Road to Spain (part 5)

  -   Nieuws

This time we are able to share the fifth and final part of David’s story; all good things come to an end. Reason to thank David for his candid story and hoping and whining he will be able to send us some nice (good news) updates in due time.

Man, that last part was a pretty tough read, wasn’t it? I have a lot of good memories from my time in France but unfortunately rugby-wise it wasn’t my greatest of periods. I was definitely getting stuck in the Ol’ Downward Spiral and I was desperate for something new to spark my enthusiasm for the game, and get back that feeling of enjoyment and confidence.

Out of Nowhere

I wanted to leave France. With the injury ridden seasons I’ve had, and the bad results of my teams, I was falling further and further down the food chain. It was getting harder to still impress clubs solely based on my CV. I figured that by going to another league, and starting a-fresh, I could let my rugby do the talking again and not have all this ‘baggage’ connected to me.

So then it became a question of Where. Italy? America? One of the Tier 2 Eastern European countries like Georgia, Romania or Russia? Then Spain came into the picture.

I was talking to an agent for a bit of advice, and he’d mentioned Spain a few times as a rapidly progressing league with real potential, but I didn’t give it too much thought. Then, during my long groin-injury, the opportunity presented itself to go with as a NL U20 Assistant coach. That coincidentally brought another opportunity along that wasn’t even aware of it until my dad mentioned it: ‘Maybe you can ask some of the Spanish U20 coaches for some information about their Competition!’ I wasn’t too keen on it at first. I felt a bit embarrassed about the idea, as it could’ve come across as quite unprofessional in my eyes. I was there to help the team, not to take advantage of the situation for my own good. But when it turned out that we were even in the same hotel as the Spanish boys, and eating with them every day, I started to realise it was the only way to get some more information about my possible next destination. So on the last day of the tournament, after we’d played all our matches, I went over to their coaching-table.  I told the one English speaking coach about the league and that I was interested in playing there, and asked him if he could maybe give me some more information. Then one of the coaches was like: ‘Ah, you want to play in Spain? Here are some email addresses of club coaches. Send your CV to them and let’s see what happens!’ I couldn’t believe it. Within moments I went from knowing nothing about the league to now having more than 20 email addresses of Spanish Top Division and 2nd Division rugby clubs!

Burgos Bound

The moment we came back from the tour I send my CV and Highlights video out to every single one of them, accompanied by a beautifully Google-translated message trying to explain the situation. As expected, most of the emails didn’t get a response, but there were a few who showed some interest. One club however, was pretty excited from the beginning and that was a club from Burgos.

I always try to organise a visit, so that I can check the city, meet the coaches and some players etc, and the weekend I was there Burgos played the ¼ final of the league, so I was able to watch that. It was an away game in the Basque-country, about 3 hours drive, and it seemed like there were more Burgos supporters than from the home team! The game ended up being a nail-biter which Burgos just lost, but the supporter sang the team off the field like they’d just won the League-final. Really cool to see. I was also able to meet the players while having some beers in the 3rd half, so the whole experience was really positive.

This was the first time I’d looked for a club without an agent, so doing the contract negotiations on my own also was a great learning experience. After dotting some I’s and crossing some T’s, it was official: I was going to be an Burgos player for the 2019/2020 season.

I have been playing at Burgos for 2 seasons now, and I’m enjoying my rugby immensely again. Through the lessons I’ve learned in the French seasons I’ve also managed to stay healthy and strong, without any injuries! This year has been outstanding. We’ve won against pretty much all the top teams, qualified for the Quarter Finals of the League, and have earned ourselves a spot in the Copa Del Rey Final for the first time in the Club’s History! The level compares to a Federale 1 in France, and the top 6 clubs have complete professional structures. It’s been really interesting for me, because there are quite a few players with Super Rugby and Currie Cup caps playing in this league. Some looking to settle down and earn some good cash, some motivated to earn Residency and play International Rugby for Spain. Either way those type of players lift the overall level of the Top Division and make the games really competitive.

Expect the Unexpected

When I set out to play professional rugby I did not expect to end up in Spain. I was mostly focussed on making it in France, and after that I had a few thoughts about England and perhaps the USA. But during my 3 years in France so much unexpected things had happened so that every decision I had to make completely changed my initial plan. That is of course how it works: You make plans, but then life gets in the way. The only thing that gives me a peace of mind is that when I had to make an important decision, I had done everything to make sure I made the best decision I could possibly make in that moment. However that worked out was out of my control. 

Reliving Life

So there you have it folks, you have gotten an expanded view into my story and what the hell has happened over these past years. Part 5 was naturally going to be shorter since I’m living it, and I am still planning on adding a lot more parts to the mix! When I started off writing for Op de Proppen I was planning to write just 1 article. The things is that as I started reliving all these periods of my life, it became almost impossible to put it in 4 or 5 pages. Now, I concede that I’m quite elaborate in my stories, and perhaps could’ve cut a few sentences here and there, but the fact remains that a lot has happened so far that I wanted to tell in a way that made it a bit more personal. That’s why me and the Board decided to make it into a series. This would also because give the Op De Proppen newsletter a couple more articles to publish.

It was really cool going back to the beginning of it all and going over all these different times in my life, but it was quite difficult not to make it sound like a eulogy. I am still enjoying my rugby immensely, and feel like I have a lot left in the tank, so the last thing I wanted to do was to make this sound like a Farewell!

