Posted: 3/25/2016


            HENDRIK JOHANNES CRUIJFF: 1947-2016. He changed The Beautiful Game forever, both as a player and a coach in his native Holland, in Catalunya and the world.

            An English friend of mine called Keith Spurgeon was the coach of the semi-professional Ajax AFC in the early '70's and lived in a small bungalow in one corner of the De Meer stadium (1934-1996) with his wife. The stadium cleaner was Petronella,a single mother after husband Hermanus died in 1959 of a heart attack.. She lived 5 minutes away in Akkerstraat and sometimes came to work with her small waif of a son who had some skill with the ball but was tiny..

            Keith's wife invited him in for British meals to fatten him up. Young Johan started to grow...a little.!  I last met Keith as we accicently  met embarking on an overnight ferry from Gothenburg to Harwich in  1980  after he had coached Landskrona BoIS and he insisted on buying me dinner on board and talking about old times..

           De Meer was in South-East Amsterdam, and I visited a number of times by tramlijne no 9.. The area lingua franc was yiddish which the youngster spoke and has even given interviews in Israel in that language. Between 1971-73 Ajax won the European Cup three times in a row as they dominated the Eredivisie and Europe.  It was quite small 19,000, without floodlights,  so midweek and European matches were played at the Olympische Stadium. Since 1996 Amsterdam Arena has been home...three times the capacity. If you study the current club badge with warrior Ajax, you will notice exactly eleven lines in the design, to reflect 11 players on a team. Plans are afoot to rename in Johan Cruyff Arena.

           It was of course the 1974 World Cup in West Germany that brought Cruyff and his national team to world prominence. You have probably looked at the Crujff Turn in the 0-0 draw with Sweden in the early round when he turned defender Jan Olsson in the Westfallen Stadion in Dortmund in the 23rd minute. He played in a special uniform with two stripes on his jersey, shorts and stockings since he was a paid consultant for Puma and not the three stripes of rivals adidas.

          They made the final against West Germany but were over confident. I had watched the opening match Brazil v Yugoslavia in Frankfurt and all the way to the Olympiastadion in Munich.  He had persuaded coach Rinus Michels to drop No. 1 keeper Jan van Beveren, with whom he had a long standing feud, for the older Jan Jongbloed.   At the final I was sitting at the back of the press box and watching my friend who was the stadium groundsman and his small team. They had pulled up the corner flags so that the Bavarian band could march round the stadium as part of the Opening Ceremony.

         As the teams lined up for the kick off I noticed that the flags had not been replaced and told the announcer to my left. They contacted the pitch and the flag poles were replaced just in time. Within 60 seconds we had a goal and the first penalty ever awarded in a World Cup Final. The Shropshire butcher, referee Jack Taylor, had not been expecting the honour with Bob Daividson of Scotland, the favourite. Cruyff had been tripped just inside the area by Bertie Vogts. Johan Neeskens converted past Sepp Maier before the Germans had even touched the ball !  In the 26th minute Wim Jensen tripped Bernd Holzenbein and Paul Brietner equalized from the spot. In the 43rd minute Gerd Muller scored what turned out to be the winning goal. 2-1.

         As the teams left the pitch at half time Cruyff came up to Taylor's shoulder and argued with him and was promptly yellow carded.  He never played in another World Cup. He was arrogant, dominating, argumentitive...and a genius. He had many arguements with the KNVB who ran Dutch voetbal. He found out that committee members were insured on foreign trips...but not the players, and soon changed that and the fees they received for playing for the national team. The only title Holland ever won a was  on 28th June 1988 in the same Olympiastadion, 2-0 v USSR in the European Championships. I was lucky to be in the press box for that occasion as well.

         The only time I ever spoke to him was in the bowels of Elland Road at Leeds United when Barcelona visited. In the days before cell phones.  I found a pay phone near the dressing rooms after coming down from the press box after the match. While making a call I could smell cigarette smoke as Crujff tapped me gently on my shoulder and polititely asked if he could use the phone next. Did I just nod or actually say YES SIR? 

        He left Ajax  in 1973 after 7 years, 240 matches and 190 goals for a then world record fee of $2 million for Barceloma 73-78 with 143 appearances and 48 goals. In his second stint at Ajax after a couple of seasons in the NASL in USA  when his team mates voted for Piet Keizer as team captain he  joined Fejenoord of Rotterdam and promptly won the double with his new club.

          As manager of first Ajax 1985-88 and then Barca 1988-96 he was a revolutionary with his TOTAALVOETBALL-TOTAL FOOTBALL  He was responsible for the construction of LA MASIA youth academy to replecate the successful Ajax academy system. He is loved by Catalonians since he and his wife have made their home there with two daughters and a son he named JORDI after a local saint. He had to take the baby boy back to Amsterdam to register his birth  in 1974 since a still Franco dominated Spain would not allow such a name.

          Jordi played for his dad at Barca and also Manchester United and Alaves and other clubs and 8 times for Holland. I remember that he used to have a wild hair style. He is now Sporting Director of Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and on television yesterday I was shocked to see him bald.

          Johan played for three clubs in the American NASL. First for LA Aztecs, then Washington Dips and then just exhibitions for the New YorK Cosmos. He was thought to be too expensive for the first two clubs, demanding that he had home help maid and baby sitter fees paid for, despite not getting as large crowds as Pele and Beckenbauer did.. With the Dips he wore the adidas team jersey-which featured a three stripe sash diagonally across the front chest and the trifoil adidas logo.

            In 2011 he engineered a coup at Ajax and brought in buddies such as Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk, but then he realized that years of chain smoking had finally resulted in cancer. Get hold of a great read. BRILLIANT ORANGE;The Neurotic Genius of Football. by David Winner.


          AND MANY, MANY MORE.