Suriname: Tragedy and Future Promise

This could very easily be the lead intro to this story:

On June 7, 1989 Suriname Airways Flight PY764 took off from Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands en route to Paramaribo-Zanderij International Airport in Suriname. The Suriname Airways D-8 plane crashed on approach to the airport, after the plane’s crew ignored warnings and used an inappropriate navigation signal. 176 of the 187 onboard were killed, including the international footballers Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Aron Winter, Bryan Roy, Stanley Menzo and Regi Blinker, who were travelling to Surinam to play for the Colourful 11′s charity team.

That the footballers actually killed on the flight were not those superstars, but rather a lesser group recruited for the Colourful 11 after the likes of Gullit and Rijkaard were refused permission to travel by their European clubs, makes it no less of a tragedy but a more obscure story.

The footballers who in fact died were:

The story also illuminates the odd relationship between Surinam and the dozens of players it has produced who have gone on to play in the Dutch league, but who rarely return to play in Surinam or for their national team.

Surinam, in the north east of South America bordering Brazil and on the Atlantic coast, is the smallest country in South America (though it plays its football in CONCACAF) with a population of 500,000.


Despite its small size, Suriname has produced a strong stream of footballing talent, almost all of the best of which has gone on to represent the Netherlands, its former colonial master (it gained its independence in 1975). As well as those mentioned above, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Stanley Menzo, and Ryan Babel are all of Surinamese descent. Many — such as Gullit and Rijkaard — were born in the Netherlands, though others, such as Seedorf and Hasselbaink, were born in Suriname.

Yet this talent is not something Suriname has ever been able to call on for its national team, which has never even come close to qualifying for the World Cup. This is because of a curious rule in Suriname: players who leave to play professional football abroad (numbering around 150 currently) cannot return and play for the national team (the government is apparently currently reconsidering this ruling).

Despite this, Suriname are currently surging up the Fifa rankings; they were the biggest movers last month, leaping up 58 places to 87th in the world to reach their highest ever ranking (above the likes of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago). They beat Montserrat 7-1 and Guyana 3-1 over two legs to surprisingly reach the group phase of CONCACAF qualifying for the World Cup, and have been drawn in a favourable group comprising of Haiti, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

It would be quite a story if they could somehow make it to South Africa,despite only being able to call on local amaterurs, and twenty years on from the tragedy of flight PY764.

Thanks to Jamzinho on the WSC forum for bringing up this story.

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