Set against the background of Feyenoord's history in the 1980s and 1990s
Born in Rotterdam
Yes, I was in born in Rotterdam. And I suppose you might say that fate could hardly have dealt me a more cruel hand. That is to say, if you happen to like football.
My entire life I have been told by my parents and by my teachers that in Rotterdam we have the biggest port in the world; and they were right, of course. From 1962 until 2004 the Port of Rotterdam was the world's busiest port based on cargo tonnage. And if it hadn't been we would have based it on the number of ships passing through, or on the size in square miles, or on the sailors' average height in centimetres, or anything...
The thing is, in Rotterdam we value the hard work of blue-collar labourers and we despise white-collar workers, especially those who think they know everything. We despise them with a passion, those white-collar workers with their white-collar jobs! One should get one's hands dirty and not sit at a desk and do nothing all day!
Anyway, that's what our parents and our teachers used to say. And they were right of course, as the Greek myth of Sisyphus shows. Sisyphus, if you remember, is the white-collar worker in both character and consequences. He was avaricious and deceitful. He loved power and wanted to rule over others. In fact, he would betray people for the sake of his power. He had no principles except the Machiavellian principle that the end justifies the means.
And so Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a hill for eternity as punishment for his deceitfulness. When the rock got to the top of the hill, it would roll down again and Sisyphus would have to repeat his labour. And for the ancient Greeks the greatest punishment was labour with futility.
White-collar workers know this futility all too well. Everything they do amounts to ceaseless and senseless labour. This is seen in the way they despise meetings, e-mails, and endless, fruitless discussions with co-workers, bosses, customers, and subordinates.
But of course, in Rotterdam nobody has heard of Sisyphus. When you are born in Rotterdam you don't waste your time reading books and certainly not ancient literature. All you know is that you have to work hard. You have to sweat. And at the end of the month you receive your wages so that you can buy your beer and watch your football on the weekend.
And again, my parents and my teachers were right, as the myth shows. The opposite of Sisyphus is Prometheus. Like Sisyphus, Prometheus was crafty and deceitful but he used his craftiness to steal fire from the gods and give it to humanity.
Prometheus is considered a hero in Greek mythology because he used his knowledge to better humanity. He is the patron god of humanism and technology. He is the epitome of blue-collar workers who produce things that are actually useful to others. So unlike Sisyphus, Prometheus used his skills to better the world.
Now Zeus hated Prometheus and he condemned him to be chained to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver daily only to have it grow back again the next day to be devoured once more. Hercules eventually rescued Prometheus because you can’t let a good guy suffer for eternity. The relationship of Zeus to Prometheus is identical to that of management to labour.
So, anyway, I got distracted. Where was I? Oh yes, as I said, I was born in Rotterdam. I was told to work hard and not to waste my time daydreaming. I was told to roll up my sleeves and get to work!
Last edited by samsami on Thu Jul 29, 2021 10:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
When I was about six years old dad wanted me to join a football club to see if I would be any good at it.
The thing is, for many people in Rotterdam football is just as important as our daily bread, if not more so! And in addition to the Port of Rotterdam we have 'the Stadium', affectionately known as De Kuip ('The Tub') which is where our best team, Feyenoord, play their games. And De Kuip is always filled to capacity when Feyenoord play. That is to say, most years it is...
We do have two other professional clubs in Rotterdam - Sparta and Excelsior - in addition to numerous non-league clubs, far too many to count! But Rotterdam is the only Dutch city with three professional football clubs.
And as a matter of fact, Sparta is one of the oldest Dutch football clubs; they were established as early as 1888. In the 1922–1923 season the first official Rotterdam derby between Feyenoord and Sparta was played and Sparta defeated Feyenoord twice that year. Nowadays this is almost unthinkable, but there is still a lot of rivalry between the two clubs!
The Sparta Stadium is known as The Castle - for obvious reasons.
However, Feyenoord is Rotterdam's most renown club. Fifty years ago, in 1970, Feyenoord won both the European Cup (by beating Celtic 2-1) and the World Cup and in 1974 they won the UEFA Cup by defeating Tottenham Hotspur 4–2 on aggregate in the double final. In those glorious days silverware made its way to Feyenoord's bulging trophy cabinet in a steady stream and with every new season the fans were counting on fresh success in the Dutch Cup and the Dutch League, if not in Europe. But these successful years did not last.
