She comes from a family with a famous musical link, but Kika van Es was the one to play a pivotal part in a Dutch ensemble that brought a proud football nation to its feet for its women’s team like never before. Two years on, the European champions have the FIFA Women’s World Cup in their sights, and the Ajax left-back intends the Oranje Leeuwinnen to be the summer smash once again in France.
A nation so infatuated with football, what the Netherlands have given the world’s game in style and verve, in innovation and culture, will stand forever. Yet in truth, from a country of circa 17 million, precious few of its wider public have traditionally cast more than a cursory glance at its women’s national team.
There had been a lift in interest as the Oranje Leeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses) made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2009 in Finland as major tournament debutants, but 2017 was the summer that would truly start to paint over unfamiliarity with recognition, connection and admiration. In their fourth major competition, and first as hosts, 21,732 packed into FC Utrecht’s Stadion Galgenwaard on the opening Sunday afternoon of Euro 2017, and after a 1-0 victory over Norway, the wins never stopped.
Like any wonderfully unforgettable summer, it had the soundtrack, as the Oranje tour bus rolled on with bubblegum bounce, buoyancy and brilliance. The 4-2 final win over Denmark was accompanied by a carnival celebration cascading around FC Twente’s De Grolsch Veste home in Enschede, with 28,182 in attendance.
It was all for a team that had done Dutch football’s heritage proud, yet somehow to its own contemporary and exuberant tune. If ever there was a stage for a spectacular encore, the World Cup is it, and thanks to success in UEFA’s qualification play-offs, Sarina Wiegman’s team have their chance in France three months from now.
Almost anyone growing up kicking a ball around lets themselves dream of such a setting, though to play with thousands right there watching on is a feeling only a select amount of the world’s population know. Kika van Es, who played all but the very closing moments of Euro 2017, has eternal membership for that club, though as the 27-year-old left-back explains, the performer’s gene has strong presence in her family.
“A family member of mine is the guitarist of Doe Maar, a Dutch (ska/reggae) band that used to be very popular, and still is. I have been to five or six performances of them with my family.”
Starting the full half a dozen games in the Euros was sweet satisfaction for a player who, despite now sitting on 55 caps for the Netherlands, did not go to the 2015 World Cup and was one of the final three omitted by Roger Reijners for Euro 2013. She became a mainstay in a team that played the tournament perfectly under 2017’s The Best FIFA Women’s Coach, Sarina Wiegman; dazzlingly fluid on plenty of occasions, but efficient even when effervescence was in shorter supply.
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With trusted experience in parts, and simmering potential in others, a mutual desire to take centre-stage despite being cast as a surprise package at best came to the boil. Norway, Denmark (twice), Belgium, Sweden and England all had no way of halting the supreme soliloquy.
They had pace, skill, a thoroughbred goalscorer (Vivianne Miedema) through the middle, and a defence that gave little away. You would struggle to find anyone attributing their success to music, but as Kika describes, it was a vital voice in her corner, no matter the opponent.
“During the European Championship, I listened to the same songs before every match, which gave me goosebumps. I try to listen carefully to the lyrics and to think and enjoy the moment.
“In addition, music determines what mood I am in. When I am active, you will certainly notice that, because of the more happy music, and if I am not, it will be a more quiet song.
“’No Guts, No Glory’ by Ran-D (featuring Skits Vicious) and ‘Don’t Give Up’ by Tatanka were the songs I listened to before every match of the European Championship. I really enjoy listening to music and sometimes even dancing or singing to it.
“Both of these things I am not good at, but when I am alone, I really enjoy doing it.”
That pre-kick-off anticipation for game one of the World Cup is not here just yet, but thoughts of 11th June against New Zealand (the first Dutch opponents in Canada four years ago) in the Stade Océane in Le Havre are hard to keep fully from the door. Kika captained a largely experimental line-up against Poland in the Algarve Cup recently, slotting in at right-back as preparations continued with 11th place at the annual friendly tournament.
Safe to say, the stakes will be far higher in the not-too-distant future, and the volume will rise as the intensity climbs to a new level. In the Dutch changing room, pop/hip-hop group Broederliefde have been a favoured choice, as well as the unashamedly ‘less cool’ options, shall we say?!
What helps bring a dressing room to life may not always strike so deeply into a player’s own affections, so what does Kika enjoy personally when it comes to artists and genres?
“My music taste is very diverse. Mostly, I listen to top-40 music and the Dutch rap.
