Rooie Marck – A special moment at Feyenoord
With so much bad in modern day football, it is easy to forget the power the sport has. The power to produce moments so special they stay with you for the rest of your life. Every so often a game comes around that you know you’ll look back on in 30 years time with a smile, and nobody ever forgets their first experience of a 90th minute winner.
But what happens when you find out that you won’t be going to another match? That your last match was indeed, your last match. This was the case for Rooie Marck, a lifelong Feyenoord supporter and a much loved member of Het Legioen. Rooie had been battling cancer, and was informed by doctors that he had very little time left. Once learning of this awful news, Rooie had just one wish. To see Feyenoord once more.
There are many clubs who would perhaps have sent a signed shirt to the hospital, perhaps accompanied by a player or two. Some clubs would have held a minutes applause at the first game of the season, or perhaps an announcement before the match or in the programme. But there are football clubs, and then there is Feyenoord.
Feyenoord is a special football club. In recent years the team has been very good, and it has been very bad. It makes no difference to the fans. They turn up in huge numbers wherever the team may go. Just this week, 700 fans traveled to a pre-season friendly in Verona, a round trip of almost 1,500 miles. They lost 1 – 0, and sung for 90 minutes anyway.
A longstanding tradition for Feyenoord fans is to turn up in numbers at the first training session of the season, putting on a pyro show and singing songs to greet the new players as well as welcoming back the returning ones. If you are picturing a family fun day with a bouncy castle and an appearance from the Dutch version of Olly Murs, think again. This is what the first training session of the season looks like at Feyenoord:
This happens no matter how the team had performed in the previous season. Feyenoord challenged for the title last season, eventually finishing in third, qualifying for the Europa League; only goal difference away from the Champions League and eight points away from the title. As such, it could perhaps be expected that the fans would turn out in big numbers to celebrate the start of this season. However, Feyenoord finished 9th in 2006/07, an unimaginably bad showing for a club of their size. At the first training session of 2007/08, 20,000 supporters were there.
For the 2013/14 season, the day was not just about the team. It was also about Rooie Marck. Too ill to even stand, Rooie was at the training session with family and friends on a hospital trolley. He watched from the side of the pitch as the supporters in the stands welcomed the players on to the field by setting off hundreds of flares. With the fans roaring their approval for the latest Red and White arrivals, Rooie could not just lie there. He stood up and applauded his heroes, a huge smile on his face and a tear in his eye. Little did Rooie know what his fellow fans had planned for him next.
A huge banner with a picture of Marck on was unfurled by the fans, as they hurled beachballs into the air, setting off flares and smokebombs in tribute to one of their own. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is most famously associated with Liverpool, but rarely will it have been sung with such passion as it was here. Rooie was going through his own personal storm, but his fellow supporters had not forgotten about him.
At this stage of an illness, most people can barely stay awake. Rooie was seriously ill, and the fact he had made it to the training session at all was a huge achievement. The fact he was there to witness his tribute was amazing, what happened next is nothing short of astonishing. Rooie and his friends and family walked towards the fans at the opposite end of the stadium, holding aloft a flag as they slowly progressed towards the supporters who had paid them such respect. Halfway through the journey, the players came to show their own tribute to one of their biggest fans.
The squad lined up to shake hands and embrace the man who thought of them as heroes. He was presented with his own shirt, before delivering a passionate speech to the players, thumping his hand against the Feyenoord badge on his shirt. He knew he wouldn’t be there to see it, but this didn’t stop him from wanting his team to succeed next season. After posing for photographs and thanking the players profusely, his friends helped him to continue the walk towards the crowd. His movement was unsurprisingly slow, an arm on the shoulder of those around him as he got closer and closer to the corner.
With every step, the fans roared louder. They sung songs for Rooie and filled the sky with smoke as they set off yet more pyro in his honour. He was almost there despite the obvious pain he was in. “Come on Rooie, Come on Rooie!” was the chant from the crowd. When he was around 20 yards away from the supporters who had held up the banner with his image on, Marck shrugged off those who had been helping him to walk, as he found the power to make the final steps by himself. He blew kisses to the crowd, and thumped the badge on his heart again and again. He lead the crowd in a chant of “Feyenoord til’ I die” and bowed to the fans to show his gratitude for the amazing support they had given him.
They responded by singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” once more, as Rooie walked right to the front of the stand for this picture:
An amazing story was complete. Rooie had lived his dream of seeing Feyenoord one last time, and so much more. One of the most common songs at Feyenoord home matches is “We shall not be moved”, but it is impossible not to be moved by the story of Rooie Marck. In an era where fans are treated as customers and clubs are more concerned about TV deals and merchandise sales, stories such as this remind us of the true meaning of the game. Bill Shankley’s famously said “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that” when manager of Liverpool FC. On a special afternoon in Rotterdam, one man showed that this might just be true.
Three days later, Rooie passed away. Fans were once more present at his funeral, as they said goodbye one last time.
Rooie Marck. A true supporter, and Feyenoord, a truly amazing club. Every win this season will be for Rooie. If the team plays with as much passion as was shown for their fallen friend at this training session, they’ll surely win every tournament they enter. Here’s to you, Rooie.