Amsterdam Crusaders opt out of Holland, will only play non-Dutch teams

In an unprecedented move, the defending and 19-time Dutch champions, the Amsterdam Crusaders, have stated that they intend to pull out of Holland and will play only non-Dutch teams in 2018. In a release Sunday, the club stated that the Netherlands has become too small and that they would not play in the Dutch league choosing only to play teams outside of Holland.

However, according to Dutch American Football Federation – AFBN – spokesman John Mahnen, at this point, they do this without the blessing of the AFBN. 

“The AFBN has not yet granted permission for this decision. The AFBN must first review their plans at which time they will be given due consideration.”

The club states in its release that the Crusaders will still be represented by their B team in Holland.

“The Dutch league is no longer sufficiently competitive for the first Cru team. The victory of the national championship tasted sweet every time, but it is not enough. The board, coaches and players want a greater challenge. Therefore, the decision to play exclusively in Europe is a logical next step. The AFBN board is behind these European aspirations. This will also bring more balance to the Dutch heritage division.”

This move has no precedent, at least in recent memory in Europe. Many of the elite teams in Europe look for non-domestic games and tournaments but virtually all also play in their own leagues. The Wroclaw Panthers have dominated the Polish league for the past two years and also played in the Champions League. They will remain playing in the PLFA in Poland though. For years, the Prague Black Panthers have been the top team in the Czech Republic and in fact chose, up until 2017, to play in two leagues, the Czech league and the Austrian Football League. Until this past year, 2017, the Swarco Raiders have played in the Austrian league, as well as playing Big6 tournament while also arranging extra games against non-Austrian opponents in the Battle4Tirol. The Raiders have also played against an NCAA Div. III team every year.

It would seem that the ease with which Amsterdam has won the Dutch league in the past two years has prompted this decision. Since 2014, the Crusaders have made great strides in their first team and easily won the Dutch league. They were the first team in many years to sign import players, Americans and other Europeans, and dominated the Dutch league. Their improvement was noticeable throughout Europe. In 2016, Amsterdam defeated two German Football League teams – the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes and Hamburg Huskies – in European Football League play while going undefeated in the Dutch league and winning their 18th title. They lost one game that season, to the Frankfurt Universe in the European Football League final.

The 2017 season saw them lose to Europe’s #1 team, Germany’s Braunschweig New Yorker Lions 20-6 and then overwhelm the Barcelona Dracs in Big6 action. Again they went undefeated in Holland and won the championship game going away.

Hence the decision to leave Holland.

The club has taken the initial step of building its own American football-specific facility with an artificial turf field which will be installed in November. The facility will include stands and accommodate the over 300 Crusaders players at all levels for both practice and games. The club has given it the somewhat ostentatious name, the European American Football Temple.

The next question is how much the IFAF conflict will affect the team’s ability to find top-flight games. Since Holland is aligned with IFAF Paris, their choices may be somewhat restricted until the entire conflict has been resolved. Teams from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Great Britain will be off limits for now. So it is likely they will be playing against Austrian, German, French, Belgian, Spanish and Irish teams. They will also have the Central European Football League available as well as the Big6 or EFL tournaments. But all of these would only account for a handful of games.

So the Crusaders management will no doubt be hitting the phones hard over the next few months, tracking down teams and dates. Further announcements are expected as this somewhat historic move gains traction.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.