NEC Nijmegen, commonly NEC (Dutch pronunciation: [ɛnˈeːseː]) is a professional Dutch association football club based in Nijmegen, a city located in the province of Gelderland. They play in the Eredivisie, the top tier of Dutch football, following promotion from the 2020–21 Eerste Divisie.

The oldest remnant of the club, "Eendracht" (Dutch for unity), stems back to 15 November 1900. In 1910, Eendracht merged with NVV Nijmegen to form the Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈnɛimeːɣə(n) ˈeːndrɑxt ˌkɔmbiˈnaː(t)si]). The team's home ground is the 12,500-seat Stadion de Goffert.

The club has reached the final of the KNVB Cup on four occasions – in 1973, 1983, 1994 and 2000 – but has never won any major silverware.


1900–1919: Merger and first years

NEC Nijmegen is the 41st oldest club in the Netherlands. While early football clubs were founded by the elites, the founders of NEC came from a different background to those of other Eredivisie clubs, hailing from the old slum in the 'Benedenstad' (lower city) of Nijmegen. The young men from this area played football on the streets and on the banks of the Waal, rather than on a conventional field.

On 15 November 1900, August Lodenstijn, Antoon Kuypers and Wouter de Lent made the decision to form their own football club, taking the name Eendracht, inspired by a sign in the town square.

Until 1903, Eendracht only played friendly matches against teams from other parts of Nijmegen, when the local league in Nijmegen was formed. Eendracht was the first champion and was promoted to the regional league of Gelderland, then two years later they were promoted to the second tier of Dutch football.

Eendracht merged in April 1910 with a club called NVV Nijmegen, which had been formed only two years earlier and was founded by former members of Quick 1888, to form Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie.

1920–1939: "Never first-class"

At the beginning of the 1920s, NEC bought land and moved to a ground at Hazenkampseweg. Finally, the club had a permanent home and the club's fanbase began to grow. However, despite a new home and increased membership, on-field success did not follow. To achieve promotion into the Eerste Klasse (first tier) competition, in those years it did not suffice to become champion of the Tweede Klasse (second tier). Play-off matches were played between the champions of the various regional divisions.

Although NEC won second-tier championships in 1928, 1929, 1931, and 1934, the club did not win promotion. The club was mockingly titled: "Nooit eerste classer" (in English "Never first division"), before being promoted in its fifth try in 1936. In 1939, NEC won the first East title and fought for the Dutch title in a playoff competition with four other district champions. NEC came in third, behind Amsterdam sides Ajax and DWS.

The club moved from Hazenkampseweg at the end of the 1938–39 season to the Stadion de Goffert, located in the Goffertpark on the outskirts of the city, where NEC still play today.

1940–1959: WWII and professional football

During the Second World War, little football was played, but after liberation, the club's pre-war success continued and again became the champion of the East in both 1946 and 1947.

Professional football was introduced in the Netherlands in 1954, but came at the wrong time for NEC. The club was not in a good financial state and not as well established as other clubs. When the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) reorganised the league structure in time for the 1956–57 season, NEC found themselves in the lowest semi-professional division, the Tweede Divisie.

1960–1973: Recovery

At the beginning of the 1960s, NEC began to recover, slowly gaining foothold again. A major reason was support from the City of Nijmegen who began to see the importance of a professional club like the NEC, and started providing financial support in 1963. The following year, NEC were promoted to the Eerste Divisie (first division) again and three years later, reached the top-tier Eredivisie for the first time.

The club remained in the top flight for seven seasons in a row, with some games played in front of capacity crowds; season averages of 14,000 spectators were normal. NEC flourished, primarily due to the development of players from their youth setup, including Frans Thijssen and Jan Peters. Although the club still had not won a major prize, they were well-regarded.

1974–2002: Lean years

However, the decline came quickly. NEC could not sustain themselves with its only major revenue sources being the sale of players and the large subsidy from the Nijmegen council.

Relegation became a fact in 1974 and although NEC returned to the top division the following year, the club was heading in a downward trajectory. Relegation struggles ensued, and during the following years, NEC became renowned as a yo-yo club; in little over a decade, they changed leagues six times: relegation in 1983, promotion in 1985, relegation in 1986, promotion in 1989, relegation in 1991, and finally promotion in 1994.

In 1981, the club was given further support from the municipal council, when NEC's professional and amateur sides separated. In 1987, the club was declared bankrupt. NEC continued to exist but only after 80% of creditors waived their claims.

Chairman Henk van de Water formed a sponsors' club to raise funds which started to gather momentum. By the mid-1990s, NEC was on the way up again. In 1995, the club clung on to a place in the Eredivisie by the skin of their teeth. In 1998, it surprised many with an eighth-place finish. Its prospects had improved and attendance numbers rose continuously, all the way up to 10,000. The sponsors' club began to prosper and Stadion de Goffert was newly modernised.

Cup finals

NEC has reached the final of the KNVB Cup four times. On two occasions NEC were underdogs, but going into the 1973 final, the club was the overwhelming favorite. At Rotterdam's De Kuip against NAC Breda, things went completely wrong for the Nijmegen club, with NAC coming away 2–0 winners, amidst claims of infighting and disagreements with the manager.

