Walter Waalderbos: ruthless defender with a soft edge

Walter "Wally" Waalderbos was a footballer with a well alliterative surname. Even more, he was an indispensable defender in a successful FC Groningen class that transformed the club from a drab First Division mid-engine to a national sub-topper in the 1970s and 80s. With the heroic European Cup squatters against Atletico Madrid and Internazionale as highlights. Matches that still make the hearts of many FC Groningen fans beat almost forty years later. Yet Waalderbos never really enjoyed the successes: "I was so focused on winning that there was no room for perspective or relaxation."

He must have been one of the first footballers about whom a song was written. “Who knows where Wally Waalderbos lives” was a single made around one of FC Groningen's European Cup matches in the 1980s. Waalderbos was one of the figureheads of the team, his delicious football name did the rest. Speaking of which: was it Walter or was it "Wally" Waalderbos? The now-69-year-old defender: "The latter just sounds better on the football field, so it became more and more Wally as the career progressed." To the annoyance of his wife Wilma. Walter was just Walter!

Walter and Wilma met in their early years in Enschede, she was his support and support. Wilma died in 1997.  "She fell ill and died within a year," says Waalderbos. He still talks about her full of warmth. “Wilma went with me from Enschede to Deventer and then to Groningen. That was not easy for her, but she did. Wilma was also a connecting factor towards other player women, she took the other ladies with her in tow. At an amateur club that I trained after my career, they once said to me: "Trainer, you can leave, but your wife has to stay." Beautiful right?" Every day there is still a moment of contact between the two when Walter looks at her photo and greets her. Wilma is still prominent in the life of the Waalderbos family.

It's the soft side of a defender known to the big football crowd as ruthless. That nail-hard duels fought with Hugo Sanchez, Allessandro Altobelli and Jesper Olsen. Between the lines, Walter Waalderbos had to make way for a victory. At home he could not be enjoyed for three days after a defeat, his fanaticism knew almost no limits. Although that was not always easy for himself, his family and teammates, his mentality was a much needed and perhaps indispensable factor in the successes of FC Groningen in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is not without reason that his name is still among the first to be mentioned when it comes to the success formation of the time.

"Easy-scoring striker type Dick Nanninga"

Walter Waalderbos is born on July 21, 1951. He takes the first steps on a football field in his native city of Enschede. Via Enschede Boys and Lingen in Germany, he ended up at Go Ahead Eagles at the age of 24, where he trained under the legendary Wiel Coerver. In 1977 he signs a contract with FC Groningen. As a striker. Chairman Renze de Vries presents him as "easy-scoring striker type Dick Nanninga". Soon coach Theo Verlangen puts Waalderbos in the back as a replacement for the injured Henk Cornelis. The right-footed Waalderbos will never disappear from the rear and with the left-footed Karel Hiddink they will form an almost impassable defense duo for years.

FC Groningen in the 1982/83 season; back row from left to right Ronald Koeman, Henk de Haan, Rob McDonald, Willem Schokker, Otto Halmingh and Walter Waalderbos, middle row from left to right. Theo Verlangen, Karel Hiddink, Erwin Koeman, Ronald Steenge, Ron Jans, Jan van Dijk and Johnny Visser, front row from left to right. Theo Keukens, Anne Mulder, Rob de Blois, Pieter Beuzenberg, Johan Tukker, Steve Goble and Herman Dieterman. (Photo: Gerard Til, Groningen Archives)

From gray mid-engine in the Eerste Divisie to stable sub-topper in the Eredivisie

These are the lean years after FC Groningen was founded in 1971. The club is no more than a gray mid-engine in the Eerste Divisie. Among other things, with Waalderbos in the ranks, successes are being achieved that the City and Ommeland have been yearning for. Under the helm of colorful chairman Renze de Vries and trainer Theo Verlangen, promotion is first realized in 1980. A folk festival erupts in the Martini city. After the club also firmly settled in the sub-top of the top division in the early 1980s, European football was also secured. In Groningen, a 2-1 defeat is brushed away with a delicious 3-0 victory. The Madrid star football players drip with their tail between their legs out of a swirling Oosterpark, where the Groningen people feel almost invincible. The big Internazionale is then played 2-0 off the mat, but in the end Allessandro Altobelli and co prove to be a size too big in the return 5-1.

