Vertonghen CC Cover Final

Jan Vertonghen: "My life is football, family and the foundation"

Player story

Share this quote

Vertonghen CC Cover Final

Jan Vertonghen is Belgium’s most capped player, having made over 150 appearances for the Red Devils. The Anderlecht defender, who played for Ajax, Tottenham Hotspur and Benfica, launched the Jan Vertonghen Foundation to enable children in hospitals to play and be creative regardless of their illness.

By Jan Vertonghen

It all started when I was due to make my 100th appearance for Belgium. Nobody had ever played 100 matches for our country, so people were asking me what sort of tribute I would like to have. I took the opportunity to not receive anything, but instead give something back.

I was thinking about coming up with the thing I was most passionate about from all the community activities that I was involved with during my career. What stood out most were the visits that I made to the Kinderstad (Kids City) of the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam when I was an Ajax player.

On the two top floors of the hospital, they had created a special space where children, who were seriously ill, could still be kids. They could play, exercise and be creative, and this took their minds off their illnesses. The Kids City tried to give these children a positive mindset. That’s what I wanted to do as well, and I realised that there was nothing like this in Belgium.

I am convinced that sports and play can have a positive influence on the mental wellbeing of children. Playing outside has had a huge impact in how I live my life, and on my health as well. So, that’s why I wanted to focus on two things: 1) inspiring children in hospitals to play and be creative, and 2) stimulating children to play more outside by creating modern playgrounds.

Jan Vertonghen 1

For children, it is so important to be able to play. I was lucky. When I grew up, my parents had a huge backyard where my two brothers and I could play football or play outside. We used to have so much fun, and I enjoy it when I see my three children playing together with their friends or cousins. But I also know that not everyone has got the same opportunities; not everyone has a large backyard, and I noticed that there is a limited number of areas for children to play outside.

We decided to create playgrounds with special equipment. We have a partnership with a company called Yalp that creates interactive equipment. I noticed that creating these playgrounds were very interesting for municipalities, as I had promised to attend the opening of each ground. These ended up being some sort of occasions and opportunities for me to highlight the work of our foundation as well.

We built the first playground in the village where I grew up, Temse, and it included a small football pitch and an interactive wall. Currently, we have ten playgrounds at hospitals, schools or in municipalities, including one on the roof of a hospital in Liège. And I want us to expand up to 15 playgrounds by the end of the year.

We also try to stimulate children in hospitals to be creative. For instance, we request them to make paintings on walls or organise drawing competitions and we reward them with gifts, such as medals, match tickets, or with me paying them a visit. And we also organise tournaments for children with disabilities.

I am very proud of what we have achieved in such a short time and with so little people. I have hired one person who is working full-time on the foundation. And of course I am involved too, as I have a fair amount of spare time outside of football. I used to spend it on my PlayStation, but now that I am older, I want to give back to the community. It’s much easier to do this as an active player, as I can open more doors than others or can more easily arrange gifts for auctions.

However, it is still a challenge to collect enough money for all our ideas. We have organised charity nights, where we held auctions of signed jerseys or dinners with me, to name a few things. But I would love to have more sponsors to provide our foundation with a guaranteed annual budget.

Jan Vertonghen Foundation 2
Jan Vertonghen Foundation 1
Jan Vertonghen Foundation 3

Since I returned to Belgium in the summer of 2022, I have been spending more and more time with the foundation; three to four days on average, up to ten hours per week. I visit hospitals, meet with potential sponsors or have a dinner that is part of an auction. At the moment, my life is football, family and the foundation.

I try to visit as many hospitals as possible because I notice that this means so much to children. They want to meet me and ask questions about me, the Red Devils, or football in general.

Of all our activities, I enjoy these visits the most. I have to prepare myself for these moments, as I will meet around 20 to 30 children with illnesses ranging from pneumonia to the worst diseases you can imagine. These visits can be quite emotional, but I try to bring joy to the children and their parents.

Afterwards, when I am driving back home in my car, I have mixed emotions. I have three children myself and I don’t even want to imagine how terrible these situations could be for those parents. On the other hand, I realise that we are giving these children a huge boost by simply being there for them, interacting with them. They are already happy when they see you enter the room. I’ve often been told how much these children enjoyed it and that they were looking forward to a next meeting. Those moments stick with me.

It's wonderful to see that these children in the hospital or on the playgrounds are having so much fun thanks to our efforts. When I drive by the playground in my village and see that kids are enjoying themselves on our playground, then that is just the greatest feeling: realising that there really was a need for these children to have such a playground.