How the 1953 North Sea flood resulted in a professional football league.


On the night of 31 January – 1 February 1953, many dykes in the province of Zeeland, the southern parts of the province of South Holland and the northwestern parts of the province of North Brabant ,in the Netherlands,proved unable to resist the combination of spring tide and a northwesterly storm.

It was to become the biggest natural disaster to date in the Netherlands.It was  estimated that  the flooding killed 1,835 people and forced the emergency evacuation of 70,000 more. Floods covered 9% of Dutch farmland, and sea water flooded 1,365 km² of land. An estimated 30,000 animals drowned, and 47,300 buildings were damaged, of which 10,000 were destroyed. Total damage is estimated at 1 billion Dutch guilders.



Although my hometown, Geleen, in the southeastern province Limburg in the Netherlands, was not directly impacted by the storm and floods. Indirectly it was affected by it but in a positive way.

Geleen is the home of Fortuna 54 which was the first professional football team in the country.


One of the key players was Cor van der Hart.

Van der Hart was one of the players participating in the Watersnoodwedstrijd(Flood disaster match) of 12 March 1953.This was a match played in the Parc des Princes stadiumWatersnoodwedstrijd_Aufstellung_L'Equipe_1953-03-13-2 in Paris and was played in honour  of the victims of the North Sea flood of 1953, and to raise money for the relief work and survivors of the disaster. Van der Hart, who still played as a professional in France those days, together with several others like Bram Appel, Theo Timmermans, Bertus de Harder and Kees Rijvers  heard the news of the flood  on the radio and realised his home country needed help .The KNVB (the Dutch football association) still prohibited professional players within the country.

Five days earlier, the Netherlands lost 2-1 to Denmark in another match held in Rotterdam. This time at Paris’ Parc des Princes, the Netherlands trailed 1-0 when de Harder tied the game on a 58th-minute goal. Then Appel, who along with Theo Timmermans helped orchestrate bringing this game, scored the winning goal in the 81st minute.

8,000 Dutch fans travelled to Paris to witness the match and saw their team beating the strong French team 2–1 with goals scored by De Harder and Appel.



The match was the breakthrough to introduce professional football in the Netherlands. Only 17 months later the first professional match in the country was played.

When professional football started in the Netherlands Van der Hart returned to his native country to play for Fortuna ’54,



Fortuna 54 no longer exists ,on July 1 1968  it merged with RKSV Sittardia of the neighboring town of Sittard and was renamed “Fortuna Sittard” and Sittard became the home of the newly founded football team.

In 2001 both towns Geleen and Sittard also merged and formed the municipality of Sittard-Geleen  and is currently  the second most populated municipality in Limburg.


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