“When you play Den Bosch, you feel something different in the team” – Ilse Kappelle on Amsterdam’s Classico

“When we play against Den Bosch, you feel something different in the team,” AH&BC Amsterdam’s Ilse Kappelle says of her club’s most intense rivalry.

“There’s a tension, something that says we will give a little bit more aggression. I can’t really describe it; it’s a feeling. I’m always nervous for those games because I have to be at the best I can give. It’s always physically tough, always tired after those games. It’s like Ajax-Feyenoord!”

The two Dutch giants meet on Saturday in the EHL Women’s FINAL4, a meeting between the two most decorated clubs from the old European Club Cup. Den Bosch won 16 titles, Amsterdam got 14, cutting the gap between the two in 2019 when the competition was last run.

Just three points separate the clubs in their domestic league, Amsterdam leading the Hoofdklasse, albeit with an extra game played. On that front, the capital side have 20 titles, their Brabant opponents 19, sharing that trophy going back to 1997. This is the Dutch classico.

Ilse Kappelle celebrating a goal. Pic: Koen Suyk/World Sport Pics

It is the kind of game Kappelle is thrilled to be part of since joining the club when she was 17. She was born nearby in Amstelveen but was soon on the move to the Netherlands’ eastern border in Nijmegen where she learned her trade with Union.

There, she broke into the first team aged 15 and was involved with the Dutch underage sides and her Under-18 coach Rick Mathijssen encouraged her to switch to Amsterdam.

Initially, it meant four lengthy round-trips on the train before taking up her studies at the Johan Cruijff Academy.

But just as her career was looking set to take off, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee a day after her 19th birthday in the playoffs against SCHC.

It was a slow and painful journey back, 368 days between first team appearances, one which was made easier by surprise messages of support – organised by her boyfriend, Hurley player Siem Schoenaker – from luminaries like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Marc Lammers.

But she also had to endure plenty of tough love as the injury and the abrupt approach taken by her physiotherapist Marc Jansen.

“I didn’t like Marc at all in the beginning! He was very quiet and I love to talk about my feelings. He never asked me ‘are you ok? Are you sad? Do you feel like training?’

“He never asked me anything. I was wondering why he never said ‘you are doing good’. But there was a purpose. He wanted me to help me with the process that I didn’t have to hear it, just that I had to trust myself.

“When I don’t hear anything, I know I am doing well. When I have to do something different, I will hear it; I just have to trust my own processes. It’s a need for an internal reassurance rather than an external one.

“In the end, it made me more mature. It feels like it was a long time ago.”

Despite the improved mental resolve, she says simply returning to action was still an arduous process and took time to process.

“I started playing again at the EHCC at Surbiton. Those were my first matches back with the first team – I played some games with the seconds – after 368 days.

Kappelle with her physio Marc Jansen following the golden season. Pic: Willem Vernes/World Sport Pics

“The tournament was really shit for us! We lost 4-0 to Den Bosch in the Dutch playoffs and then came fourth [in Europe] so it wasn’t a nice tournament for us at all.

“I didn’t feel like I had really returned. The feeling I got back to my own level came after about half a year. I was scared and things didn’t go the way I planned.

“It was only when I started played the indoor season that December. Finally, I got a feeling like it would be fine, that I am getting better and better. During rehab, you think your rehab will take nine months and then you are ready but it takes months and months after to get to that old level. That was the toughest part.”

And it led to her best season to date as Amsterdam bossed the 2018/19 season, winning both the Hoofdklasse and the European Cup with Kappelle playing an ever-increasing role.

“It was our golden year. I started as left defender but mostly I am a midfielder. After the indoor season, I moved to centre defence and got to play whole games which was good for me, for my trust. The playoff final against Den Bosch – I have never seen us play like that so it was amazing, we really enjoyed it!”

After a Junior European silver medal, she has gone on to become part of the senior Dutch women’s squad, earning three caps in 2020 in a truncated schedule.

And now she is hoping to land her second European title. While she would prefer to be facing a new opponent like HC Minsk – who they were due to play before Covid forced the competition to be reduced from eight teams to four – she is delighted the debut of the EHL Women’s FINAL4 will bring a new audience into play.

AH&BC Amsterdam celebrating their 2019 European Club Cup win. Pic: Koen Suyk/World Sport Pics

“We loved [the announcement] when it came out. We were so looking forward to it. It was such good news.

“At the EHCC, we had a few people watch but nowhere near as much as what you see at the EHL crowds for the men’s games. The atmosphere would be great.

“With the Covid virus, it will be different but we love that we are playing along with the men, at the same tournament. Unfortunately, there won’t be any crowds but we are excited because it is now one big tournament.

“Now, we get a feeling like we are equal. We play the same game and now we are at the same tournament.”