“Occasionally, I can also like an up-tempo or Dutch song. ‘Say My Name’ by David Guetta (with Bebe Rexha and J Balvin), ‘Drup’ by Bizzey (featuring Kraantje Pappie, Jonna Fraser and Ramiks), and ‘Duurt te lang’ by Davina Michelle.
“Besides Doe Maar, my last concert was Justin Timberlake. I also used to go to hardstyle festivals like Emporium, Hardbass, Intents Festival and WiSH Outdoor.”
Like Kika, another permanent fixture in that Euro 2017 side was midfielder Sherida Spitse, now the most capped footballer (male or female) in Dutch history. The 28-year-old Vålerenga player wore the armband for much of the tournament, with Mandy van den Berg not always a part of the action.
Although Arsenal goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal is the current captain, set-piece maestro Spitse has the most important role – team DJ, of course. Dominique Janssen (now Bloodworth) told on here back in 2016 how Spitse likes to keep the shared input into the playlist by asking for song suggestions on WhatsApp.
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In May last year, Kika signed for Eredivisie Vrouwen side Ajax, the team who had pipped her FC Twente side to the UEFA Women’s Champions League place last season, though Twente had been regular-season winners. She struck the second goal last weekend and captained the team as they beat Achilles ’29 4-2 to reach the KNVB Beker semi-final.
It was a fellow member of that Euro-winning squad who was first responsible for rocking the house after Kika joined the club, but the role has since changed hands somewhat.
“Kelly Zeeman was our first DJ. Nowadays, her successor Kay-lee de Sanders takes the lead, with help from Lize Kop sometimes.
“I do have requests for them, but mostly I adjust myself to the rest. The music is very diverse, ranging from the latest hits to real old-fashioned hits.”
On the subject of old-fashioned hits, any from 1999 sadly qualify for that category now, and that is where we are heading as Kika shares the first music she bought. She liked this song so much she even started wearing number 5 on the field in honour of it! Alright, that’s not true.
“That was a CD of the song ‘Mambo No. 5’ (by Lou Bega). Back then, there were two track numbers on it; one with lyrics and one without.”
Lou Bega is now consigned to 90s music folklore, though with some of the other residents there, it is far from a bad neighbourhood to live in. In a bundle of ways, music lights a fire, whether it is the sentimentality that hits you, raw energy, or a healthy dose of fury now and again!
For sparking togetherness, the karaoke classics are tough to beat. Snollebollekes’ song ‘Links Rechts’ – “The one where everybody jumps to the left and to the right,” as Jackie Groenen described it – would make it onto any Euro 2017 compilation album.
That is very much the vibe of the song Kika would choose if she ever had to set about recording a cover version with teammates.
“The song ‘Jij Krijgt Die Lach Niet Van Mijn Gezicht’ (‘You Don’t Get That Smile Off My Face’) from the Dutch singer John de Bever. I guess that the Orange Lionesses can sing this song completely.
“A cheerful song where everyone can sing along.”
John de Bever also built up a reputation as an indoor footballer, before a spell playing professionally. Fittingly clad in an orange suit, he led the song on stage in front of a staggering crowd who had turned out for the Lionesses’ official Euros celebrations two years ago. Kika and Shanice van de Sanden even threw in the odd lyric on the mic as the entire squad and staff danced. The trophy just about managed to stay safe in there.
— Kika van Es (@KikavanEs) August 7, 2017
‘Jij Krijgt Die Lach Niet Van Mijn Gezicht’ got another rendition from the team in the changing room after they qualified for the World Cup, and John De Bever is one of a vast number to have a foot in both camps when it comes to football and music. In the men’s and women’s game, some of the vocal talents are rather more hidden away than others, but the beauty (and horror) of a player moving clubs is that they will generally have to run the initiation gauntlet…by singing for everyone.
The chances are that if you have moved club in your career, then you have probably had to get up there (at the front of the bus or on a chair in the hotel) and give it what you’ve got. Has Kika, who counts Achilles ’29 and FC Twente as her most recent clubs before Ajax, been faced with that challenge before?
“No, not that I can remember, and that’s a good thing!”
Kika was with Willem II as a teenager, moving on to VVV-Venlo before the team was dissolved and the players all went to the newly-established PSV/FC Eindhoven, a hybrid club that now operates solely as PSV Vrouwen in the Eredivisie. Kika had Arsenal and Netherlands midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk as a teammate and was there until 2016, when she moved to the Groesbeek-based Achilles ’29. She would go on to hit the Eredivisie Vrouwen’s Goal of the Season against them for FC Twente in 2017/18, thanks to a sweet long-range effort.