Interestingly, though, Feyenoord fans never expect to be dazzled by shining performances. They only expect one thing and that is that our players work for their money. If they don't the fans will let them know in no uncertain terms!
The simple truth is, in Rotterdam we have never been spoiled with players the likes of Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp who dazzled the fans in Amsterdam with their brilliance year after year.
To be honest, in Rotterdam we are secretly a little jealous of Ajax, although we will never admit that, not even to ourselves.
No, we have players who are far less talented, but who are willing to work hard for their money and achieve results. That is what we like to see in Rotterdam.
And this is exactly what dad hoped for me to achieve one day as well. So he made me join a football club. I joined Xerxes, once a famous club, founded in 1904 and dad's favourite club. In his day Xerxes was a more than decent professional club, but in 1968 they went backrupt and since then they have been playing non-League football. Four professional football clubs in Rotterdam was simply too much.
Anyway, as a kid I attended weekly training led by a grassroots youth coach who taught us new skills using football drills and small-sided games.
Dad was pleased, but in my memory it seems that we mostly had to do a lot of running, even when it rained. And somehow it always rained on Thursday nights when we had our football training. And I mean proper rain. How I hated that!
But dad made me go, no matter how much I protested. For some reason he had this dream that one day I would become a star player. One day I would become the team's top scorer and we would win the title only because of my goals.
Dad's dream lasted for a number of years. And I did my best. Honestly, I did. I faithfully attended training every Thursday evening. At least, initially I did...
I liked football, but I did not like football training, and especially not running until you get exhausted. It's all so tiring and so very boring. But dad wanted me to do this. He kept telling me, week after week, that I should work really hard so that one day I might become a professional football player.
And so, as a very obedient boy, I would go out to football training every Thursday night after dinner - but not for very long. One of my school mates had introduced me to something far more fascinating than running behind a ball! I had finally realised what I wanted to become when I grew up! But I did not dare to let dad know...
Of course, eventually dad did find out what I was doing on Thursday evenings. A helpful neighbour had felt obliged to inform him.
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When I arrived home that particular Thursday evening dad was furious! He shouted at me and said: "Who do you think you are!?! A bloody intellectual or something!?!" That is to say, he spoke in Dutch of course, and so he used different language. Hard to translate, but suffice to say, he was not very polite.
His words left me flabbergasted. Why did he use a bad word? I mean, I was never allowed to use bad language. If I would ever say at the dinner table that I hate Brussels bloody sprouts I would be in so much trouble! Besides, what is an intellectual, I wondered?
But at least I now had my own dream! Only it was so unlike dad's dream that I never dared to talk about it.
Over the next few weeks I did make some feeble attempts to try and convince dad that, yes, football is fun and all that, but the training was incredibly boring. I told him that you get all wet and dirty and that I did not like the running, so why do I have do go to football training?
All very sound arguments one would think, but as usual dad had the final word when he pulled out his trump card.
So I went back to football. No more secret chess nights on Thursdays for me. And to be totally honest, the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that perhaps dad was right. After all, why could I not become a good football player if I trained once a week? The weather was improving, too. And let's face it, it is rather appealing to play in front of an enthusiastic crowd of football fans. And after all it's...
And so I feel asleep. And that night I had a weird dream...
Kingsley wrote: ↑Fri Nov 27, 2020 4:39 pm
Entertaining start and as an IT worker who sits behind a desk every day, sending and receiving e-mails .... White Collar Roolz !
One Sisyphus, there's only one Sisyphus
You obviously don't live in Rotterdam!
(Not sure if you followed the original version of this story or not - on the old website - but if you have, be assured that this is the DeLuxe, Second Edition (c). I am not merely copying the posts from the old site.)
Last edited by samsami on Fri Nov 27, 2020 8:30 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Redknapp69 wrote: ↑Fri Nov 27, 2020 9:19 pm
Is this all brand new stuff and story then Samsami - or it's the story on old site but you are adding extras etc?
It's the original story, but rewritten. So I am keeping all the best parts (there are enough new folks here who have never read the original story) but adding new stuff, as well. I have always felt that I finished the original story too abruptly. It's no longer on the old site but it's still on my computer.
And so I stayed at the club. I did my very best and there were days when I actually almost enjoyed the training when two major events occurred which would change my very life.
