Back in April 1973, I was eleven years old and already obsessed by football and music. A couple of years earlier, my school had organised a trip to Holland – we were given two years to pay for the holiday and so each week I presented my 50p installment to Miss Sharrocks, eagerly awaiting both my first trip abroad and the chance to travel by plane. This was indeed, wonderful, exciting news.
My first introduction to Dutch football came on 28th May 1969, the day Ajax lost to Milan in that season’s European Cup final. As I had been allowed to stay up and watch Manchester United beat Benfica in the previous final a year earlier, I naturally assumed the same privilege would be afforded me. How wrong was I? “That was different, school in the morning, off to bed” said my Mum.
The following season, I must have been of sufficient maturity to watch Feyenoord beat Celtic as I vividly remember that game and Ove Kindvall’s injury time winner. This being my first exposure to Dutch football, it is quite surprising that my nascent interest in all things Orange wasn’t to include a lifelong commitment to Rotterdam’s finest (Excelsior?), but the next three years cemented a passion, love and yes, obsession with Ajax and Dutch football in general.
In those far-off days of the early 1970s, the fan of non-English football was poorly served. We had to rely on the mighty World Soccer, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly and the occasional feature in Shoot for any overseas information. I still recall the thrill in 1974 when, as a 12 year old, I saw the foreign league tables page in World Soccer – all those romantic sounding names and places! Like most of my friends, I lived and breathed football. The 1970 World Cup tournament brought players such as Muller, Cubillas, Jairzinho and Petras to our television screens but also playgrounds as we imitated these new idols each break time but it was the European Cup finals of 71, 72 and 73 that had the most effect. The month before our old friend Johnny Rep’s early goal gave Ajax the trophy for the third time, I made the trip to Holland referred to in the first paragraph.
Bizarrely, for a school based in Manchester, we were flying from Southend Airport which had a massive newsagent, stocking not only pop magazines I had never seen before (Fan, anyone?) but also Gordon Ross’s Armada Football Quiz Book which cost about 30p and never left my side for the whole holiday. In amongst the general knowledge stuff, was a puzzle where you had to guess the results for a weekend of games from the Holland 1971-72 season based on clues such as “NEC scored half the goals Den Haag managed but one less than Twente“, et cetera. Such fun and far more entertaining than a similar quiz based on scores from Italian games which all seemed to be 0-0.
This being the final season for Johan Cruyff in an Ajax shirt (for the time being), his presence was everywhere, advertising everything from football boots (everyone wanted either Puma Cruyff or Adidas Beckenbauer) to sunglasses. We were based on the coast at Scheveningen and even got to drive past Utrecht’s stadium – how exciting! I bought two Ajax stickers for my brothers and we even got to go to a bowling alley where a smart waiter took our order (hence the title of this article) – heady times for a bunch of excitable eleven year olds.
The next season brought with it our first proper exposure to the national team as the 1974 World Cup in Germany brought us my favourite tournament ever. Not only did those Orange shifted heroes give us the finest football ever seen, it was my first full set of Panini stickers! Colour photos of not only big names like Cruyff, Neeskens and Rep but interesting looking characters in Barry Hulshoff, Gerrie Muhren (who didn’t actually get to the finals) and Rob Rensenbrink (the finest winger I have ever seen). Oh, and Wim Van Hanegem, Holland’s version of Paddy Crerand (ask your dad).
I fully appreciate that this piece may come across as one of those “you don’t know you’re born, you youngsters “ that I hated as a kid but the thrill of actually being in the same places as my early football heroes lived and worked and getting access to magazines that featured them and best of all, seeing them on the telly …happy days indeed. Now, if only they had remembered to score that second goal…