Anouk Hoogendijk says goodbye to the game

Anouk Hoogendijk played her last game of football in an Ajax shirt at ADO Den Haag’s 15,000-capacity Kyocera Stadium last night. One of the greatest Dutch footballers retires from the game. The Dutch Cup final against PSV was the perfect way Anouk – a footballer who changed the face of women’s football in the Netherlands – could say farewell to her family, fans and the beautiful game. She leaves the game as, unquestionably, one of the Netherlands’ all-time greats.

The 2016-17 season certainly witnessed the end of a glorious era in Dutch football. Manon Melis hung up her boots at the end of last year. It was the first of many retirements involving the Dutch team that reached the semi finals of the 2009 European Championship. FC Twente’s Kirsten van de Ven and former Ajax captain Petra Hogewoning announced their retirement from the beautiful game at the end of last season. Ajax captain Daphne Koster and teammate Anouk Hoogendijk also announced their retirement from the sport not too long ago.

Anouk Hoogendijk has played her last game for Ajax, bringing an end to a glittering career on the field. She is bowing out on a high after helping Ajax win the domestic double – the Eredivisie and the Dutch Cup – for the first time in the club’s history.

Since her debut for Oranje more than a decade ago, the 32-year-old has emerged as arguably one of the most iconic sportswomen of her generation, earning 103 caps, and being crowned champion of the Netherlands on 3 occasions. Hoogendijk has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world. In 2014, she won the FA Cup with Arsenal.

However, Anouk’s journey started many years ago. She came to prominence aged 13, as a contestant on the Geef Nooit Op (Never Give Up) TV show. It was her wish to train with FC Utrecht, a team she later played for in the Eredivisie. Dreams do come true. It is just a matter of believing in your dreams and pursuing them.

The news of  Anouk Hoogendijk’s retirement is no real surprise but I really wished she would continue playing football. She had planned to retire last year after an injury-plagued season but wanted to end her career on a high by winning the Eredivisie with Ajax. And guess what? Hoogendijk won league title with Ajax after making 23 league appearances this season. She only made 7 league appearances the season before – a season she wants to forgot. Ajax lost the league title on the penultimate day of the season. To add insult to injury, Ajax lost the Dutch Cup final to ADO Den Haag.

Born in Woerden, Utrecht, Hoogendijk’s talent was spotted at a very early age. Anouk was just seven years old when she joined the girls team of amateur football club CSW. She scored goals for fun and outclassed her peers. She joined CSW boys team at the request of the Dutch football association (KNVB) because she was very talented. She played with the boys for three years, between 1997 and 2000, before joining SV Argon and later moving to Legmeervogels.

The journey begins: Hoogendijk (kneeling far left), pictured with her CSW boys teammates, aged 14 in 1999

At 19, she joined SV Saestrum, where she enjoyed a lot of success. Anouk won back to back Dutch titles in 2005 and 2006. She played a key role as her team won the Dutch Super Cup in those two years as well.

Hoogendijk’s childhood dream came true when now-defunct FC Utrecht formed a women’s team in 2007. Utrecht joined the newly formed Eredivisie and signed Anouk Hoogendijk. It had always been her dream to play for FC Utrecht. Anouk won the Dutch Cup and Dutch Super Cup in 2010. She left Utrecht in 2011 and made a switch to English FA WSL side Bristol Academy. Her time in England lasted only a season as she returned to the Netherlands to rejoin FC Utrecht. Hoogendijk was on the move again as she joined Ajax in May 2012. She is the club’s second ever signing after Daphne Koster.

In January 2014, Hoogendijk signed for English club Arsenal. Her time in London was less successful due to persistent injuries. She only played 3 matches for the Londoners before eventually returning to Ajax for the 2014–15 season. She missed out on Ajax’s 2014 Dutch Cup success. The year 2014 was not a great one for Hoogendijk.

Anouk was amazed at how things were done differently at Ajax when she joined Arsenal:

”Here, we have to wash our football shirts ourselves. I had to laugh when I first heard it. I always cook here but at Ajax there was always a buffet ready for the players. What I also find strange is that players get to the club ten minutes before training. In the Netherlands, I was always at the club an hour before the training session and I was not even the first person to arrive there. Here in Arsenal, I get there 30 minutes before time so that I can have some time at the physio and time to prepare for training.”

Back at Ajax, Anouk Hoogendijk struggled with injuries and almost retired prematurely. Ajax also failed to win any titles in her first 2 campaigns back at the club. Ajax lost consecutive Dutch Cup finals and 2015 and 2016. The disappointment of 2016 spurred her on to one of the best seasons of her career, Ajax’s Dutch Cup and Eredivisie double. Hoogendijk was an integral part of the squad this season. She won the Eredivisie with the Amsterdammers 2 weeks ago and ended her career on a high by winning the Dutch Cup final last night. Ajax beat PSV 2-0 in the final to win the domestic double as well. She has won 9 titles in 2 countries.

On the international stage, centurion Hoogendijk has experienced highs and lows. She was a member of the Dutch squad that qualified for their first ever World Cup 6 years later. However, her World Cup ended in big disappointment as she made no appearances at the tournament in Canada. Then national team manager Roger Reijners will never be forgiven for such injustice. EURO 2013 also ended in disappointment as Oranje exited the tournament in the Group stage. 

September 3, 2009 – Anouk Hoogendijk converted the winning penalty as Oranje beat France 5-4 on penalties to the reach the semi finals of EURO 2009. She had become a household name. Her winner will forever go down in history as the moment that changed women’s football in the Netherlands. It is arguably her most famous moment.

That goal changed everything. It was Hoogendijk’s biggest contribution to women’s football in the Netherlands. Oranje attained NOC*NSF’s (Dutch Olympic Committee*Dutch Sports Federation) ‘A-status’ for reaching the semi finals and thus qualified to receive a monthly allowance. It also saved most Eredivisie clubs from folding and losing key players.

794,000 people watched Anouk’s decider live on Dutch TV. The semi final against England received better ratings because of Oranje’s performance. An extra 1 million people watched that tie live. Women’s football became the new wave.

Since that goal against France in 2009, Hoogendijk has become the most famous footballer in the Netherlands – a Dutch celebrity. Ajax players are not allowed to sign sponsorship deals with other conflicting parties because Adidas sponsors Ajax. However, Nike sponsors Anouk since 2009, with a host of lucrative sponsorship deals and salary payments. But all that gain has not been for her own self. She also participates in Nike’s brand campaigns. This shows how big a player she is. She is very much interested in the growth of the sport. Anouk never had a female role model but she has become one for young girls who also want to be like her. In 2015, she published her book Balverliefd – tips and tricks for young football players.

In her 13 years as an Oranje international, Hoogendijk has witnessed changes in society that have led to changes in girls and in one way or the other led to changes in football. She has been a victim of sexism several times due to the culture of the environment she works in and there are far too many sexist incidents to describe.

At 32, Hoogendijk is definitely at the age where most footballers hang up their boots and after winning the double it is the perfect time to leave the game. The world around her has changed dramatically and football has been central to that. Women’s football has become part and parcel of our daily lives. The sport is here to stay as it is the fastest growing sport in the Netherlands. Her legacy will remain forever in the great sport of football. The game of football was more than a game to Anouk. It was a life changer.

13 years later: Anouk Hoogendijk with her old CSW teammates

Anouk has given more to the sport than it gave her. Enjoy your retirement!

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