In 2013, the Royal Dutch Library began an ambitious project. Building on a project started in 1997, and in collaboration with a range of libraries, universities and other institutions across the Netherlands, the aim was to digitise as much of the written Dutch past as possible and make it freely available via the online Delpher portal. To date, the collection has over 60 million digitised pages, from early seventeenth century newspapers to late twentieth century presses. For the sports historian, the project offers a wonderful opportunity to see original match reports, newspaper records of organisational meetings and early action shots from across the sporting world. It also provides a glimpse at how sport in Dutch society grew from a relatively small activity in the late 19th century to one which by the end of the 1910s, was becoming a greater part of daily life. This popularisation can be seen in the expansion of sporting publications and journalism before 1920, which grew from a limited number of ‘insider’ publications used to report information to become an increasingly important part of national and local daily newspapers across the political and religious spectrum.


In 1882, for the first time, public betting was permitted on horse racing and it is perhaps no coincidence that the first Dutch sporting periodical also appeared in this year. In 1882, Nederlandsche Sport was published by a collection of five Dutch ice-skating, horse racing, rowing and sailing clubs and organisations, which focused on tales of hunting, rowing, and, naturally, on horse racing and prospects from around the world. Annual subscriptions for the fortnightly publication in 1882 were 6 guilders and potential advertisers could place their adverts for 1 guilder. This first publication was aimed at a limited number of people; a small group of sporting participants, often from privileged backgrounds, and those who bet on horses. The two often overlapped.

While the Delpher project has so far not digitised this fragile resource, echoes remain elsewhere in the archive. On 13th March 1882, the Amsterdam daily Algemeen Handelsblad reported on the publication of the first issue, noting its title graphic designed by Rotterdam artists and designer Charles Rochussen (link). Nederlandsche Sport became a paper of record for Dutch horseracing with the national association using it to announce the programme of races around the country. As interest in new and different sports began to spread in the Netherlands, a range of new topics became reported upon in sporting periodicals; rowing, sailing, cricket, cycling, the Dutch sport of kaatsen and eventually athletics and football.



In 1884, the Dutch Cyclist Association established its own monthly publication, later called De Kampioen, and in 1889, Het Sportblad, was a publication linked to the Dutch Football and Athletic Association. Just as with Nederlandsche Sport, these periodicals were made by and for ‘insiders’, for those who were already connected to sport and their content reflected this. Although there were reports on the passage of matches, races and contests, a great deal of administrative detail was given out; the times and dates of meetings, fixtures, and minutes of associated clubs, associations or organisations. Such publications served an official function and were not primarily concerned with informing a wider public about sporting events. De Sportkroniek, first published in 1901 in The Hague, and De Sport of Rotterdam in 1905, were other publications which followed this form. Not all the periodicals were successful. By 1890, Het Sportblad had disappeared, despite its role of as an official association publication. (link)



The oldest sporting publication available via Delpher is De Athleet, first published in 1893 and the official publication of the Amsterdam Athletic Club. Not just confined to athletics, the paper covered, as it said on its title page, ‘Athletics, Football, Cycling, Gymnastics, Cricket, Rowing, Ice-sports, Swimming etc. etc.’ However, as with other sporting publications, the official nature of the reports was emphasised by a series of official communications from a variety of clubs on the front page. November 25th edition was no exception. The usual official communiqués were followed by details about entering athletics competitions from Cologne to Bethnal Green, a series of football match reports, a piece on the first ‘national’ athletics match organised by Sparta of Rotterdam, and missives from the cycling, skating and hockey worlds. This was a publication for those who wanted to take part in sport, for members, not just for those with a casual interest. (link)



By 1898, De Athleet was published under the name Het Sportblad. This Amsterdam-based publication had more success that it’s Hague namesake and was a first port of call for many future sporting journalists. Billed as the ‘best value weekly devoted to diverse sporting activities’ (at a bargain 3 guilders for a yearly subscription) more and more sporting clubs became interested in sporting periodicals. Not only was it the official publication of the Netherlands Athletic Association but also of a host of clubs from across the country (link). Dutch sport historian Ruud Stokvis outlines that publications like De Athleet, Nederlandsche Sport and Het Sportblad were largely read in the big cities by sporting participants to communicate information, rather than intended to be consumed by non-participatory audiences. In the late 19th century sport was a rarity in daily newspapers.


The daily press became more interested in sport in the first years of the twentieth century. This is not to say that daily newspapers did not cover sporting events before the 1900s. Indeed in 1882, Algeemen Handelsblad reported on a series of horse races in Nijmegen. The first Dutch sporting star, skater and cyclist Jaap Eden, received regular coverage in daily presses in the late 19th and early 20th century. Football matches from the late 1880s received coverage in both the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant (NRC) and Algemeen Handelsblad. In Rotterdam, the Rotterdamsche Nieuwsblad reported on football, but as with other newspapers it was part of its city news section rather than part of a dedicated sport section. In 1888, a short report in the city news section noted how local side Concordia would play their first ever game against famed football-pioneers the Haarlem Football Club beginning at 12:45 and ending at 14:30. The report was tucked away between articles on local parliamentary meetings, a tram derailed by stones on the track and an accident between a man and a horse-drawn cart. (link)


But sporting journalism was limited; after all, organised sport was also in its infancy in the Netherlands with many sporting associations forming in the same period as the first tentative sporting publications. Reports on sporting events were often produced by reporters who themselves participated in them or those close to them. Links between the media and sport at this stage were more personal than structural or institutional – they relied on individual participants who worked or were linked to newspapers rather than on a commercial or news interest. But such links were important. For example, Eden was trained by Frans Netscher, who was also a parliamentary editor and a keen sportsman. Netscher established the Dutch Cricket Association, the Dutch Hockey Association and by 1892 had become the first president of the International Cycling Association; he also edited De Kampioen. Jan Feith at the Algemeen Handelsblad had competed against Eden on the skating track and was noted for his ability to take journalistic notes alongside participants in long-distance skating races. J.C. Schröder was a successful footballer with Amsterdam-based club RAP in the 1890s, as well as a cricketer and bandy player who was editor of Het Sportblad in the 1890s. In the late 1890s he became a sport correspondent at De Telegraaf and in 1902 was made editor of this leading Amsterdam-based daily newspaper. One of his first acts was to install the first full-time sport editor of a Dutch newspaper, John Couke, in the same year.

Article © Nick Piercey