The first event happened just after my 11th birthday, when Xerxes' first team managed to win the title in the National League West!
For the very first time in my life I actually caught football fever, especially when our men went on to beat the winners of the other two National Leagues and became the Dutch non-League Champions of 1980!
Like everyone else at the club us kids talked about nothing else for days, if not weeks, at home and also at school. At least, I did - until my teacher told me to put a sock in it.
But, important as that title might have been to me, nothing had prepared us in Rotterdam for what would happen just a few years later. Something that would shake Rotterdam to its core and would become a topic of heated discussion amongst football fans for decades to follow...
At the end of a career spanning almost twenty years, 36-year-old Johan Cruyff was booted out of Ajax under a cloud to join Feyenoord! Nobody talked about anything else in the summer of 1983 when the news was announced.
There was sheer unbelief, horror and animosity and the media were stunned. How could Feyenoord do this? It was an act akin to footballing treason, much like swapping FC Barcelona for Real Madrid, or Celtic for Rangers. Even our teachers at school talked about little else for an entire year! We held debates in our Dutch class about whether Feyenoord had done well to sign Cruyff or not and we had to hold speeches on the topic.
Feyenoord fans were extremely sceptical, questioning why their club had signed a player from their most bitter rival - and one who was at the very tail-end of his career. Some of them tore their season tickets into small pieces and sent them back to the club. Others would attend the games but turn their heads away each time Cruyff got the ball. In fact, my own aunt used to close her eyes whenever Cruyff was in possession of the ball. She made my uncle pinch her in the arm after Cruyff had passed the ball to another player so that she knew she could safely open her eyes again!
And sure enough, in his first meeting with Ajax, since being dumped, Feyenoord suffered one of their heaviest ever defeats in Amsterdam: 8-2. It's fair to say that many fans suffered more than Sisyphus or Prometheus had suffered.
But the tide changed. With Cruyff as their leader, Feyenoord didn’t lose again for five months, going fifteen games unbeaten. Cruyff himself scored eleven goals - including one in the return match against Ajax at De Kuip, as Feyenoord gained revenge over their rivals with an impressive 4-1 win. And three days after clinching the League title, Feyenoord won the Dutch Cup as well!
Cruyff was named player of the year by the Dutch football pundits. And even though he left Feyenoord after that one year, he had a tremendous impact on us as kids.
Nevertheless, even today there are Feyenoord supporters who say that Feyenoord have only won the Dutch League fourteen times, not fifteen. They claim that the trophy which they won in 1984 was a 'stolen' trophy, with the help of 'a player from Amsterdam'. Some fans actually attended just one match that season, the one and only League match that Cruyff was unavailable for - and which Feyenoord lost, away to Groningen!
But most football fans think differently. And it was certainly the season which changed our lives. As fourteen-year-olds we had a new purpose in life and we trained harder than ever before, even though the declining years began for Xerxes. After 1980 our first team never won a title again. The same goes for Feyenoord. In 1984 Cruyff ended his active career as a football player while 21-year-old Ruud Gullit left Feyenoord to join PSV Eindhoven.
After Cruyff (yes, that is how we talked about Feyenoord in those days!) many of us youth players at Xerxes became more committed and better football players. I certainly improved a lot over those next two or three years. I never skipped training anymore and a few months after my 17th birthday I was rewarded when I was unexpectedly selected in the first team squad!
Like every season, our best players had left the club that summer and our new trainer wanted to give some of us youth players a chance.
I was one of the youngest of the lot, but the trainer actually said he believed in me. And this meant an awful lot to me. In fact, I still have the squad sheet of that memorable week...
Now although the trainer only knew me from the training sessions, I was to play in two pre-season friendlies and he added that if I did well, I might get the chance to play in one or more of our three group matches in the preliminary round of the Dutch Cup, possibly even against a semi-professional team!
So 1984 was a turning point. Our first team were relegated from the National League so they dropped one level and never really recovered from that, although in October 2012 Xerxes would be plucked out of obscurity when they drew mighty Feyenoord in the Dutch Cup Third Round. The match was played at Sparta's Castle Stadium!
But for me and for a couple of my mates 1984 was the year that we got hooked. The next couple of years we lived football and we absolutely worked our socks off and in 1987 we could finally grab our chance! With our best first team players having left the club over the summer and a new trainer who believed in developing and nurturing young talent some of us 17-year-olds got our chance in two pre-season friendlies against First Division teams Telstar and TOP Oss.
