To replace Mister Ajax (Sjaak Swart) at the age of 19 in the 1972 World Club Championship against Independiente is one thing, but to score two goals in that fixture is an altogether different (total foot) ball game. Johnny Rep was off and running in a career that encompassed two World Cup final appearances, two Dutch Championships, two European Super Cups, Two European Cups and the aforementioned Intercontinental Cup. Dutch players are not renowned for being shrinking violets and Johnny was hardly that, incurring the wrath of Johan Cruyff on numerous occasions. “We did not get along well, except on the ground,” was Johnny’s take on Johan, but that didn’t stop the pair forming a golden attack along with Piet Kiezer in the early 70s for both club and country.
Like all the Dutch players of the era, Rep looked as if he could be equally at home on a movie set or rock video, his blonde highlighted hair flowing as he glided down the right wing, he earned the nickname “het goudhaantje” – The Kingfisher. After playing for Ajax in the two victorious European Cup finals of 1972 and 1973 (scoring the winner against a tough Juventus side after five minutes in the latter) he was a certain member of the squad heavily fancied to do well in the 1974 World Cup.
Holland eventually lost 2-1 to West Germany in the final, but my abiding memory of that tournament was the second round group match against Brazil which, due to the frankly bonkers way the tournament was arranged, was effectively a winner-takes-all semi-final. The Dutch ran out 2-0 winners in a game that would these days have undoubtedly resulted in multiple red cards (for both sides, Holland quite happily answering Brazilian aggression with interest) rather than the single one issued to Brazil skipper Luis Pereira for a waist-high challenge on Johan Neeskens. This resulted in the amusing spectacle of the sent-off defender refusing to leave the pitch and the perimeter area, preferring to argue with supporters. More than one commentator has noted that he soon fled down the tunnel when he spotted Rinus (“IJzeren”, or Iron) Isreal preparing to enter the fray.
When the Dutch hard man eventually entered the field of play as a substitute for Neeskens, having been assaulted (fouled doesn’t really do it here) one time too often, I remember him joining a couple of his team mates on the pitch, clapping his hands together as if to say “right lads, let’s sort this out”. Rep was no angel in proceedings, having caught Revelino with his elbow – unseen by the referee – which would surely have been a red card, although in the light of what else happened in this all-action clash, the hapless official would probably have just said “come on, Johnny, no need for that now…”.
The whole game is on YouTube – all I will say is if you haven’t seen it, make sure you check it out as, particularly for younger supporters, this is a fascinating glimpse of a bygone era, which mixed brilliant technicians with henchmen, sometimes on the same team, sometimes the same player (Johan Neeskens, come on down – surely he was Bryan Robson before Bryan Robson). Incidentally, when asked if he was tired of constantly being in the shadow of Cruyff, Neeskens answered “I don’t really mind being the second best player in the world.”
Four years later, Johnny was off to Argentina with Holland (for more on that tournament, see the Ruud Krol feature). Cruyff, Keizer and ball-playing marvel Wim van Hanegem were not on the plane, but at 26 Rep was one of the more experienced players in the squad. Holland started very impressively with a 3-0 win against the weak Iran team but faltered in the second match against Peru (0-0), who were fresh from hammering sole British representatives Scotland 3-1 which left the final Holland – Scotland group tie as a decider after Peru had beaten Iran 4-1. Despite Scotland winning the match 3-2 (Archie Gemmill scoring one of the goals of the tournament), Rep scored a beauty in the 71st minute to ensure Dutch progress on goals difference. Holland found themselves in an all-European second round group with Austria, Italy and arch-rivals West Germany. An outstanding victory against a strong Austria side (5-1, with a goal from Johnny either side of half time) was the prelude to a draw with West Germany (2-2) and a win over Italy 2-1, sending Holland to the final against hosts Argentina. Let’s not talk about that one, eh?
In 1975, Rep joined the talent drain, leaving Ajax and Holland (sadly, the Dutch could not pay as much as other, foreign leagues) for the sunnier climate of Spain, to Valencia, joining an attack that included his future world cup final adversary Mario Kempes, averaging almost a goal every other game. Sadly, money disputes ended this period in his career with a spell in France next, a couple of seasons with unfashionable Bastia of Corsica (including a UEFA cup final defeat to P$V) followed by four seasons at Saint Etienne (playing alongside future mega-star and disgraced UEFA President Michel Platini).
Spells back in Holland with, amongst others, PEC Zwolle and Zaandam were up next but his reputation was tarnished somewhat when, in 2013, he confessed to having taken amphetamines (Dutch bloke takes drugs shock) prior to a European Cup game in the 1970s. One wonders if Johnny was actually telling the truth as, financially he was on his uppers, becoming homeless after a couple of failed marriages and issues with alcoholism, resulting in him living in a mobile home.
I never got to see him play in person – he’d left Ajax the year before I saw Ajax at Old Trafford in 1976 – but those games for both club and country I was fortunate enough to watch on television as they happened in the 70s will live with me and doubtless all who saw them forever.