At the end of the 1970s, Waalderbos already predicted that FC Groningen selection could be successful, the brothers Koeman have not even made their debut. "I soon had the feeling that this team could become successful," said Waalderbos. “There was such a good crop here. In terms of age, talent, togetherness and bond with the audience. It was a perfect mix. Many people laughed at me when I predicted that, but it was correct. ”

In those years, the FC Groningen team has several well-known names, such as the brothers Koeman, Ron Jans, Rob McDonald, Anne Mulder, Ronald Steenge, Peter Houtman, Leen Swanenburg, Fandi, Theo Keukens, Steve Goble, Jan van Dijk, Jacques van Loon and Henk de Haan. Waalderbos formed the heart of the defense with Karel Hiddink. “Karel and I complemented each other well,” explains Waalderbos. “Karel was more of a footballer, built up strong. I was the breaker, strong and played on character. You had to pass me ten times or you wouldn't be rid of me. ”

"Hugo Sanchez punched me in the stomach and then stood on my toes with his iron studs"

The strikers from the eighties can know. Jesper Olsen, for example. "That brat wanted to pass me. Then I gave him an elbow. The whole Ajax stand came down, angry that they were! ” Waalderbos also fought heroic duels with a then young Atletico Madrid attacker Hugo Sanchez. “It immediately punched me in the stomach. Then he stood on my toes with his iron studs. ” Waalderbos was not impressed, the Mexican did not get a foot on the ground. You could not make fun of Walter, whether you played at FC Vlaardingen or Atletico Madrid.

Waalderbos also holds its own offensively. Trainer Theo Verlangen allowed him to come forward at corners. In the legendary 5-5 against Ajax in the Meer, he leaves Ajax goalie Piet Schrijvers without a chance with a smashing headbutt. His qualities, leadership and winner character form an indispensable ingredient in a tasteful FC Groningen team. Younger boys like Koeman, Bud Brocken and Henk Veldmate pull themselves up on him and can enjoy themselves to the fullest.

CV mechanic, PTT and a shoe store

The footballer Walter Waalderbos. (Photo Elmer Spaargaren, Groningen Archives)

As a professional football player, Waalderbos led a busy life. Like many colleagues, he was semi-professional. He was trained as a heating engineer, later joined the PTT and then ran a sports shop on the Van Lenneplaan in Groningen, next to the cafeteria of colleague Sip Bloemberg. In 1985 he has to close the sports shop. The business worries cost him so much headaches that he can no longer fully focus on FC Groningen. He leaves for Emmen, which plays professional football for the first time. Trainer Theo Verlangen gets him as a nestor to teach the new professionals the tricks of the trade. It will be a nice ending to the long career of Waalderbos. And a prelude to a career as a trainer at various amateur clubs in the North, after he first phased out among the amateurs of Achilles 1894 from Assen. After his career, Waalderbos will continue to work in the shoe industry, including as branch manager of Scapino. Nowadays Walter enjoys his retirement together with his new partner Aaltje.

"The games against Inter and Atletico were great, but I enjoyed the events around it more"

Despite a good career, there was no real enjoyment for Waalderbos – his accent from Twente is still clearly audible – not at all. His winning streak and ultimate focus got in the way.  “The games against Inter and Atletico were great,” says Waalderbos, “but I was always so busy winning, keeping fit, keeping my place and boosting myself that there was no room for perspective or relaxation. Remember that the pressure on a professional football player is high. I enjoyed the happenings around it more. The promotional party in 1980, or the training of football players at Emmen at the time. ”

"The best thing is that we have given FC Groningen prestige after difficult years"

More than thirty years after his career, Waalderbos is still recognized on the street and reminded of the European Cup matches. He is secretly a bit proud of the successes he has achieved with the "Pride of the North": "The best thing is that after difficult years we have given the club prestige again with promotion and European football. A stable place in professional football that still benefits the club. ”

Text: Maarten van Wieringen

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