When Bok de Korver retired from Oranje in 1913, it was feared that a vacuum would be left in the national team. These concerns were quickly abated when Harry Dénis appeared on the scene in 1919 after a five year interuption of international matches resulting from World War I.
Born in 1896, Dénis would be the last of the gentlemen amateurs. He grew up during a time when football fervour had swept Holland. He was sixteen when Bok de Korver and his men returned from the Stockholm Olympics and were treated like conquering heroes by the mobs in Amsterdam. This type of public adulation for athletes was unprecedented in Holland and it was an inspirations for a whole generation of youngsters. Dénis was one of these youths inspired by the early exploits of Oranje. He came from a “good family” and as a student he pursued his education while maintaining the amateur athlete ideals and philosophy. Dénis was an engineer by profession and eventually became director of a cement factory. His
whole career he played for the socially elite HBS club. He believed profoundly in the amateur principles and standards that were so emphasised by the KNVB. Like many of his peers, Dénis’ football exploits at the beginning of his career were somewhat limited as a result of the war that was being waged throughout the rest of Europe. Dénis’ big break came in 1919 when he was selected to join Oranje. His immediate success as leader of the defence and principle playmaker led to his selection for the team for the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. Hailed as the “new Bok de Korver”, expectations were high for the twenty-four year old from The Hague. But the feud that erupted into what is popularly known as “The Scandal of Schelde” distracted all involved from the football that needed to be played. Dénis had a decent tournament and never became too associated with the incidents aboard the ship that housed the team. Despite everything, the team still walked away with the bronze medal. In 1924 Holland was captained by Dénis. Although the team did not implode this time, they did not get a medal either. Dénis had a great tournament and was one of the very few players to play all of the matches. He had grown into the outstanding player of his generation. Back in Holland, Dénis was one of the instigators of a special organisation for the socially elite amateurs, the gentleman footballers if you will. Harry Dénis, who was half-mockingly known as team intellectual, was one of the last of breed of gentleman amateurs to play the sport. It was now the mid-Twenties, and with social legislation in place, the sport was moving from the elite of society to the masses. Dénis’ Corinthians was an attempt to restore football to what it been at the turn of the century, a sport for socially elite clubs. Naturally it was doomed to failure as it was moving against the course of societal evolution. Dénis club HBS won the national title in 1925 and was the last of the elite clubs to do so. From then on the people’s clubs dominated.
Dénis continued his leading role in Oranje where he remained an instrumental force in the defense. In 1928 he was selected for his third Olympic team. This tournament was not a success as Holland was eliminated in the first round. Aside from losing to the undisputed best team in the world, many attribute the loss to a poisoned esprit de corps which was divided amongst class lines. Players such as Dénis and Gejus van der Meulen had open conflicts with some of the commoners. The exact details of these spats are fuzzy but they were by all accounts class-related. Although Dénis is sometimes associated negatively with regards to some of these incidents, he was simply a product of his era and background. Had he he been born ten years earlier he would probably never have had a conflict on the team. He had the misfortune (for him) to be the last of a breed, their time was up and he resisted. In terms of football, he had followed in the footsteps of Bok de Korver and became a great leader in the field. His 56 international appearances was an absolute record at the time. He was also captain of Oranje 37 times.
Harry Dénis died in 1971 and was thus able to see most of the evolution of football in Holland. He saw the sport professionalise and he was witness to the rise of the clubs.