Profile: Van Raaij led PSV to success with club love and common sense

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With the death of Harry van Raaij (84), Dutch football and PSV in particular loses one of the most famous and striking directors ever. De Brabander made the Eindhoven club more successful and professional, but the family atmosphere was retained and as a result he grew into a beloved chairman.

Bridge between stadium and training complex

He could perhaps laugh the most when Erik van Muiswinkel imitated him. Harry van Raaij was a fan of the comedian’s parody. It is not without reason that he asks him to write the foreword to his biography in 2007 Harry van Raaij, father and chairman. The book comes with a DVD with Van Muiswinkel, who once again puts on a Brabant accent and takes on the role of the popular PSV chairman.

Ten years later, Van Raaij and Van Muiswinkel walk together across the field in the Philips Stadium prior to the PSV-Willem II match. The stadium is still familiar territory for the former chairman, who continues to visit the games, but as a supporter.

Van Raaij was already a fan of PSV when he grew up as a carpenter’s son in the 1930s and 1940s in the Brabant village of Haps, where he had a modest football career with the Hapse Boys. As a child he wanted to become a priest, but he became an accountant at Philips, the parent company of PSV.

In 1984 chairman of the board Jacques Ruts asks him to become PSV treasurer and twelve years later Van Raaij becomes chairman. His motto is: “Lead PSV as a company, but experience it as a club.” And that turns out to be possible.

Erik van Muiswinkel – as Harry van Raaij – and Harry van Raaij in 2017. (Photo: Pro Shots)

As chairman, Van Raaij is now and then far ahead of his time. He thinks aloud of a Beneliga and even an Atlantic League, with clubs from Portugal and Scotland too. It happens at a time when chairmen are still the outspoken figureheads of the top clubs in the Netherlands. Ajax has Michael van Praag, Feyenoord Jorien van den Herik and PSV Van Raaij.

The amiable Van Raaij, renowned for his common sense, dares to invest with PSV. With Bobby Robson and Guus Hiddink, he brings back international top trainers to the club, who become champions four times (1997, 2000, 2001 and 2003) in the eight years under his leadership. In the meantime, the De Herdgang training complex and the Philips Stadium are being modernized and expanded. This is how the foundation is laid for the PSV of the 21st century.

“He is the man who bridges the gap between the stadium, where the majority of the staff work, and De Herdgang sports complex, where players and trainers are active,” PSV writes after Van Raaijs’s death. The club praises him for being able to bond and connect.

There is also admiration for Van Raaij’s work from outside PSV. In 2004 he was elected as the most important director in the fifty-year history of Dutch professional football. 2004 is also his last year as chairman of PSV. On his farewell he is cheered on in the Philips Stadium by the supporters, who admire him, but also see the approachable Van Raaij as one of them.

The fanatical supporters still play an annual indoor football tournament for the Harry van Raaij Cup, named after the most beloved chairman in club history. Van Raaij always hand out the cup personally until old age.

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