Robertus Petrus van der Laan or Robin van der Laan to Vale fans, did not confirm to stereotypes.
Name: Robertus (Robin) van der Laan (Vanders)
Cult qualifications: Midfield hardman, flowing locks, groundbreaking Dutch signing, popular with the ladies
Time at Vale: 1990-1995
The club’s first Dutch signing, he paved the way for a minor revolution at Vale Park with countrymen Nico Jalink, Arjen van Heusden, Jermaine Holwyn and Rogier Koordes all following in his footsteps, albeit with varying degrees of success.
But wheras the likes of Jalink was your ‘stereotypical’ Dutch player – undoubtedly skilful but not cut out for the hustle and bustle of the English leagues – van der Laan was an exception.
He joined Vale following a 14 match ban from the Dutch leagues and almost immediately endeared himself to Vale fans with his workrate.
Initially signed as a striker, he was best suited to box-to-box play, and was quickly converted to midfield where his hefty challenges (I remember one on a wet pitch against Wolves where he must have slid twenty yards) made him a fans favourite. Meanwhile, his flowing blonde locks and good looks made him many female admirers in (according to reports) most of the local nightclubs.
Van der Laan also had the knack of grabbing the headlines too. He scored in front of the Kop in Vale’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool in 1992 and also against Stoke in an Autoglass Trophy tie in 1993. He was subsequently a member of the team that won the Autoglass Trophy at Wembley and promotion in 1994.
Even when he left, he provided the club with a valuable legacy. Firstly, John Rudge bagged £475,000 for him from Derby (a profit of £395,000 on the original fee). Also Vale secured the services of Lee Mills as part of the deal (and he was then sold on for £1m).
Post-Vale, van der Laan continued to enjoy success and the adulation of fans. At Derby, he was made captain and scored the goal that secured promotion to the Premier League. He then moved on to Barnsley before retiring through injury.
In total, he made 314 appearances in the English leagues, scoring 33 goals.
After finishing his playing career, he continued to make waves, this time in coaching. He progressed to the role of Head International Coach for Man Utd’s youth teams and runs a series of soccer schools in Canada, where he now lives.
We’d love to see his tutorial on how to slide tackle an opponent…