Willem II Tilburg: 115 years of dedication

Ask a random Dutch person about Tilburg, and they will probably not know much about the city. Sure, they know it is in the south of the country, but other than that, not many facts are known about our proud city. What stands out though, is the association with the city’s football club, Willem II. This has been an institute for over 115 years, and counting. The red, white and blue shirts of the club have seen many changes throughout the years, from jubilant highs to absolute lows. Now, Willem II is working to get back to where they once steadily resided. The Eredivisie. Asset Magazine sat down with general manager Marco Faber to discuss tradition, tricolore, dedication and career possibilities.

Marco Faber, the current general manager, is a well-spoken, wholehearted and enthusiastic  man. He sits leant back in a comfy leather chair, in a finely crafted club suit, observantly checking out the content of the glass swirling gently in his hand. He is relaxed. There is no tie around his neck. In a way, this could be symbolical for the way (that) Willem II had to operate financially in the past few years. Now, without the previously obligatory tie, the football club finally has some room to breathe. “We are definitely on the right track, but we are most certainly not there yet.”

Here speaks a man with confidence. He puts careful emphasizes on his words when necessary, as to clear up any misunderstanding about the troubles that were glooming for the football club. Surely, football fans heard about it. Willem II was an organizational mess at the brink of financial bankruptcy, dwelling on miscalculations and desperately clinging on to hopes stemming from on-field accomplishments in the past. Changes had to be made. Salaries were cut, the overall budget of the football club was almost split in half and personnel was fired in order to survive. It was a brutal process, but it had to be done. Paul Bottelier, a Tilburg-born businessman, had to do it.

“You see, when my predecessor Paul Bottelier had to take these measures, there was no other option to survive. It was either cut our losses, make sure that the whole organization was turned upside-down, or Willem II had ceased to exist. The latter was not an option, that never crossed his mind. He loves the club too much. The people of Tilburg love the club too much. This was the only way. In that process, certain people have been fired from their jobs, but it was necessary. That is the bittersweet flavor of having to run a corporation. Decisions are not always easy.”

For the first time in quite a while, Willem II is financially okay. Not healthy, just okay for the moment. It is still a long way to go. The on-field situation is not ideal, but they will get there, Faber says. “Thanks to the work of Bottelier and my other predecessor Jan van Esch, I have a bit more room to work with. The financial restrictions are still there, but the club operates a lot more transparent than it first did. This is due to the new organizational structure within the football club, which now encompasses a board of commissioners, who have a governing role. Now, managers are more directly involved with the club. Therefore, issues can be handled with a more hands-on approach.”

Faber himself has a storied ten-year career drenched in Burgundian lifestyle, working at two different beer brewers. He ensures that this is his most challenging job yet. “The fact that this job is so diverse makes it truly special. And the fans. The fans make it all the more memorable. Honestly, I am not a football junkie by heart, but the longer I work here, the more I get the die-hard supporters. It is like a virus. These are the people who were gut-wrenched when Willem II went down to the Jupiler League, they were literally crying their eyes out. They were angry at the players, angry at the club for letting it happen. But there is an uncanny sense of loyalty from them. They keep supporting their team, their club, hoping that there is some sort of success in the near future. We need to give those people what they deserve, both on a financial and sports  level. And our organization is working their butts off to accomplish that.”

That is the main reason Willem II is exploring possibilities to further engage the Tilburg area and strengthen the bond with the club. “The average ‘Tilburger’ should be more involved with the club, more emotionally invested, according to us. We want to create a feeling of lingering passion, a nervous but excited rubbing of hands as matchdays approach.”

“Do not get me wrong, the amount of support is overwhelming. Even now there are ten thousand people at every home game. Those are incredible numbers. But what concerns us, is the long-term view. You have to keep these people invested, one way or another. It is up to us to reach that goal. That is why we have a couple of ideas for projects with kids in different areas in and near Tilburg. If it was solely up to me, I would open the stadium in the summer and let school children play on the main pitch, together with some of the Willem II-players. The kids would love that. Their friends and family would love that. Potentially, you get a lot of positive word-of-mouth from such an event, let alone publications in the media. We would love that.“

“I am no firm believer in carefully crafted marketing visions and missions, because it is what you actually  do that matters. However, we do have a single goal within the Willem II organization, and that is to play on the Eredivisie level while being financially healthy. To bring the club back to where it belongs, and stay there. People have to have that twinkle in their eyes when talking about Willem II. Pride. The city of Tilburg, sixth in the country, deserves that.”

With the demotion to the Jupiler League came a great responsibility for the internal organization. “There was so much going on in the past summer. Budgets, regulations, stakeholders relations, sponsors, all of those had to be intensively dealt with by the club, in order to ensure a foundation for the foreseeable future. And by golly, they pulled it off. All because of a team of incredibly dedicated people with a shared goal, who have the understanding of our backgrounds, traditions and views of stakeholders. They pulled it off. Now, we are building on that foundation. We are busy engaging sponsors; at this particular moment we have three different business clubs, suited for three different types of entrepreneurs. We are busy developing new marketing ideas. We are working on achieving sportive success. My technical counterpart, Marc van Hintum, handles most of the football operations. Together as an organization, we take decisions about what is best for Willem II.”

“It is intriguing.” Faber grins. “The football world. It is a roller coaster of emotions. Somewhere among all the emotional debating going on, you as an employee are responsible for a clear cut course to follow. A long term objective. That is a heck of a challenge, but it is so much fun. Everyone who works here has his or her own part to play in order to let the organization succeed. Jobs are not entirely defined by a job title, because there is so much overlap going on in certain areas and often there are sets of people involved in a single project or field of work. I hear everyone around me say that they love working here. That pleases me. That is essential when we are working to complete our goals.”

If you ever have the dream of working at Willem II, or any other football club for that matter, do not give up, Faber tells us.

“We do what we can to facilitate these people. Within our organization, we have a couple of study assignments going on, both on an University and HBO-college level. There are not many assignments, because of the relatively small size of our internal organization. However,  we really appreciate all the applications we receive. It is an uplifting feeling that so many students would like to work with us.”

While there are not many career options at Willem II, one can always go out on a limb and apply through an open solicitation. “It shows that you are interested, invested in this no matter what,” Faber says. “Let’s be honest. Working at a professional football club is a dream job for many. There are only a few lucky people that get the chance of actually doing it. However, do not give up on your dream. There is always an opportunity. Be prepared to grab it.”

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