The news of Johan Cruyffs passing today fills all football fans with real sadness. As a tribute this old article is reproduced..
For those of us who were football mad kids in the 1970’s, the name Ajax of Amsterdam will always have a special ring to it.
Celtic and Ajax at that time had a lot in common. Both teams valued attacking football and had perhaps the most distinctive strips in world football. No one can witness Celtic’s green and white hoops and Ajax’s famed broad band of red on white and not know instantly who those teams are. Ajax won three consecutive European Cups from 1971 to 1973 and stamped their class on the continent with a brand of play that had us kids engrossed. They had a list of considerably talented footballers whose names are still recognisable to this day. The cool defending of Ruud Krol; the industrious midfield work of Johan Neeskens; those powerful long range shots of Arie Haan; the prodigiously talented striker Johnny Rep. However the jewel in the crown of this Ajax team was always the brilliant artisan that was Johan Cruyff.
As boys we always argued about who was the greatest player in the world and after Pele’s abdication there was no argument. The greatest player on the planet was indisputably Ajax’s Johan. Cruyff was the superstar of his day, a global phenomenon who was the biggest name in football. With both Ajax and Holland he enjoyed tremendous success and was probably the first millionaire footballer with the list of lucrative sponsorship deals he enjoyed. Although Holland didn’t win the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, Cruyff’s performances cemented his reputation as the greatest player of his generation.
Although Ajax were very much a tremendous team and played as a unit, Cruyff gave them a different dimension on the field of play that gave the Amsterdam side a distinct advantage over every other side they faced. He never had a set position and in his unique number 14 shirt he played wherever he wished as the other players pivoted around him. Cruyff had pace, vision, close control and several moves in his locker that were unique to him. The ‘Cruyff turn’ was a revolutionary move he instigated at the 1974 World Cup finals that had left the watching millions on television open mouthed in disbelief at his talent and audacity. The great Argentinean manager Cesar Luis Menotti was recently quoted as saying there were four kings in football history; Di Stefano, Pele, Cruyff and Maradona. He claimed that there was no way of separating these four greats and Johan Cruyff more than deserves his place in such exulted company.
In March 1971 Celtic and Ajax met in the quarter finals of the European Cup. The great Ajax team of that time was just coming to the fore and won 3-1 on aggregate. Three thousand Ajax fans invaded Glasgow for the second leg in which was the biggest ever convergence of foreign supporters to Scotland for a football match at that time. They were a good natured if noisy bunch with their distinctive hunting horns and the game had to be moved to Hampden to accommodate the 83,000 spectators as Celtic Park was not big enough to hold the expected crowd.
The local Glasgow media were out in force to meet the visiting Dutch and they found that the Ajax fans had two complaints. Firstly they were perplexed at seeing the Glasgow pubs shutting from two o’clock in the afternoon until five and then shut again at ten at night. Amsterdam was obviously always more liberal in its licensing laws. Secondly they complained that the hotels and restaurants where they went to eat had served them very little in the way of vegetables, not what they were used to back home.
One hopes that the current Ajax fans will enjoy their latest visit to Glasgow (apart from the result !) and that they will find the city’s licensing hours and gastronomic delights more to their liking in the twenty first century.