The trainer said the three of us would probably get some game time. Jeffrey de Haan, who was actually not quite 17 yet, as central defender and Michel Smulders and myself as midfielders. Another 17-year old, Henk Maas, skipped training a couple of times and so he was told that he was not ready yet.
And the day before the match I was informed that I would be in the starting lineup! Michel would start on the bench but young Jeffrey was told to have some more patience.
The night before the match dad seemed to think it was funny to play an old Kinks song over and over again until I got so sick of it that he finally gave up.
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That night I had another dream. A nightmare. I dreamt that 'the biggest day of my life and the summit of my long career' ended in disaster while 'all of my friends were there; not just my friends, but their best friends too.'
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The next day I was all nerves. Dad had gone to work, so that did help quite a bit, but I was still so nervous that I could hardly eat. And the day seemed to last an entire lifetime. But eventually the time for the big match had come. And what a game it was! It may only have been a pre-season friendly, but we defeated the semi-professional First Division club Telstar in front of a crowd of 1.968 fans!
Initially it did not look so good. Telstar scored the opener within ten minutes, but Stephan van der Linden equalised in the first half and Marco Rutten scored in the second half. And I must say, I loved every minute of it! Dad even said 'well done' - or words to that effect. Very unusual words for him to use! And the trainer was clearly very happy with my performance, too.
Michel only played for twenty minutes or so and he was quite anonymous, but I knew very well that I had made my mark. I was particularly pleased with my passing, which was even better than last season when I played in the youth team along with Michel and Jeffrey. We almost won the title that year and we had obviously made somewhat of an impression then or the trainer who not have selected us now.
Anyway, part of the reason it went so well for me against Telstar was probably that I got to play in my favourite position, just behind the two strikers.
My only regret was that I did not produce an assist, but that really was not my fault.
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The very next day the trainer told me that I would get game time against TOP Oss as well, but that he wanted to try a slightly different formation this time. I wasn't too pleased about that, but at least I would get to play again!
He added that both Jeffrey and Michel would start on the bench. I felt bad for them, of course, but not too much...
The next week I played my second friendly game with the first team. This time we lost to TOP Oss, another First Division club, but minutes before half-time I did it! I put a low cross into the far post where Stephan van der Linden was waiting, totally unmarked, and Stephan scored with an excellent finish!
I had done it! One of my passes had led to a goal! I had produced an assist for our first team!
Unfortunately, we went on to lose the game (2-3) but even so I was almost more excited this time than I had been after my debut game against Telstar.
Perhaps I did not play quite as well as I had in our first game, but I had shown our trainer that I could be just as important for the first team as I had been for our youth team the previous year. And he did acknowledge me. And what's more, this time he added: You and I shall need to talk fairly soon about your future! And under his breath he added something about my dexterity in passing.
Michel got to play for about twenty minutes again - but once more he failed to impress the trainer and the fans.
And this time Jeffrey also got some game time at the end and he did well enough, but of course one can hardly expect a 16-year-old to prevent a semi-professional team like TOP Oss from scoring the winning goal.
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After these two pre-season friendlies the season started in earnest and Xerxes were drawn in Group 9 of the Dutch Cup along with First Division club Eindhoven and two non-League clubs, Spakenburg and Huizen. A group we could survive and then we might draw an Eredivisie club. We might even be playing Feyenoord or Ajax or PSV...
'My big day, it was the biggest day of my life.
It was the summit of my long career,
But I felt so down, and I drank too much beer,
My manager said that I shouldn't appear..'
Why did I have that song stuck in my head all day? Surely, there's nothing wrong with having a beer before the match? Surely, not for a 17-year-old? I mean, surely?
And so I made my official debut in Xerxes' first cup match against Spakenburg, an amateur club much like Xerxes, except that unlike us they had not been relegated that previous season.
It was an away match and so we played very cautiously and there were no goals in the first half. However, both teams made up for it in the second half. Spakenburg found the net soon after the break, but then it happened! Richard van den Dungen swung a corner into the box and one of their defenders tried to nod the ball away, but it ended up right in front of my feet and without thinking I tapped the ball into the net! I had scored on my official debut!
