The saddening story of Dick van Dijk

No, not the actor who was responsible for the worst cockney accent in the history of cinema, but the former Ajax striker. It may not be the first name on everyone’s lips when reminiscing over the Ajax golden period of the late sixties and early seventies, but Dick van Dijk more than played his part in creating the legend.

Not a product of the youth academy, Dick worked his way up the ladder signing as a teenager for SVV – then in the second division – under coach Rinus Gosens, becoming top scorer in their promotion season of 1966/67. Not bad for a twenty year old! This attracted the attention of FC Twente, who would go on to pay 70,000 Guilders for him in 1967. Van Dijk settled well, forming a strong partnership with Theo Pahlplatz and other leading lights such as Epi Drost, Eddy Achterberg and the marvellously named Kick van der Vall.

During his first season in Enschede, Van Dijk scored 22 goals as the team finished in eighth spot. The next season, things got even better as his 30 goals made him the league’s leading scorer. Among their notable triumphs in this period was a 5-1 thrashing of Ajax. Banging in three goals against the best side in Holland did Dick no harm at all and it wasn’t long before the Amsterdammers came calling with a fee of 750,000 Guilders, joining such attackers as Johan Cruyff, Piet Keizer and Sjaak Swart.

In this more competitive environment, Dick was not a guaranteed starter but his scoring record was still impressive. Never a naturally gifted player in the Cruyff or Keizer mode, he was a modest man, whose self-appraisal was distinctly non-Dutch in its lack of ego. “I was not a super ball player,” he said in 1985, “although I always scored and tried my hardest.” Definitely not an individual or stylist, he always seemed to be looking to bring in a teammate with a clever pass. He was popular with the squad, being described as a “flamboyant, happy boy”.

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Looking at his goal-scoring record while with Ajax, it certainly bears scrutiny. In his first two seasons there, he bagged 23 goals in 32 games and then 18 in 29. Highly impressive figures. Without doubt, his most famous goal in red and white came at Wembley in 1971 in the first of Ajax’s hat-trick of European Cup wins. The goal, settling early nerves, came as a result of a wonderful combination with Keizer and was a typical header. As we all know, the lads went on to win 2-0 although it was far from a foregone conclusion as Arie Haan’s deflected second goal came with just three minutes remaining on the clock. The following season, he found it harder to secure a place in the first team. In addition to the three attackers mentioned earlier, the exciting Johnny Rep was grabbing headlines as Ajax began to dominate European football.

In a quest for more regular top level starts, France was the next port of call, with Nice – the goals continued to flow as he helped the black and reds to an excellent second place in 1972-73, securing a spot in the following season’s UEFA cup. The run in that competition was notable for a fantastic 3-0 victory over Barcelona. In 1974, it was time to get the passport out again, for a season with Murcia of Spain, but four goals in 19 games suggested waning powers.

Internationally, he was never a regular but appeared seven times for Oranje. Aged 29, after just one season in Spain, he decided enough was enough and retired. There were offers to continue playing, with FC Amsterdam, Utrecht and Beerschot of Belgium among potential suitors, but his mind was made up. Having thoroughly enjoyed his time in the south of France with Nice, he began a new career in real estate there.

READ: Piet Keizer – “Cruyff is the best, but Keizer is the better one”

Van Dijk attended a hospital for a routine examination in 1997, but the doctors discovered a bacteriological infection that affected his heart valves. Sadly, he slipped into a coma and died three weeks later, aged 51. As well as marvellous triumphs, our club has had its share of tragedy and bad luck – the supremely gifted Rob De Wit, a contemporary of Marco Van Basten suffered three brain haemorrhages, the first in 1986, ending a massively promising career. Thankfully, Rob is still with us – only recently, the sad plight of Abdelhak Nouri has given us all pause for thought.

As ever in these tragic situations, when Van Dijk died, the club did the right thing. A benefit match was staged between the players of the 1971 European Cup winning side and ONA Gouda (Dick’s place of birth). Just to show that he was not forgotten, a further game was played in his honour between Ajax and Nice, to commemorate twenty years since his death in May this year.

If there is such a thing as an afterlife, the Ajax front three of Cruyff, Keizer and Van Dijk would give most teams a hell of a game!