By Walter Broeckx
Some people may have been surprised by the way Thomas Vermaelen has settled in so quickly after joining The Arsenal this summer.
Vermaelen was highly rated in Amsterdam as captain from Ajax but in the international football world wasn’t a big name. So there has been a lot of doubters amongst the Gooners specially when it turned out that he wasn’t the 9 foot tall CB they hoped for.
But then he came and he did what he did in his first opening games. He slotted in with the team, his teammates and produced very good things. Being from the same region as Vermaelen, Antwerp(en), I’m maybe a little bit biased but then again I can see his mistakes sometimes and his faults so I’m not going to make him a demi-god or anyhthing.
But Thomas Vermaelen is a real product of what could have happened if in 1830 our countries (Belgium and Holland) hadn’t split up. In Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, we always have had a kind of underdog position and never stood up for ourselves.
For example when Belgium started, Dutch wasn’t an official language, although the majority speak Dutch, and it took more than 100 years before Flemish kids could go to university in their own language because Dutch wasn’t supposed to be fit for higher education.
So Thomas also had that kind of background, not big in words but a low profile quiet boy from Flanders. But then because of his footballing qualities he got spotted by Ajax. Up north he went and because in Holland they have louder voices than in Flanders – one of the differences between Flanders and Holland – he felt he should speak more for himself if he wanted to succeed.
And so he did, and he ultimately became the captain of Ajax. Still not very outspoken but one who was listened to when he spoke – despite his youth. He became the man who regulated things in the defense of Ajax.
Because of our background in Flanders we pay a lot of attention to learning foreign languages. Antwerp is an important harbour in Europe so we meet a lot of people from the whole world and we always try our best to answer people in their own language.
So like all Flemish kids Thomas learned English, French and some German to in school. If his colleagues in defense speak French it is no problem for Thomas because he understands French and normally should be able to speak French, if he paid enough attention at school that is.
He also speaks English as you all could see in his interviews so he can speak with his other teammates who don’t speak French. Thanks to this he, and most Flemish people, can adapt quickly in a foreign country. And so it seems to be no problem for Vermaelen to talk with his teammates and to talk with the press. In fact when you speak to persons from his and my background it is clear that Thomas speaks another language: “ Antwerps” which is Dutch spoken with an Antwerp tongue. We consider it to be the official language of Flanders but that is a thought which isn’t followed by the other Flemish people. I really don’t know why……
So far for his background and now that he is doing so well in his first games he also shows our character in a way and it makes us in Flanders proud that he is doing so well. Our philosophy is hard work, not moaning, show your courage, be brave, just do your best every day and work as hard as you can. Fight like a lion.
Thomas is showing this and it is for the first time since ages that a local Flemish boy is playing in one of the top teams in the world, and the best part of it is that he just is delivering the goods. I’m sure he will mess up on occasion, he’s human, but he knew the critics were waiting to write him off and he stood up and proved them wrong.
If you see, in the not too distant future a person entering the Emirates with a yellow flag with a black lion on it (the official flag of Flanders), it could be me to show my support to our local Flemish kid who made it to the top.
By the way if it would have been Dembele which would have been bought then I could almost write a story of a boy from round the corner as his parents live around the corner from my brother.
I also welcome articles from readers – I’m sorry I am not able to publish all of them, but do consider each item sent in. If you are interested in writing, send in a short summary of the idea, and I’ll come back to you. Tony
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