Perhaps you should read the following sentence twice. Second division team Nuenen has strengthened itself with multiple Pakistani international Rizwan Ali (24). No, it’s not a joke. An international star at the fifth level of the Netherlands. A hockey fairy tale in Southeast Brabant.
And all this in a village between Eindhoven and Helmond that is better known as the former residence of Vincent van Gogh than as a real hockey community. The place where the international star immediately received a real baptism of fire last Sunday. During his first week in the Netherlands – he skipped the previous league match because of his sports visa – he was immediately treated to the real Netherlands when he visited Best. A poorly maintained semi-field, in the pouring rain.
Ali himself makes no bones about it. ‘Bad experience‘ he stammers. “I’m not used to rain.”
From private message to hockey fairy tale
Head coach Danny Nooijen is the great initiator of this stunt from Brabant. At the end of last year, the coach made a call via social media for new additions to his selection. As he scrolled through the private messages over the summer, Ali’s message immediately caught his eye. He didn’t take it very seriously – he often got such strange requests, but his gut instinct told him to check it out. He looked at the extensive hockey resume and a handful of video footage. On that summer day the Nuenen hockey fairy tale was born.
Nooijen did not know what he saw. He opened the added wetransfer link and saw images of the Olympic qualifiers between the Orange and Pakistan, from October 2019. He pinched himself. Was he really dealing with an Asian topper? He did. In fact: one who manages to score with his drag push against the Dutch national team.
It is unclear exactly how many caps the newest resident of Nuenen has. The FIH assures that there will be three anyway – a performance at the Wagener Stadium during the qualifying for the Games and two test matches against Germany, but the player himself is thinking of around thirty international appearances. Inquiries with the Pakistan national coach Siegfried Aikman learns that he is on a game ‘or ten’. The Pakistani federation does not seem to keep the registration of international matches very accurately.
‘The level is too low for me’
Maybe the numbers don’t matter either. The fact is that there is an international star in the Second Division D. But why did he choose a peaceful name for the quaint village? His coach explains. “He can handle a lot more than this level. That is clear. He is a very handy midfielder and penalty corner gun,” he explains. “But,” he adds. ‘We are not your normal second division. We want to get a PhD. The ambitions are high.’
‘I have always dreamed of the Dutch league,’ adds Ali his coach. “At any club. I wanted to play in this country. The level here is indeed too low for me. But I see it as a step. I want to eventually play at a level. Who knows, maybe in a year’s time I can make a step to Oranje-Rood, Den Bosch or Tilburg. Bigger clubs in a better competition.’ One of the first things Ali did first was to have dinner with his compatriots and Schaerweijde players Muhammad Rizwan and Mehmood Rashid. ‘They do what I dream of: playing in the Dutch big league.’
Nooijen is determined to help him with that. ‘He wants to break through in the Netherlands. Suppose he succeeds. Then we can say: that boy, he once started with us in Nuenen. Man. How cool would that be?’
Ali Rizwan. Photo: Instagram
Syrup waffles and a bicycle
Last week Ali entered the field in Nuenen for the first time, but it is still difficult to pronounce the name of his new club yourself. He makes an effort:Nuw-ehnen club‘, is the voice on the other end of the line, as he speaks to us from his apartment with a host family. An involved family with two daughters in O14-3 and O18-1. They received him warmly with a welcome pack filled with stroopwafels, chocolate sprinkles, cheese and liquorice.
A warm welcome for the Asian, who only has to make do with a volunteer allowance at Nuenen. “We support him and he helps us in training life. Everything is arranged for him. He has shelter, gets to eat with the host family and has been given a bicycle. So that he can get to the club on his own transport.’
Ali is happy with the facilities. ‘Everything is well arranged. I can go to the club every day, go to the gym and work on my sleep a lot.’ He is also satisfied with his team. ‘It is a talented group. I think they are very good for such young boys.’ Nooijen: ‘But Ali is really in a class of its own.’
While he was spared a bit against Best, his Dutch adventure really starts next weekend. Then it is fully deployed. ‘I can’t wait’, the newcomer sounds enthusiastic. But who is he actually playing against? “Ah, I don’t know.” We help him: Drunen. “Yeah, Druuuh-nhen.”