September 26, 2017
He only played in Nice for just over a season. Physical defender Arjan Vermeulen didn’t have the same brilliant insolence of Dick Van Dijk, another Dutch figure that played for the Gym. He did, however, make a name for himself when he succeeded in one of the biggest moments in the club’s history during the final in 1997. Before the match against his countrymen of Arnhem, he takes a look back for OGCNICE.COM at his winning penalty from that Coupe de France final in 1997 and remembered us as he began a second career in football.
“I was very worried.” When talking about his historic penalty, Arjan Vermeulen doesn’t embellish the story in his favour. The mobile left-back, started the game on the bench, and came on in the 91st minute. The man from Culemborg wasn’t expected to be one of the heroes of the evening with Bruno Valencony. His name is, however, directly associated to the most emotional occasion in the Gyms’ supporters memories of the last fifty years. Like Onorati, Tatarian and De Neef, the defender converted his penalty. But the reason that we particularly remember his penalty, is that he was the last to take. A penalty which beat Angelo Hugues and in one fell swoop transported the Gym’s 7 000 supporters towards paradise.
But why on earth did he find himself taking that last penalty, when neither James Debbah nor Andrzej Kubica were chosen to take one that evening? “To be honest, I don’t know. Before that, I had never taken a penalty in my career. I was very nervous. Even more so when I put the ball on the penalty spot, because the referee came to tell me that it wasn’t on the spot. That stressed me even more.”
Then Vermeulen took a deep breath, struck with his left along the floor and wrong-footed the goalkeeper. What followed was pure delight. You could see it as he leapt over the advertising boards to go and share the moment with the Kop of Boulogne where the majority of the OGC Nice fans had assembled. An enclave in a Parc des Princes that was dominated by the Bretons, who were immediately silenced.
“The night was then as long as it was beautiful” in the Capital. And the memorable return to Nice. “Lots of supporters welcomed us at the airport and then at the stadium to celebrate the victory with us. We were also invited onto a TV show.”
The return to daily life would be brutal for the whole team. Relegation had been waiting for Silvester Takac’s side for several weeks. Vermeulen featured in 6 matches in the Second Division before heading back to the Netherlands, to wear the colours of MVV Maastricht and Heracles Almelo. “I had to retire at 30 years old because of injury. I hadn’t been involved in football for a long time. My son, Jiro, fell ill. He died after a 6 year fight with Leukaemia. It was a very tough moment in my life.”
Before Nice, he played for.. Vitesse Arnhem
Today, back in football, Arjan Vermeulen is continuing his professional career with his friend Marc Struik: “This time off of the pitch. We work as intermediaries between players and clubs. Maybe our paths will cross with OGC Nice once more and that one of our players will come here. The cycle would be complete.”
Vermeulen, who still hasn’t had the opportunity to visit the Allianz Riviera has naturally kept an eye on his former club. And on his ex-teammates too, Fred Gioria being one of them, whom he was delighted to see on the bench whilst watching the double-header against Ajax on television.
He will without doubt be as true to himself on Thursday when the Red and Blacks face another Dutch side, Vitesse Arnhem. “I think that Nice are favourites over the two matches. But they are two good sides, and I wish them both the best of luck.”
No bias. And the reason being that it was with Arnhem that Vermeulen got his career underway before heading to the Côte d’Azur. “I even played in the final of the Dutch Cup with Vitesse (in 1990). We lost because one of my teammates missed a penalty with a minute to go.” Today he prefers to make light of the situation: “Maybe it would have been better if I had taken that one too…”