If someone mentioned the name ‘Evander Sno’, you’d be forgiven for taking a minute to recall the 6’2”, dreadlocked Dutchman of Dordrecht. Spending only 3 years on British shores for Celtic and Bristol City in the noughties, much of his career saw him tackling his native Eredivisie league in the prestigious colours of Ajax, Feyenoord and then RKC Waalwijk. Remaining in Holland, Sno finished his career at 5th tier DHSC Utrecht whilst only 30 years old.
In addition to an Eredivisie title with Ajax in 2011, he won two consecutive Scottish Premier Leagues titles with Celtic in 2007 and 2008, boasting a Scottish Cup in the former. Whilst these accolades can be argued away to a degree as achievements attained in ‘less competitive leagues’, it’s worth noting that Evander Sno was a key component in both Celtic teams that made the Champions League knockout stages, the first to do so for the club since the name and format changes to the competition in the early 90s. These group campaigns saw them take down European giants like AC Milan and Benfica, whilst also despatching some farmer team from Manchester with that Chris Ronaldo fellow.
As a youth he was touted as a player with outstanding potential, arriving in Scotland at 19 from Feyenoord after being poached from Ajax’s fabled youth system a few years prior. Celtic’s then boss, Gordon Strachan, saw him as a ‘top player’, praising him for his vision, awareness and all-round ability despite being ‘the youngest player in the squad’. A Celtic fan I spoke to fondly recalls the ‘Sno in Glasgo’ headlines of the local papers whenever he had a good game.Embed from Getty Images
Watching him myself at Bristol City during the 2009-10 season, at his best Sno had become an incredibly calm presence in a City midfield that was haemorrhaging talent at the time, marshalling the ‘Makelele’ zone with his former Celtic partner Paul Hartley. However, the lapses in his confidence, concentration and subsequent exposing of mobility issues often left a bad taste in the mouths of supporters and staff alike. Despite being only 22 and showcasing flashes of an imperious skillset comparable to Fabinho and Moussa Dembele, City chose to allow Sno to return to a parent club that didn’t want him, thus inadvertently triggering a truly tumultuous decade for a player that was once called up by the Holland national side to face England in 2008.
Upon his return to Ajax in 2010, Sno was demoted to the under-21s side, Jong Ajax. Facing Vitesse Arnhem in mid-September, he had come on as a second half substitute, playing just 18 minutes before he suddenly collapsed and begun foaming at the mouth. Evander Sno had just suffered his first cardiac arrest.
“At first I thought he stumbled but very quickly everyone realised there was something seriously wrong,” said then coach Albert van Dussen.
After medical staff from both clubs rushed the field, Sno received ‘heroic’ treatment, including the use of a defibrillator that was used 4 times to revive him.
“He looked surprised to see all those people there, I don’t think he realised what was going on but everyone was greatly relieved.”
After several investigations into the causes of this heart attack, none could be found. As a precautionary measure, Sno was fitted with an internal cardiac defibrillator, a device that would continually monitor and correct his heart rhythm should any anomalies arise. Within 2 months, the determined 23 year old was back in training for Ajax but sadly it wasn’t to be.Embed from Getty Images
Sno had begun his descent into the footnotes of footballing lore. Upon the expiration of his contract with Ajax, Italian side Genoa had reportedly agreed terms with the player pending a medical examination. Rubbing elbows with teams like Palmero and Fiorentina for positions in European competitions at the time, Genoa had provided the platform for players such as Sokratis, Leonardo Bonucci, Stephan El Shaarawy, Thiago Motta and Kevin Prince Boateng to go on and play the minutes they needed to in order to secure moves to more prestigious clubs. Sno was rejected during the second stage of his medical with Genoa, club president Enrico Prezisosi regrettably stating:
“There are rules in Italy that won’t allow him to play,”
“While he could play in Holland with his problems, there are a few issues with the results and therefore it is probable we won’t be able to register him.”
Hypothetically, Sno’s skills could have developed exponentially with this mid-table Serie A side. Whilst many bemoan the lack of outright action in the Italian leagues, it is here where Sno could have found the time to develop into the player his previous form had shown glimpses of. Maturing as a breaker/distributor requires a tactical understanding of the game that comes with game time, it comes with maintaining concentration in the midst of attrition. This could have been the move that saw Sno snapping at the heels of rampant Milan sides and a recuperating Juventus, but instead he remained in Holland, joining Eredivisie side RKC Waalwijk on a one year deal a month later. Untested potential.
