The 37-year-old defender has attained genuine legendary status with the Blauwvingers (“Bluefingers”) having spent his entire senior career there, even leading them to glory in the 2014 Dutch Cup with a shock victory over Ajax in the final. Van Polen signed his first professional contract at PEC in 2007, and this week he signed an extension committing him to the club until the end of next season.
But Van Polen’s contract signings are not like those of other players; he has earned a reputation for the unusual clauses and conditions he throws into negotiations to make things interesting and to keep the club on their toes.
Over the past three years he has stipulated in various deals that the club must provide his family with a vacation, a gourmet meal at a restaurant and even supply him with a car. However, on closer inspection, you can see why those “demands” make him such a fan favourite: the vacation was at a Dutch campsite and holiday park, the meal was at a local hotel and the car was a second-hand Peugeot with 55,000 miles on the clock for his wife.
When asked why he insists on these clauses in his contract, Van Polen told ESPN: “I like it. I enjoy forcing the club to be a bit creative. For example, I arranged a restaurant dinner for my family, a weekend trip somewhere. Often there is a lot that can be arranged with sponsors. So, I hand in part of the money with which they then have to be creative. So, there’s something in it for the club and for me. I don’t know, I like to do something like that every time.”
Now, after agreeing to extend his PEC career into a 17th year, the terms of his latest deal mean that the club have to purchase a celebratory beer (or equivalent non-alcoholic beverage) for every single season-ticket holder, volunteer and sponsor of the club. As such, every fan who attends the next PEC home match against Telstar on Friday, April 14 can get a beer on the house to toast their longest-serving player.
“I’ve had this in mind for a few years now,” Van Polen said. “I’m assuming that this year will be my last year as a professional football player and … I wanted to give something back to the supporters.
“It isn’t to win favour at all. I know some people will think of me as a kiss-ass, I completely understand that. But I don’t think I still have to win people over in Zwolle. So, I sincerely saw it as a ‘thank you.’ And I thought a round on the house suited me.”
If he remains a regular in the team, Van Polen will likely make his 500th appearance for the club next season. With any luck, that will be with them back in the Eredivisie, and they are among the top teams vying for promotion back to the top flight after being relegated to the Keuken Kampioen Divisie last term.
As part of the contract announcement, Van Polen handwrote a letter to all the fans, which also revealed the special coin with which to claim their drink.
The letter reads:
To get straight to the point, I’m going to continue as a footballer at our wonderful club for another year. PEC and I have signed an agreement for the upcoming season. Now probably not everyone will be cheering for this. There will be people who say, it’s been nice, that old man has to stop. I can live with that, but I feel fit and I’m looking forward to another year.
As you may know, I try to put something special in my contract every year. Partly because I like to challenge the club in a creative way (which they are very strong in, by the way) and partly because I genuinely like it myself. Now that I assume that I will start my last year as a football player after the summer and given that I have been playing here in Zwolle all my life, I would like to give something back to you.
So now is the right time to have something put in my contract with which I can thank you all. Thank you for the unconditional support I have always felt. In good times, but certainly also in bad times. For me it is very simple, if you had not had so much love for the club, I would not have played for PEC Zwolle for so long. Van Polen, suck-up, I hear some people think. That’s fine, but that’s how I’ve experienced it all these years and I think it’s great to express it to you in this way.
So what’s the idea? I’m going to give a beer to the whole stadium. Certainly not to celebrate that I will continue as a footballer for another year, but to thank you for the unconditional support. However, giving a beer to thousands of season ticket holders is a challenge. How are we going to approach that? In this letter you will find a special coin with which you can get a drink in the circulation of the entire stadium at the next home game. Enjoy the drink and hopefully (I’ll knock it off) we can toast again at the end of this season.
Thank you again for your years of support that I have always experienced.
The most beautiful club of all.
Unsurprisingly, this went down very well with the PEC match-going faithful, not that the club captain knew anything about it.
“To be honest I didn’t really hear about all the reactions,” he said. “I don’t have social media. But I know via the club that the people were full of praise.
“The credit for that goes to the marketing team, though. They came with the idea of the free round of drinks and the letter. I just thought of a voucher so people could get their drinks, but they were like ‘if we do it, we do it well.'”
“This had been going on for a while. I had this in mind for longer. I was already considering how to do it and what would be the best moment. I thought this was a good moment to include it in the negotiations. The negotiation itself took like 10 seconds. It was like: ‘Another year?’ ‘Yes, another year.’ ‘Same conditions?’ ‘Yep, same conditions.’
“I have negotiated a few nice things the last couple of years. I wouldn’t call myself a master negotiator, but I’m doing pretty well.”
We’ll drink to that. Proost!
ESPN Netherlands’ Cas Goertzen and Sander van Hal contributed to this report