feistiest matchups in Dutch football. N.E.C. has the most wins to its name (43 versus Vitesse’s 38) but hasn’t met Vitesse since 2016/2017 being relegated at the end of the 2016/2017 season. It was N.E.C.’s almost-namesake of NAC Breda who beat them in the relegation play-offs that year.
In a move that sees the worlds of club and international football intersect, N.E.C. was sponsored by Curaçao in a partnership between the club, investor Gregor Elias, and the football association of Curaçao – putting N.E.C. among the likes of Arsenal (Rwanda) and Atletico Madrid (Azerbaijan) and arguably every club that strikes a deal with Fly Emirates in having the name of a nation adorn their shirts.
Although the exchange of talent between Curaçao and N.E.C. was part of the deal, no real transfers ever materialized beyond a couple of trials – rendering this partnership a bit of a lame duck outside of the funds the club got to add to its coffers. Originally struck ahead of the 2008/2009 season by Curaçao and Leen Looyen, N.E.C. club official and national team coach of the island nation, the deal was not renewed past its initial runtime of three years, which meant that the playfully designed white letters disappeared from the shirt at the conclusion of the 2010/2011 season.
A very, very minimal collar added a bit of extra black to the shirt in the form of a tiny black stripe running from one side to the other. Of interest in this picture is the fact that one can see a seam running down the back of the shirt; this is due to the front and back being comprised of two panels each, one in red and one in green, which are joined down the middle of both sides. Quite a bizarre way of constructing a shirt considering sublimation of colours had long been a thing already back in 2009, but then we must note that this is a Nike teamwear shirt.
During the ‘Curaçao years’, N.E.C. and its fans were stuck with Nike and its dull, uninspired templates as the brand still saw fit to include smaller Dutch teams in its stable of customers (a practice the American brand abandoned halfway through this past decade). We believe the deal between the club and Nike might have been brokered by Fabian Peppinck, a Nijmegen-born former professional footballer who never actually played for his hometown team but did work for the Americans as part of their sales team during N.E.C.’s Nike years. A coincidence or not, Peppinck’s former clubs of RKC Waalwijk, TOP Oss, and FC Eindhoven all signed deals with Nike between 2000 and 2010.
It’s perhaps not really relevant to note who was responsible for N.E.C. playing in Nike products, as much as it is to consider that it mercifully lasted for just four seasons and produced just two home shirts.
For 2007/2008 and 2008/2009, a retro-modern effort with floppy collar was produced while for 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, ‘our’ shirt was used. It was unusual for both these shirts to have been kept and used for two seasons each, as before and after N.E.C.’s association with Nike, shirts were rotated out every single season; Lotto had supplied new kits every season prior to Nike, and Jako, who took over in 2011, did the same.
Shirts that have been matchworn in the Dutch Eredivisie after 2006 always come with the sought-after pentagonal league patch, and so too does our top. This was the earliest form of the Eredivisie’s emblem, which has since undergone a few redesigns with new (charity) sponsors – Scoren voor Gezondheid (scoring for health) was the first to feature, being an initiative by the league itself.
As is standard, the patch was applied to the right sleeve, which on this N.E.C. shirt is piped in green. The left sleeve has a red cuff, making for a nice bit of asymmetry to complement the half-and-half design of the body and add further detail to the overall package.
Flipping the shirt over (exposing it to a slight drizzle which hampered our photography session) we find the squad number four and the name of defender Bram Nuytinck, as well as an outing for Nijol Olie, which runs a number of Texaco gas stations in and around Nijmegen.
The number four on this shirt is key in determining which season – 2009/2010 or 2010/2011 – this shirt was used in seeing as Nuytinck had his squad number changed in the summer of 2010. Enjoying his formative years in Malden, a village just south of Nijmegen, Nuytinck played for local club SV Juliana ’31 before being scouted by N.E.C. at age eleven, joining the professional club’s academy in 2001. In the 2009/2010 season, he made his debut versus FC Groningen bearing the number 35 on his back.
Nuytinck played 13 league matches in his debut season, to the point where he earned the starting number of four ahead of 2010/2011 (thus confirming that our shirt was worn by the man himself that season). He was fielded in all but one league match during the 10/11 campaign, firmly establishing himself as a crowd favourite and earning the interest of foreign clubs due to his robust style of play (as seen above, with Nuytinck making life tough on Ajax’ Mounir El Hamdaoui).
Nuytinck ended up totalling 75 league appearances for N.E.C. including just 2 in 2012/2013, when he was purchased by Belgian champions Anderlecht early in the season. In Belgium, the defender would make his debut in the Champions League and win the domestic title three times, before making another big money transfer to Udinese of Italy in 2017.
Nuytinck had little trouble acclimatizing to Serie A as he made 27 appearances in both 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, with the defender now into his third season in Udine at the time of writing.
He remains well-liked in Nijmegen for being a homegrown boy and a strong central defender, as well as serving as a reminder of how far N.E.C. players can go with a bit of perseverance and talent. His name, stuck onto the shirt with plastic-like stickers that are slightly see-through, also represents a fond memory of the club’s years in the Eredivisie. Following relegation in 2016/2017, the team – previously a mainstay in the top flight – has remained in the Keuken Kampioen Divisie, playing the likes of Go Ahead Eagles, SC Telstar, and SC Cambuur.
One last look at the back, which features black sidepanels that in pinch in a wee bit further towards the centre of the shirt on the back than they do on the front.
Overall, this is not a terrifically bad shirt in terms of design with its colourset really doing a great job at making sure that any N.E.C. shirt is memorable. A great player like Bram Nuytinck having worn this particular top makes it extra special though, more so than the Nike logo on the chest or the slightly eccentric sponsorship. Hopefully we can meet Mr. Nuytinck to have it signed, but until then, we’ll keep this shirt safely tucked away in our collection.
On that note, we’d like to end today’s article and thank you for bearing with us throughout 2019. We’ve written and published 43 articles to the tune of over 100,000 words when combined, and genuinely appreciate the kind support and attention you have afforded us the past twelve months. As we now withdraw for a short Christmas recess, we hope we can count on your continued patronage in 2020 and beyond, as we continue to uphold our pledge of bringing you an interesting and well-researched shirt review most every week of the year.
Happy holidays, and all the best for 2020!
The Editor-in-Chief of Club 25 Football.