With the current club season hurtling ever nearer to its conclusion, Kika’s Ajax, who took 3rd place in the regular season to advance to the championship play-off, are presently top of the pile in the chase for that Champions League place. Under coach Benno Nihom, the two-time Eredivisie champions reached this season’s last 16 in Europe, before being swept aside by the star-studded Lyon.
Explaining how she has found it since her move last year, Kika also reflects on the road up to now that has taken her on a zany little tour around the pitch.
“It took some time to get used to Amsterdam, but everything is going very well now. I used to be a left-winger when I started in the national team at Under-15.
“Eventually they needed a left-back for the Under-17s, so from that point, I started playing as a left-back, because there was a bigger chance to play in this position. I can say that I have played in every position during my career as a football player; even one time as a goalkeeper during my period at the KNVB.
“I think I prefer to play in the front, because of the freedom you have and the opportunity to score goals, but for myself, I see the most opportunities as a defender.”
— Ajax Vrouwen (@AjaxVrouwen) May 30, 2018
So she may have had left-back locked down as her position in the Euros, but it was not always like that. Similarly, life in a big city like Amsterdam was far from how it was for her in the beginning.
“Yes indeed, I was born in Boxmeer, a village in Brabant. When I was ten, my parents divorced, which meant that my mother moved to Groeningen and my father stayed in Boxmeer.
“Groeningen has 400 inhabitants and is seven kilometres from Boxmeer. I had a lovely childhood in Boxmeer, as well as in Groeningen.
“From a very young age, I wanted to play football, so as soon as I had my swimming diplomas, I started joining a football club. During my youth, I always played football among the boys at Olympia ’18 in Boxmeer.”
Home is an interesting concept. Most would define it as the place you grew up in, or where you have lived the longest.
It is perhaps where those who mean the most to you are, or where you find your warmest sense of belonging. The place that lets you no longer feel you have to plan where you would like to reside one day – because it is already right here.
The football life is a dynamic and deeply challenging one, and by its very nature, does not lend itself so brilliantly to settling down. There is, however, no set path, or a formula which must be followed, in football or in life.
Kika may retire one day having played at several international tournaments while being content enough to play her club football exclusively in the Netherlands. As she expresses what matters most to her, though, she leaves the door open to venturing overseas at club level in the future.
“I am a real family person and love to spend my spare time with family and friends, but if a good opportunity comes along in my football career, I am certainly willing to live abroad. Besides football, I am often together with family and friends.
“I love to be around nature with my dog Kenzo. Also, I enjoy being with friends and watching movies.”
With a little feint inside and an arcing right-footed cross from the left, Kika laid Shanice van de Sanden’s goal on a plate in the World Cup qualification play-off semi-final’s first leg against Denmark in October. As the Lyon winger’s header burst into the top corner in Breda, the Netherlands strode into a two-goal lead that Denmark would never cancel out in the tie. The Oranje Leeuwinnen clasped their paws on a tournament place a month later, overcoming Switzerland 4-1 on aggregate.
They are already history-makers, and though their outstanding achievement of two years ago would have remained safe in hearts and minds even if they missed out on making the World Cup, such a way of thinking was never going to be acceptable for all those involved. If the Netherlands are at a tournament, the support and colour follows, but 2017 was very special. If you saw it unfolding firsthand, you will have witnessed how the team took the country along with them, with more and more of the Dutch public awakening to what was happening as the days and games went by that summer.
The backing was there as they embarked upon their road to France, with bumper crowds (over 30,000 at PSV’s Philips Stadion for the 7-0 group win over Northern Ireland), and it will soon be time to see what their second World Cup has in store. With Lieke Martens, who featured on here way back in 2014, Kika formed a deadly duo down the left side, and the current Barcelona forward and 2017’s The Best FIFA Women’s Player has been a roommate during her career.
Indeed, there have been numerous friends and people of note she has shared her time in football with up to now, with likely many more still to emerge in the future. We just need four of them to round it all off here. So, if Kika was to throw together a small-sided line-up, with any teammates from her career to play alongside her, who might she go for?
This customary final question always comes with the disclaimer that the interviewee is not asked for the best they have ever played with! It is instead about choosing a fun group who have made an impression on Kika through the years, but safe to say, they would not struggle in this game scenario.
Maybe they might even let Kika go forward at some point!
“It’s difficult to choose only four. As a goalkeeper, I would choose Angela Christ, and furthermore, I should go for Lieke Martens, Daniëlle van de Donk and Sherida Spitse in my team.
“In my opinion, this is a team with a lot of fighting spirit, which can also develop me as a player.”
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