Sjel (Mike) de Bruyckere (1928-2011

Sjel (Mike) de Bruyckere. After a stellar career as player and coach at senior level de Bruyckere continued his involvement with the game, coaching children.Photo: Les Shorrock. Source: Les Shorrock collection, Deakin University Library.

Sjel (Mike) de Bruyckere (1928–2011)

Roy Hay

Sjel de Bruyckere was born in Kaatsheuvel in Holland on 6 February 1928. He played football for his local club as a junior but in 1950 was chosen by Willem II in Tilburg, where he helped the club to win two of the three First Division titles achieved since its foundation. He played 167 games for the club and scored 80 goals.

Willem II players and officials celebrate the league championship in Holland in 1955. Courtesy De Bruyckere family.

He was selected for Dutch national team and was a regular from 1952 to 1955, representing his country seven times in all. He played his first international for Holland against Belgium, scoring on debut and assisting the Dutch to a 4–3 victory.  He was the most capped player in Willem II’s history at the time, and that is still true today. A grandstand at the club was named after him recently and his picture appears as the centerpiece in the Fan Shop more than fifty years after he left Holland.

Meanwhile in Melbourne, the Wilhelmina club was the flag-bearer of Dutch involvement in football under the dynamic leadership of John van Hoboken. Thanks largely to van Hoboken’s efforts the club attracted a number of high-quality Dutch players, including international Sjel de Bruyckere, who went on to captain and coach Victoria and play for Australia, and Dick van Alphen from Ajax, who played for Victoria and in ten games for Australia. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Dutch players, along with some Maltese and Austrians, were claimed to be migrants who just happened to want to play football by their Australian clubs. The clubs with which they had played in Europe were not fooled and demanded compensation fees. This episode led to the suspension of Australia’s membership of FIFA from 1958 to 1963.

De Bruyckere’s last game before coming to Australia was an international watched by 65 000 spectators. His first game in Australia was in Geelong before 50 spectators and assorted cows that were shooed from the paddock before kick-off. The story goes that he was full of admiration when he saw the many thousands of people headed along the Princes Highway to Geelong not realising they were actually going to Kardinia Park to watch the Geelong VFL game and not the soccer.

Nineteen-fifty-four was Wilhelmina’s first full season in Division Four of the Victorian League and it made an immediate impact, winning 16 games out of 18, finishing first and being promoted to Division Three. In 1955 the club went through the season winning every game and scoring 114 goals and conceding only ten. To get to the top league, however, better players were required and van Hoboken attracted de Bruyckere to act as player-coach to the team.

In 1956 Wilhelmina won 16 games and drew two, resulting in the third successive promotion, this time to Division One. So in three seasons the club had played 54 league games for one loss. De Bruyckere was selected for Victoria against Queensland in 1957 and went on to represent the state against Ferencvaros, FK Austria, Heart of Midlothian and other touring teams. He also coached the state side through into the 1960s.

As a professional De Bruyckere was not eligible to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956, along with many of the best players in the country, including Joe Marston. He did receive a cap for his new country at a time when Australia played very few international games and many of these were against club teams. De Bruyckere played for Australia against the Eastern Athletic club from Hong Kong on 10 August 1957 at Olympic Park and scored the winning goal in a 2–1 victory.

In the next two seasons de Bruyckere helped Wilhelmina to establish itself at the top level, running Juventus close in the first year of the State League in 1958 and winning the Dockerty Cup. In the final it took a replay before Wilhelmina could claim the trophy by three goals to nil over Juventus including a critical goal by De Bruyckere. Bill Westerveld was awarded the Argus Medal. Van Hoboken and Fred Hutchinson, the secretary of Wilhelmina and formerly a Grade One referee, both thought that De Bruyckere was ‘the best overseas player ever brought to Australia’.

Wilhelmina’s Dockerty Cup winning team in 1958. Ad Sloethark, Sjel de Bruyckere, Hans Peterson, Tjibbe Keuken, Rein Yntema, Arie Luyten, Tony Noy, Dre Remmers, Bill Westerveld, Cor Morks, Cor Matthyssen. Source: Ringwood City website, with permission.

In 1959 Wilhelmina won the State League with a team which included Cor Delgeorge, Tjibbe Keuken, Bill Westerveld, Joe van der Unden, Arie Luyten, Tony Noy, Ad Sloethark, Cor Morks, Pret Brouwer, Dre Remmers, Rein Yntema, and Sjel de Bruyckere. Unfortunately both Yntema and de Bruyckere (in the Dockerty Cup) suffered broken legs in that campaign and Westerveld was badly injured in a car crash, losing an arm.

De Bruyckere had a strong sense of his value to his club and state and this often brought him into conflict with the clubs he played for or coached and the football authorities. In June 1964 while De Bruyckere was player-coach at Melbourne Hungaria, he formed one of the early football players’ associations, a predecessor of the current Professional Footballers Australia. De Bruyckere was secretary and a driving force behind the association pointing out that ‘each club has its own committee and they can do what they like to you. They can put you in the seconds or reserves, and you can’t do anything about it. Where can you go with your problems?’ The major goal of the Victorian Soccer Players’ Association was the abolition of the retain-and-transfer system which tied players to clubs even after their contract was completed, something which was only completely achieved by the Bosman judgment in Europe in 1995.

Lou Stafrace and Sjel de Bruyckere when he coached Green Gully in 1976. Photo: Green Gully Soccer Club.

De Bruyckere coached a number of clubs including Wilhelmina (later called Ringwood City), Ringwood United, Lions, Polonia and George Cross and when he was at Green Gully in the first half of 1976 Preston Makedonia tempted him with a large increase in salary and he switched clubs. In later life he coached children at various levels imparting his skills and the love of the game. The current best & fairest award at Ringwood City is named in honour of Sjel (Mike) de Bruyckere. He was a member of Football Federation Australia’s Hall of Fame.

Outside football de Bruyckere had always been a physical education teacher and he continued in that role long after he hung up his boots, primarily at Box Hill and Mitcham Technical schools.

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