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The town of Nieuw-Vennep in the western Netherlands was the scene of an incredible spectacle on Sunday afternoon, when a promotion parade for local soccer team VVV-Venlo was greeted by a fleet of helicopters. The team—which just clinched promotion to the Eredivisie, the country’s top division, for the first time in 18 years—chose to celebrate its achievement by renting a fleet of helicopters to fly above Nieuw-Vennep, carrying members of the team and coaching staff, as well as more than 3,000 fans, from an airfield to the center of town.

SC Cambuur-Leewarden manager Henk de Jong was well prepared for the upcoming match on Saturday morning. After the 1-1 draw against De Graafschap the day before, the team and coaching staff had each had a pint, as he said, to celebrate the victory in the Dutch Keuken Kampioen Divisie and with it promotion to the Eredivisie, the highest division.

I’m not afraid to throw up, De Jong told ESPN. It’s not a big hangover like last week [after the promotion], it’s a small one.

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Because the limitations of COVID-19 prevented Kambuur from celebrating the event in the usual way – with a mass party on the Oldehoofsterkerkhof in the city centre – the municipality and the mayor proposed an unconventional way to add lustre to the occasion: a helicopter parade.

Shortly before noon on May 1, the squadron of Kambur, some of them wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day, arrived at Leuwarden Air Base. They saw three helicopters waiting on the tarmac: two for the squadron, one for the media after the parade.

Also for the passengers! ✌#BackWhereWeHear pic.twitter.com/EB066KhJ1P

– SC Cambuur (@SCCambuurLwd) 1 May 2021

Each helicopter was designed to carry five people for a 20-minute flight over Leeuwarden, a city in the north of the Netherlands with 122,000 inhabitants, at an altitude of about 300 meters.

The residents were invited to decorate their gardens and houses in the yellow and blue colours of Cambuur in anticipation of the construction of the viaduct. And when the helicopters flew over the field of LKC Sonnenborgh (the local Frisian handball club), they saw flags spread out on the grass with the text: CCC JUSTICE.

The whole city celebrated Cambuur’s entry into the Eredivisie, after they were denied it last season. ESPN

This party’s been a long time coming. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the world last year, the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) held a meeting with the clubs to decide how the 2019-20 season would end. At that time Cambuur was in the lead of the Dutch second division, 11 points away from a play-off place. Options such as a points-per-match model were mentioned and put to a vote of the clubs. 34 clubs from the first and second divisions of Dutch soccer gave their opinion – 16 voted for promotion and relegation, nine voted against and nine abstained or didn’t vote. As there was no majority, the decision was left to the KNVB. It distributes European places in the Eredivisie, but refuses to crown champions or introduce promotion and relegation.

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Cambuur was inconsolable. They already had one foot in the Eredivisie. At the time, De Jong spoke of the biggest shame in Dutch sports history and general manager Ard de Graaf told ESPN that there was a huge sense of injustice at the club. Because the club already had plans for promotion to the highest league, including the construction of a new 72 million euro ($86.5 million) stadium on the outskirts of the city, the promotional party was postponed.

The wounds from last year needed time to heal. De Jong stands by his statement, but he should have let his team focus on this season instead of reliving the pain of last April. After a slump in September, they continued to dominate the Dutch second division, winning 27 of their 36 league games. Then midfielder Issa Callon scored on 17. When he scored the goal that secured promotion against Helmond Sport on 23 April, he lifted his shirt and saw the word Justice written on another shirt.

#CAMHEL #CambuurKomtEraan pic.twitter.com/pWCHPs6f6V

– SC Cambuur (@SCCambuurLwd) 17 April 2021

When the final whistle sounded for a 4-1 victory, cheers erupted outside the Kambuur Stadium. This joy prompted the community and the mayor to find another way to celebrate the team’s success. Normally this would mean celebrating in a sea of yellow and blue lights, but because they wanted to avoid large public gatherings due to the pandemic of the coronavirus, they came up with an alternative from the air.

Local firefighters greeted the Cambuur players from the ground as a parade of helicopters flew overhead. ESPN

From 13.00 to 15.00 hours helicopters flew over Leeuwarden. The players saw yellow and blue flares light up on the ground below them. They watched as the firemen formed a semicircle of fire engines as a tribute to the crew; as they looked down Maximill Street, they saw the association’s emblem drawn in chalk on the road. Even more support came from the hashtag #TerugWhereWeHoren (Back Where We Belong) on Twitter.

The #maximillastreet is ready. Bring on the #heli and @SCCambuurLwd #BackWhereWeHear pic.twitter.com/e75Wtz2df8

– Hein de Haan (@heindehaan) 1 May 2021

You’re so high in the air, midfielder Nick Dudeman told ESPN after landing. Before takeoff, I stood in front of the helicopter, watched another one take off, and thought: Now it’s time for me to go. The driver was very calm, which also gave us confidence. A strong point? I think I saw my parents and my girlfriend waving at me from the ground! They did some chores around the house, and I think I saw them waving their arms in the yard. But I don’t think they could have seen me.

De Jong added: It was amazing to see everything on the ground. People are so excited, I was on the first flight and there were yellow and blue fireworks. I saw children on the ground, people waving from their gardens.

Cambuur fans agreed to fire rockets and decorate the city in yellow and blue to celebrate the club’s promotion. ESPN

Some players were not convinced by this trick. We’re missing a few players today, De Jong said before leaving. They don’t want to fly away and prefer to keep both feet on the ground. I’m not the type to say live and let live, am I? I’m really starting to get along. If you have the chance, you should take it.

Central defender Kelvin McIntosh is one of those who decided not to take the helicopter. He told ESPN: Why not? I’m not afraid to fly or anything, but being in a helicopter is not really something I want to do. I think it’s too much. But I saw videos of the boys and thought they liked it, so I like it too. Honestly, I thought it was a military helicopter, but it looks a little old-fashioned. You know, I’m fine in a plane, but a helicopter… Uh, not for me. The team’s top scorer, Robert Muren, who arrived at the airport with sunglasses on and a glass of water and said he wasn’t feeling well, also didn’t fly, as did Alex Bangaru, Robin Mauloon and Callon.

Midfielder Michael Braige initially refused the invitation, but his mother and girlfriend changed his mind. Honestly, I’m shaking in my boots, he said before leaving. But I will get up, I will stand. I’m very curious, but I’m taking a hospital bag.

Cambuur’s nickname is Sleeping Giant, but they are waking up from their slumber. They ended their five-year absence from the Eredivisie after relegation in 2016. Cambuur have two games to go this season and the celebrations will continue, but there is a sense that De Jong could try to bounce back with a renewed appreciation for the pitch.

On takeoff, of course, the thing wobbles, but suddenly you get speed, you fly over the ground, and then you’re in the air, he said. Honestly, I felt a little nauseous. We flew over Gutum [a small village near Leeuwarden] where [former player and assistant coach] Martin Barto was standing, but I said: Please walk straight, because I’m nauseous… but that’s also because of yesterday.

This document uses additional information provided by Rick de Kock.

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