In 1983, NEC unexpectedly reached the Cup Final despite having been relegated that season, but fell to the league champions Ajax 3–1 – the final goal being scored by Johan Cruyff in his final game for Ajax.

NEC, about to be promoted from the Eerste Divisie surprised many by defeating Ajax 2–1 away from home in the semi-finals of the 1994 competition, coming up against Rotterdam at De Kuip in the final, but fell once more 2–1.

In 2000, the club's centenary year, they reached the final for the fourth time but the match against Roda JC Kerkrade would end in disappointment for the 20,000 fans who made the trip; NEC lost 2–0, with no clear scoring chances.

NEC in the Cup Winners' Cup

In 1983, during the darkest period of the club's history, they played a match which many see as a highlight of the club's history: a match played in the European Cup Winners' Cup against Barcelona, while NEC was little more than a mid-table second-tier team.

In the spring, NEC had lost the cup-final against Ajax and were also relegated. But because the Amsterdam-based side had also been crowned champion of the Eredivisie, NEC qualified for UEFA competition while in the second-tier, something which has only happened once since; Wigan Athletic's participation in the 2013–14 UEFA Europa League while playing in the EFL Championship.

In the first round of the European tournament, NEC narrowly defeated Norway's Brann, 2–1 on aggregate. A few days later, the draw was completed for the second round, which pitted the superstars of Barcelona – with both Bernd Schuster and Diego Maradona – against the small Dutch outfit. Both players were injured for the tie, though there was still excitement for the fans at the Goffertstadion – NEC raced into a 2–0 lead after 44 minutes, with goals from Anton Janssen and Michel Mommertz, though the Blaugrana would hit back, winning the game 3–2, then strolled to a 2–0 victory at Camp Nou in the second leg.

2003–2012: NEC in Europe

29 May 2003 marked a historic day for NEC. Following a late strike from Jarda Simr against RKC Waalwijk, NEC finished fifth in the Eredivisie. For the first time in its existence NEC qualified for the UEFA Cup through their league position. This led to unprecedented scenes with jubilant fans invading the pitch. Similar scenes occurred in the centre of Nijmegen with over 25,000 people celebrating.

In the 2007–08 Eredivisie season, NEC qualified for European competition again, for only the third time in its history. After a disappointing first half of the season, the club found itself 17th place. But after the winter break, there was a remarkable turnaround. From January 2008, NEC improved their form and finished eighth place in the Eredivisie. This position secured participation in the UEFA Cup play-offs. NEC was also victorious in the play-offs beating Roda JC, Groningen, and NAC Breda. With 31 undefeated matches in a row and with a 6–0 home victory at NAC Breda the highlight of the turnaround, NEC attained European football once again.

The year became even more successful following early rounds of the UEFA Cup. In the first round, the club defeated Dinamo București over two ties. After a 1–0 home win, NEC drew 0–0 in Romania to reach the group-stage. They were then drawn against Tottenham Hotspur, Udinese, Spartak Moscow, and Dinamo Zagreb. They started poorly, with defeats to both Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham Hotspur – meaning they were bottom of the group and almost out of the tournament. After a 2–1 victory against Spartak Moscow in Russia with a goal from Lasse Schone, NEC played their last match in Nijmegen against Udinese. To advance, NEC and Tottenham had to win over Spartak Moscow. Tottenham were trailing at half time, while NEC were being held at 0–0. In the 74th minute, however, Tottenham scored twice to eventually draw 2–2 against Spartak and Collins John scored almost simultaneously to make the score 1–0 for NEC. With a second goal from Jhon van Beukering, NEC reached the next round.

The last 32 draw of the UEFA Cup saw NEC drawn against German powerhouse Hamburger SV. The fairy tale ended for the club when the Germans won 3–0 at Goffertstadion and 1–0 in Hamburg. NEC supporters were subsequently complimented in Europe by Franz Beckenbauer, who said he had never witnessed such great support from away supporters.

2013–present: Relegation and return

At the end of the 2013–14 season, NEC prevented automatic relegation by holding Ajax to a 2–2 draw in Amsterdam on the last matchday with a brace from Alireza Jahanbakhsh. However, in the following relegation play-offs, NEC lost 4–1 on aggregate to Eerste Divisie's 16th placed Sparta Rotterdam and was relegated to the second tier of Dutch football for the first time in 20 years.

They bounced back however at the first attempt after beating Sparta 1–0 on 3 April 2015 to clinch the Eerste Divisie title with six games left. On 28 May 2017, NEC faced relegation again after two years in the Eredivisie after losing 5–1 on aggregate against NAC Breda.

They reached the promotion play-offs in both the 2017–18 and 2018–19 seasons, but lost in the semi-finals on both occasions to FC Emmen and RKC Waalwijk. For the 2019–20 season, the club took the ususual step of appointing three managers: Adrie Bogers, Rogier Meijer and Francois Gesthuizen – the club finished in eighth place, which would have granted them a place in the play-offs, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the Netherlands, there was no promotion or relegation between Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie.

In May 2021, the club once again achieved promotion to the Eredivisie after beating NAC Breda 2–1 in the final of the promotion/relegation play-offs.

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