I can imagine there are a few people out there who think: ‘Why the hell does he write all this stuff, and what makes him think that he deserves a platform like this? He hasn’t even achieved playing at the highest level and he’s telling his story like he’s Dan Carter himself.’ And fair enough. I have been thinking that a few times myself while writing these articles. Especially when reading some of the other stories I can’t help but wonder if it should’ve been thém writing the elaborate stories. HRC produced some guys who’ve have had some incredible journeys. But then after that I come to realise two things. 1: It is not a competition. Many people have achieved many incredible things and the goal is not to compare, but to celebrate them. And 2: I really enjoy writing! That’s why I used these articles as an experiment for me. To try and figure out if I could do it continuously, with a time limit, in two languages, without becoming bored or feeling unhappy.

I really didn’t want to make it a classic, chronological summary ripped straight out of the media-handbook, because in those cases you can mostly already predict what’s going to be said, and there’s nothing personal going on. The classic when someone receives their Man of the Match award: ‘No look, I couldn’t have done it without the team...’ I  feel like even though I sometimes wasn’t able to achieve that as well as I would’ve liked, I managed to share some personal stuff in there that hopefully has been interesting to read. There were some stressful moments and late nights in there to make the deadlines, in the midst of all the training and matches that were going on. It taught me a fair bit about planning and the meaning of the word ‘writers’ block’. 

Turns out that is as real as the ground beneath us.

Dutch Rugby on the Rise

When Duncs and I moved to SA there weren’t that many Dutch people that had the opportunity to do that. We all know Tim and Sep Visser, and Zeno Kieft’s incredible stories, and to this time Zeno and Tim remain the most accomplished Dutch Rugby Players in my estimation, with a honourable addition of the great Michel Van Der Loos!

But besides that there weren’t many other stories to my knowledge. That’s why it’s pretty cool to see that since then many other boys and girls have followed, and have gone on to do special things. People playing Provincial Rugby in New Zealand. People earning themselves big contracts in French top levels, that is really special for Dutch Rugby.

As I’m writing this article Zeno Kieft announced his retirement, after becoming one of the first Dutch players to go on to play the highest level. He has been very inspiring to me. It has been really cool to stay in contact over the years, and to see how the other one was doing. He has tried to help me whenever he can, and it’s been great to be able to talk to him for advice from time to time.

Celebrate the Wins

Even though my life has been fairly eventful up until this point, I haven’t taken the time to properly reflect on it as often as I probably should. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m always aiming at something. A characteristic that is a strength of mine, but also a weakness depending on the situation. It is great because this way I manage (or hope) to consistently improve, but it is bad since I hardly cherish achievements when they happen. Writing these articles have helped me in achieving that. I remember coming into France, I would’ve cut off my finger to be able to jump to a Fed 1 contract the next year. But then when I did exactly that, and arrived in the team, the first thing I wanted to do was now start in my position. Then when I achieved that, the first thing I wanted to do was to play well and be important.. I think you see the picture.

Celebrating achievements, no matter how small they are. I’m trying to make that a bigger part of my life. Now, that doesn’t mean that I suddenly accept mediocrity, or that I aim a lot lower. Quite the contrary. I believe that through celebrating these little wins along the way you actually motivate yourself to keep getting better, since you know there will be a reward in proportion to that achievement.

Celebrate having moved closer to your target, instead of moaning about your perceived distance from it

So, let that be my reason for writing these articles: Me celebrating the fact that over all these years, filled with the mythical highs and hellish lows, I have indeed moved closer to my target and that means that no matter how small, progress is made.

Thank you.

On that note, I would like to mention a few people who have helped me achieve that progress along the way. In a none-Eulogistic way of course. Again, nobody died, I am just trying to be grateful here people!

  • All my youth coaches from HRC and De Rugby Academy Zuid-West, for they have instilled an enthusiasm for the game that has allowed me to pursue it as a career.
  • A special mention to Vincent van Beek, Barro Kessler, Robin Raphael and Zane Gardiner. 
  • All the people from B&B Healthcare who have allowed me to train and recover whenever I was back in Holland. In particular, Wouter and Sander, Jordy, Dennis, JJ, Kim en de legendary Frank van der Meer.
  • Petra from Tough Minds, you have given me invaluable tools to improve myself as a player and a person. Whenever I feel like I’m running out of options, your tactics always bring me fresh hope and motivation
  • The Kennedy, the Van Wyks, The Kriedemanns and the Slaters in South Africa, who have whole-heartedly received Duncan and me as their Dutch sons.  You have made staying on the other side of the world feel like we were right at home.
  • The Magic Montels in Graulhet, for making a rough period easier to handle. Thanks for introducing me to the beauty of French music, the French cuisine and the French hospitality.
  • Thanks to Burgos for giving me an opportunity to start a-fresh, and the much needed restart of my rugby career.
  • And most of all, thank you parents, for always allowing me to continue the pursuit of my dream, and giving me advice when I chose to accept it. Thanks for understanding the fact that I’ve missed countless anniversaries and birthdays (including my own sometimes) and that Family holidays are now shorter since I only have limited time when I’m back in NL. I believe my character is one of my strengths, and that is a product of your love and care, so without that I wouldn’t have been able to do this for as long as I have. Even though there are always things that can be improved, I am amazed at how you managed to let Tes, Rob and I develop at our own pace and try to support us unconditionally, with some well-placed advice along the way. This always reminds me of the Mark Twain Quote, which I’ll slightly modify: When I was 16, my parents were so dumb I couldn’t have them around. But when I turned twenty-one, I was astonished at how much they had learned in five years. In these years living on my own I have changed a bit from waving away their advice to welcoming it more, and that has had a positive outcome on our relationship.
  • And lastly,  thanks to you,  the readers, for reading my Road to Spain. 

I hope you’ve found it interesting and enjoyable.

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