Genoa finished that same season with their head barely above water, conceding the most goals in the league as they clung to safety in the Serie A after a farcical managerial flip-flopping early in the campaign.Embed from Getty Images
Evander Sno on the other hand had equalled his most prolific senior season for the 9th placed RKC, earning him a choice of suitors for the following season. Fellow mid-table muckers Roda JC and NEC Nijmegen from the Eredivisie were those reportedly interested, Sno opted for the latter and signed a two year deal with NEC.
It was then he suffered his second cardiac arrest. Playing against Feyenoord, Sno had felt a shock from his internal defibrillator after it had presumably detected an anomaly. Despite his own manager, Alex Pastoor, dismissing reports of a suspected heart attack as ‘just village gossip’, the Feyenoord club doctor, Dr. Casper van Eijck chillingly recalled:
“Evander had a cardiac arrest that was followed by a shock from his internal defibrillator,”
“That terrified him, which I could see in his eyes on the pitch.”
Again, no causes were found, but thanks to his internal defibrillator he was at least able to leave the pitch of his own accord.
After a contractual disagreement with NEC, Sno returned to RKC Waalwijk as a free agent, only a year after he left in 2012. He enjoyed another good year at RKC, seemingly showing those same signs as before. His pace, though diminished, was less of an issue due to his development of positioning. Sno even became a marauding talent going forward, arriving just in time to slot home a tidy cut back on a few occasions. Briefly, we are treated to domineering defensive displays, scything the ball from players before pinging it out-wide, predicting player directions and placing himself in their way. Briefly.
For all his potential, the mental toll that two heart attacks can have on a person are seemingly insurmountable. For a moment he may have had the world at his feet, but with every step and with every beat, a chance was being taken. His cardiac arrests, plural, had remained unsolved, who’s to say they wouldn’t happen again? After suffering two life threatening situations before he was even 25 years old, it would have taken divine mental fortitude to overcome the fears of playing at the highest level, let alone the worth of that weighed against his own health, mental or otherwise.
In the years that followed, the 2013-14 Eredivisie season not only saw Sno charged with attempted manslaughter, but RKC were also relegated and Sno was released. He featured in the Belgian league for Westerlo before returning to Holland a year later to join ADO Den Haag in 2015 and then RKC Waalwijk for a third time in 2017. During that year, Sno was acquitted of attempted manslaughter with the Amsterdam courts correctly deeming, by way of security footage, that Sno had only defended himself in the altercation. That very same year, Sno had become the supposed target of Belgian extortionists who were threatening him by leaving live grenades by his car. As his final season in professional football drew to a close, he became embroiled in yet another legal battle, this time for assaulting a bouncer whilst defending his brothers at a concert in Amsterdam. He was convicted and sentenced to community service in 2019, a year after he retired from playing whilst at Dutch amateur side DHSC. He was only 30 years old.
There are no consolations in missed opportunities, by our own hand or by fates. Evander Sno is a story footballer and fan alike know all too well. A brilliant talent with an Achilles heel that just couldn’t quite get it together at the right moments, a career trajectory hampered by events outside of their control. Parallel to this though is a petrifying phenomenon represented in Evander Sno: the reality of Sudden Cardiac Arrests, or SCA, the leading cause of sudden death in footballers on the field of play according to FIFA. The occurrences, though rare and expertly responded to today, can potentially be prevented by an increase in sophisticated pre-participation screening. Evander Sno suffered at the hands of a heart problem he ‘didn’t have’ and his confidence was understandably shaken as a result, how are you to thrive in an environment that isn’t safe for you and no one can tell you why? How can you run when you’re worried about invisible hurdles?
It’s a shame Sno never reached the heights I thought he’d promised at Ashton Gate a decade ago, but when you temper your expectations to the tribulations he faced he did remarkably well to operate at a professional level for so long, walking away unscathed and on his own terms, something that can only be commended.
According to his Instagram, he’s now a personal trainer and football coach, so if luck holds we may be seeing his name again sooner than we think.