Former Hearts star Andy Driver signs new deal in Holland

STORAGE companies are making an absolute killing from Andy Driver. His personal belongings can be found in warehouse depots in the United States, England, Scotland and the Netherlands.

Tuesday, 31st May 2016, 5:30 am
Andy Driver has enjoyed playing for De Graafschap, the Dutch club he joined last summer
Andy Driver has enjoyed playing for De Graafschap, the Dutch club he joined last summer

It is the result of a varied footballing career which has taken him from Europe to the United States and back. The far-travelled winger might be starting to put down some roots, though.

Yesterday, he signed a two-year contract with De Graafschap, the Dutch club he joined last summer. He is settled living with his American wife in Arnhem and commuting to Doetinchem – where De Graafshap are based – although his team could yet be relegated from the Dutch Eredivisie. They lost to Go Ahead Eagles in the play-offs last week, but financial troubles at FC Twente could see them demoted rather than De Graafschap.

Driver isn’t fussed. He is happy amid the Dutch lifestyle and culture, so dropping into the Jupiler League [Dutch second tier] wouldn’t be a huge deal. With lawyers and courts involved, uncertainty over FC Twente’s future could rumble on for weeks, if not months. Driver decided not to become hung up on whether he will play first or second division football next season. Now 28, he just put his own future first.

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“De Graafschap is a great club, I could’ve ended up in a lot worse places,” he told the Evening News. “I’m delighted to get some security for a change after being all over the place for a few years. It’s a good decision for me. It’ll be disappointing if we get relegated but I think there’s a decent chance we could stay in the league.

“I was two years at Houston Dynamo but I never had security. Every year it was up in the air, it was an option in the contract. Now I’ve got a two-year contract, I don’t need to move house, so it will be a nice change. It’s nice to be wanted and De Graafschap showed massive trust and faith in me by offering me a contract even though they could be relegated.

“They know what the possibilities are but they really wanted me to stay. Sometimes it’s good to feel wanted. This will be the longest I’ve stayed with one team since Hearts. I’ve had a great time travelling abroad but I’ve never really had any security. I’ve never been in a situation where I know where I’m going to be for longer than two minutes. It was a big compliment that De Graafschap wanted me.”

Driver has always considered any proposal put in front of him, no matter where in the world it came from. “You know what I’m like, I’m always up for new challenges,” he continued. “Staying here was always the most realistic option for me because I love it here. You know what football’s like, it’s not as easy as people think it is. A lot of players get to this time of year and struggle to get back into it. It’s never clear-cut and folk don’t realise that.”

De Graafschap are the fourth club on his CV after Hearts, Houston Dynamo and Aberdeen. He is used to moving around, dumping stuff in storage and heading off into the sunset. At some point, he’ll need about two months off to go travelling around the world retrieving all his belongings.

“People like me come to the end of the season and have to think about moving again. I mean, I’ve now got stuff in storage in America, Holland, England and Scotland. It’s not easy, but I’m used to it.” He is asked how he plans to get his stuff back given it’s strewn halfway across the globe. “I know. I’m going to have to send the wife across to America to sort that one out. I can’t be dealing with it now.”

Staying put means no more storage bills, at least for now. His mind will instead be preoccupied with trying to help De Graafschap avoid next season’s relegation play-offs, or, worst case, striving for promotion back to the Eredivisie. At yesterday’s meeting with the club hierarchy, it was made clear to Driver that he can be an influential figure within their squad.

“They’re looking for me to lead by example next season. I’m in a fairly young team and I might need to be that experienced head. It’s difficult to do that if you’re moving all the time. It’s an experience I’m looking forward to,” he said. “There’s plenty to play for either way. Ideally, we’d like to stay up. I’m just at the stage in my career where I’m getting a little bit older. The club want me to be a bit more of a leader in the changing room. It’s hard to do that when you move from place to place. Hopefully I can be more of an influence on the team here.”

He must now become fluent in Dutch to exert his authority. “I asked if I could get Dutch lessons included in the contract. I wasn’t expecting them to agree, but they did. I don’t know when I’ll be starting school again but it will be soon. Dutch is such a hard language. I can understand German but I struggle with Dutch, and people laugh at you when you try to speak it and you just can’t.”

The Netherlands has certainly granted him a new lease of life. He amassed 27 appearances and scored four goals in his first year with De Graafschap. He is also a popular figure amongst supporters. It is strange to think he had to prove himself on trial at the Stadion De Vijverberg last summer in order to earn a contract.

“The club have been brilliant, the fans have been brilliant, and when you’re happy somewhere and playing well, it naturally feels good to stay there. Hopefully things work out and we stay up but it’s out of my hands. It’s a nightmare for our club because we don’t know if we can sign anybody, what budget we’ll have, nothing.”

His enthusiasm begs the question of why a secluded corner of the Netherlands holds so much appeal. “The biggest appeal is you’ve got new stadiums with good facilities which are full all the time,” he explained. “Every game has a good atmosphere and I enjoy playing in those atmospheres more than the Dutch style of play. I like the Dutch style, it’s easy to watch and there are always lots of goals.

“It’s entertaining and I’d recommend any players to watch this league. I’d also recommend coming here to any players from Scotland. It’s been an amazing experience. Look at the situation I was in last year. I had to go trialing and I had no options. I’m in a much better position now.”