He stood on the video tower in all weather conditions for 23 years at matches of the Dutch teams. During that period, as a video analyst for the KNHB, he was perhaps active at the most international hockey tournaments of all Dutch people. But it has been nice for 62-year-old Lars Gillhaus. The Brabander is taking early retirement. The loyal soldier of a dozen national coaches now has plenty of time to care for his second wife in her final phase of life.
Making a physical appointment for his farewell interview proves to be a difficult task for Lars Gillhaus. The Brabander prefers not to leave his wife Mieke’s side for too long, to whom he provides palliative care.
“In February I was in South Africa at the World Cup for the Dutch Men,” Gillhaus says from behind his computer screen. ‘Shortly afterwards, Mieke was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread. She was treated with chemotherapy and immunotherapy, but that did not work. A scan has shown that she is no longer getting better.’
A message that hits home hard for every partner, but fate hits Gillhaus very hard. He previously lost his first wife to cancer in 2003. ‘When we first received Mieke’s diagnosis, I thought: this isn’t fair, is it? How can anyone experience this twice?’
He pauses and then says, “I’m really not taking this well.”
His wife’s illness is one of the reasons that Gillhaus, in consultation with the KNHB, has decided to retire early. ‘I was actually scheduled to go to the Hockey 5s World Cup with the Dutch team in February 2024. I don’t want to think about that now. I don’t know if I would have been able to leave then. For that reason too, it is better that the KNHB and I part ways. I have been thinking for some time that I can do too little. That started to bother me, it doesn’t suit my work ethic.’
Joost Bitterling and Lars Gillhaus during the Netherlands-Scotland (4-0), in the Hockey World League women. Photo: Koen Suyk
Gillhaus’s reduced efforts in recent years also has to do with the changing world of the video analyst. Filming has become a side issue and is increasingly done, especially at tournaments, by someone who shares the images with other countries. Statistics and analyzes have taken off enormously. ‘For example, when I see what my colleague Joost Bitterling conjures up from his laptop, I am impressed. I missed that shot. Then age does play a role.’
How different was Gillhaus’s entrance as a video analyst for the Dutch team in 2001, where he helped out national coach Marc Lammers (the son of Gillhaus’ first wife). Gillhaus was a manager in a photo and video store and wanted to help his stepson out. It became a special adventure. Together with the innovative Lammers, he developed the much-discussed and revolutionary video glasses, with which penalty corners could be replayed, and the ‘earphones’ with which the Dutch hockey players played in 2002.
Lars Gillhaus (top left) happy with gold at the Beijing Games. Top right Marc Lammers. Photo: KNHB
The Champions Trophy in 2001 in Amstelveen was his first tournament. The association was then quick to offer Gillhaus a contract. It was the start of a long career on the video tower, which started at a time when the video analyst still had to change tapes in his camera. First with tapes and later with hard drives with enormous storage space, Gillhaus traveled all over the world, going from tournament to tournament. Gillhaus was active at five Olympic Games. It is the only number he can name, he has already lost count of the number of World Cups, European Championships, Champions Trophies and other international tournaments. Not to mention the number of filmed matches and training sessions. ‘I have flown around the world several times and have seen so many countries. I thought that was great to experience.’
Gillhaus was always on the tower. In rain, wind, snow and from a few degrees above zero to tropical conditions of more than 35 degrees. The sun crackled on his head for hours on end. ‘Nowadays, video analysts are covered and sheltered, but in the early days we had to figure out how to protect ourselves. When I was younger, I could handle that quite well. That has become more difficult in recent years.’
Lars Gillhaus braved wind and weather on the tower. Photo: Koen Suyk
Even more difficult than the weather were the passed balls, which, according to Gillhaus, sometimes caused life-threatening situations. ‘You have to be careful, especially during the warm-up, when the players are hitting the goalkeeper. I actually got hit a few times. I once had great luck with a backhand from Ronald Brouwer. I really didn’t see that coming. I was lucky that there was a reel that caught the ball. Otherwise I would have gotten that ball in the middle of my crotch and had a high-pitched voice for the rest of my life.’
Gillhaus has his best memory of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where he was a video analyst for the Oranje Men, who were led by Paul van Ass at the time. ‘I really don’t want to do any national coach a disservice, but I really think Paul a hero. A class act. Not just as a coach. Also as a human being. He respects people. As a result, they are willing to do something extra for him. It is not without reason that he is now back with the Orange Ladies.’
Under Van Ass, the Orange Men played the legendary semi-final against Great Britain in London. Gillhaus followed the ‘great’ match from the tower. It was one of the 72 matches that the video analyst recorded that tournament. ‘Normally it gets quieter after the group stage, but I filmed all the matches in that tournament for an FIH project. There were often six in one day. I got up while the rest of the staff was still sleeping and when I went to bed after a hamburger on the way back, the house was already quiet. That was busy, but I still look back on it with great pleasure. Truly my most beautiful tournament.’
All those years, Gillhaus was a reliable factor that every national coach and every player could count on. He was once left alone in Chile with a player from the Dutch Juniors, because she was no longer allowed to travel with the team due to a forgotten passport. ‘I didn’t have to think about it for a second at that moment. That’s how I am wired.’
Lars with his wife Mieke.
The 62-year-old Brabander will be missed as a jewel of Dutch hockey. But it’s a good thing, he says several times. Gillhaus puts away his camera and does not climb his tower again. He currently has more important things on his mind than coding and registering the number of circle penetrations. ‘Still, I’m going to miss it. The travelling, working with a team towards a goal and the fun with all the wonderful people I worked with.’