Netherlands preparing for Golden Generation

With NFL and College Hall of Fame Ambassadors working with the American Football Bond Nederland and a rejuvenated Dutch national team program, the project aimed at returning the Netherlands to American football prominence in Europe is officially underway.

The country has always had the potential to be a leader in European American football. It has produced NCAA and major league talents in Jaïro Faverus, Jasper Djouma, Ibrahim Eldewieh, Roedion Henrique, Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe, and Tyrese Owusu-Bediako. In 2022, the Tennessee Titans added Dutch tight end Thomas Odukoya from the NFL International Player Pathway program to the practice roster.

In 2024, the senior and youth teams intend to continue moving forward with new national team head coach Fred Armstrong building the team and organization along with European veteran coach and general manager Val Gunn, for the next five years.

AFBN managing director Johan Oosterhuis and his board recently combined efforts with the BNL league and the Belgian American Football League, to increase competition, education, and exposure in the region, .

“One of the first results is that the BNL Football League will be an official competition under the umbrella of national federations” is the key standout quotation to take from the press release.

The AFBN, Gunn, and Armstrong embrace all organized football activities that promote the sport from any professional or college teams, which ignites a fire to a region that once had a top 10 national team, and the Amsterdam Admirals who played in NFL Europe. The coming years could see the Netherlands become a solid football nation on and off the field.

National Team

In November 2018, the Dutch Lions played their last game, a 14-7 loss to Belgium. Since then, they have been radio-silent on the international stage. They haven’t competed in U19 or senior competition since then. This is going to change in 2024. Armstrong is holding a combine in Amsterdam on the 25th of February for both youth and senior Dutch athletes. Sources have said that the International Federation of American Football is looking to hold only Group A and Group B for future competition, meaning one of two things. Either we will see the Dutch team competing against the likes of Spain, France, and Italy, or we see them organize outside of IFAF with the Great Britain team. Naturally this would include the Belgian national team given their proximity and close relationship. The revival of the national team through Armstrong is the catalyst for a lot of potential future growth that could set the Netherlands up for a golden generation of young athletes and the development of the senior team’s international reputation. The coaching staff which includes well known names such as Kirk Heidelberg, Leandro Veal, Malik Jackson, and John Burton, will anchor the teams while national coaches in the Netherlands will be added. It’s a sign of confidence in the country that is a very positive addition.

Val Gunn, National Team Executive Director:

“I got involved with this project understanding that we were starting totally over with the national teams who did not play for a long time. Implementing a structure for long-term success needs to happen on and off the field. Working with the AFBN and Coach Armstrong we are for sure heading in the right direction as we welcome all ideas and people who truly want to get involved to make football better in the region”

Hall of Fame Players

Will Shields

Former NFL player Will Shields poses with his bust during inductions at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 8, 2015, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo Gene J. Puskar)

This is the biggest of all the steps for the country. Former Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman and NFL Hall of Famer, Will Shields is on board as an Ambassador for the AFBN and a consultant for Coach Armstrong bringing in NFL projects and events to the BNL region. In particular, the flag football area of the game for ladies and men will be the first assignment. The International Olympic Committee has announced that flag football will make its debut as an official Olympic sport at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Wes Chandler

That’s not all, however as Wes Chandler, a 2015 College Football Hall of Famer from the University of Florida, four-time Pro Bowler, a member of the Los Angeles Chargers Hall of Fame and San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team, is also on board. Wes was in NFL Europe for seven years as a coach working with Rhein, Frankfurt, and head coach of the Berlin Thunder 1999. Player safety and football education will be the topics under his umbrella.

AFBN managing director, Johan Oosterhuis

“It is the honor of AFBN and the Dutch Lions National Team to have Will and Wes as Ambassadors of American Football in the Netherlands.”

This fills out an unbelievable amount of experience and representation for the Dutch national programs. It is possible that the International Series that the NFL has slowly been expanding in the UK, Germany, and Mexico could include the Netherlands in the future if all of the projects come to fruition.

Fred Armstrong, Dutch national team head coach:

“I will not and cannot speak for the future of what the NFL will do in Europe. Will and Wes can look at that option for the future which we appreciate. The main priority is to take the structure we are building in the Netherlands so football can be played safely, and economics does not become the reason why a young girl or boy can’t participate. Making sure tackle equipment is affordable, and the coaching in the country gets a system in place that the AFBN implements. I am excited for the future with so many great people pitching in and there will be more.”

Overall, the middle to late 2020s could be the biggest spike of development for a region in European American football history. With many influential people involved with Armstrong, Shields, Chandler, Val Gunn and many more getting involved,  the country could become a serious contender for championships and international acclaim in the next 5-10 years.

This writer is definitely excited to see the next stage and the steps they choose to take first.