Rick van Drongelen: “Derbies electrify the whole city”

In an interview with HSVlive, vice-captain Rick van Drongelen speaks about his fascination with derbies, his early experiences of the Rotterdam derby with Sparta and his expectations for Monday night's game.

An early thrown-in deep in HSV territory. Alex Meier against Rick van Drongelen. Years of experience against youthful exuberance. 1.96m against 1.88m. St. Pauli against Hamburger SV. Time to make your mark; van Drongelen, giving the Pauli striker no room to back in, rises highest and heads the ball away convincingly from the Hamburg danger area. An early signal that Meier would be getting short change out of the Hamburg vice-captain on that cold March afternoon. The game continued as Rick had started it, with goals from Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Khaled Narey and Douglas Santos seeing the Rothosen running out 4-0 winners at the Millerntor.

‘Hamburg is ours’, was defender van Drongelen’s message after the game. The 20-year-old Dutchman, voted as the team’s vice-captain and taking the captain’s armband in Aaron Hunt’s absence in the past few weeks, lives for the big games. And, another big game awaits the Dutchman on Monday (16th September, 8:30pm kick-off); the small matter of the Hamburg derby, once again at the Milerntor. The rock at the back explains to HSVlive what is so special about derby games, and what he expects on Monday evening.

Rick, what are the distinguishing features of a derby?

Firstly, how close the two clubs are geographically. City derbies, like between HSV and St. Pauli, are the biggest of all, because the two clubs are situated in the same city. On top of that, there’s lots of general excitement within the city during a derby. The newspapers are full of stories about the game and the fans make sure the atmosphere builds up to the day of the match. Of course then the atmosphere inside the stadium itself is pretty intense. Derbies are games that electrify the whole city. Part of the reason why you want to become a footballer is to play in these kind of games. 

You signed for Sparta Rotterdam as a 13-year-old and played a number of inter-city derbies during your youth career. What memories do you have of your duels against Feyenoord?

Even as a youth player, the games against Feyenoord were something special. There were always lots of spectators at the games and it was about prestige, seeing which club produced the better talents. I didn’t actually live in Rotterdam at that point, but lots of my teammates did, and went to school with Feyenoord players, and it felt like the whole school had turned up to watch the game. If you won the derby, you were the boss at school – a great feeling for all of us (laughs).

Then in your first season as a professional you played in a full Rotterdam derby. Feyenoord won the first game 6-1, then Sparta the second 1-0. An example that any result is possible in a derby?

Of course, in a derby anything is possible. Feyenoord were champions that season and only lost two games – one of those against us. Nobody gave us a chance as Feyenoord had a great team with players like Dirk Kuyt, Eljero Elia and Nicolai Jörgensen. In the first game we didn’t have a chance but in the replay we went in front after 40 seconds and then fought for the rest of the game with the fans behind us. It was funny because we were in a difficult situation fighting against relegation, but that victory was the turning point as we eventually survived. 

Last season was your first experience of the Hamburg derby. What was your impression of both games?

The first derby was a classic nil-nil. It was the first meeting between the two teams in a long time, both teams didn’t want to make any mistakes or lose under any circumstances. During the second game we were clearly the better team. We tore St. Pauli apart and were deserving 4-0 winners. For me personally it was an amazing feeling to win a derby away from home.

Derbies are particularly meaningful for the fans of both clubs. How does that affect the build-up to the game?

For the fans the derby is the highlight of the season, which affects the whole atmosphere in the city in the weeks leading up to the game. For example, lots of fans come to the final open training session before the game, cheering us on and firing us up for the match. I also remember quite clearly the morning of the second game against Pauli in March. I woke up at the team hotel, opened the window and saw the HSV fan march from the Dammtor station in Hamburg. At that point I thought: now it’s really getting underway! The energy from the fans transmits itself to the team. In the team bus on the way to the ground it was very calm and relaxed, all the players had their headphones on. In the changing rooms we didn’t have to say much or motivate each other. We all know: this is when it counts! 

What’s it like during the 90 minutes?

It’s so loud that you can’t hear yourself think. You can feel in the air that this kind of game doesn’t happen every week and there’s an intense atmosphere in the stands. Especially when you’re playing away you feel the support of the away fans more and they carry you through the game. During the game in March you could hear the HSV fans more clearly with every goal that we scored. To celebrate with them at the end of the game was an amazing feeling. 

How do you feel going in to your third Hamburg derby?

Very excited. We won the last derby and are therefore the team with a target on our backs. In my eyes we’re in a position to get the same result again. It would be perfect if we could win both derbies this season. But one thing is certain: even when I don’t see any relation between our last derby win and how the rest of the season panned out, it’s only one of our 34 league games and we have a bigger goal than two derby wins. I would choose promotion over a derby win.