I was overjoyed and the rest of the match was a complete blur. There were three more goals. In fact, within two or three minutes Spakenburg had already scored to restore their lead, but this hardly dampened my enthusiasm. What's more, I think I was too excited to even notice that we eventually lost the match...
Michel did not get any game time. I think by then the trainer had already lost confidence in him. Jeffrey, on the other hand, played the entire match, but he was clearly struggling. Of course the poor lad was still only sixteen at the time.
After the final whistle I was utterly exhausted. It was sheer adrenaline that had kept me going, but I had scored on my debut!
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Dad came and patted me on the head, but our trainer looked at me in a very curious way. It seemed as if he wanted to say something. And I remembered that he had told me earlier that he wanted to talk with me, only he didn't say a word. He must have been too upset about the fact that we had lost our first group match against another non-League team; and in retrospect one can hardly blame him. If only we had drawn that first game...
But as for me, I could only think about my goal, although in the media they mostly commented on my passing skills. I can't find the newspaper clip now. I know I have kept it and put it somewhere. But they were absolutely right, of course. The goal was a bit of a fluke, but yet again I had completed more passes than any of my teammates.
We played FC Eindhoven next - the only semi-professional club in our group - and our trainer had decided to revert back to the somewhat risky 3-4-1-2 formation, so I started out as attacking midfielder again. I was more than delighted!
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Obviously FC Eindhoven were far too strong for us. They were only 1-0 up at half-time, but they doubled their lead two minutes into the second half and although John van den Berg scored a fine goal for us as well Eindhoven promptly scored again to restore their two-goal lead.
So the game looked lost when Hans van der Ven suddenly came to life and netted a brace, his second goal from the spot with just a couple of minutes remaining!
So this was a remarkably good result for us, but obviously not enough to qualify from our group since we had already lost our first group match to Spakenburg - a game which we should have won.
I think I played quite well again in my favourite position. Once more I completed more passes than any other player, but sometimes I felt as if our strikers were at a loss what to do or where to move when they were not in possession of the ball and many of my passes ended up in no man's land. I especially enjoyed trying through-passes but more often than not my fellow players did not anticipate them. Still, they do have a keen eye for goal!
And so this time I did not score, nor did I provide an assist, but I did what I could. And Jeffrey played a decent game as well. It was obvious why Jeffrey and I were the only two youth players who had broken through into the first team.
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The day after the match our trainer finally came and did have that chat with me. And to my surprise he said that Xerxes were willing to consider selling me to a semi-professional club and what did I think of that? After all, I had held my own against several First Division teams, both in pre-season friendlies and in our Cup match against Eindhoven.
Of course my biggest dream was to play for Feyenoord one day, but back in 1987 Feyenoord had not even heard of me yet, so I told him that yes, I would be interested in joining a semi-professional club. He went on to tell me that because of their injury problems both Sparta and Excelsior were looking for an additional attacking midfielder and defender and might be interested in signing both me and Jeffrey. Apparently those two clubs had been sending scouts over to watch us play!
We played our final group match against Huizen and it was a fun game as we managed to turn the game around after having been 1-3 down; we suddenly scored three goals in a row to beat Huizen 4-3 in the end!
We knew we could not qualify from our group anymore and I did not play my best game ever, but there was nothing wrong with my passing, although I failed to provide an assist. Of course my mind was elsewhere.
At the time I did not officially know it, although I was more or less expecting it, but this had been my last game for Xerxes. Jeffrey was hoping the same and he actually played a fine game as well.
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So we had failed to qualify. We had actually done quite well for a lowly amateur club; if only we had not lost our first group game at Spakenburg...
So now all I could do was patiently wait for news from my trainer and manager as the League season was about to start...
A day or two after our final group match I was informed that Sparta would be approaching me to talk about a contract. Sparta had several injured players and they severely lacked the squad depth which would be needed to attain a respectable league position.
I must say, I liked the idea. Dad didn't. Obviously dad did not like Sparta. But me and my friends, we had no problem with them, at least not to the extent that dad did.
And so, after much deliberation I decided to go against dad's advice and accept Sparta's offer. What convinced me in the end was that Sparta would pay me a thousand pounds a month! A thousand pounds! This was beyond my wildest dreams! I was so excited, I was beside myself!
Now of course I didn't have the foggiest idea what kind of wages Sparta paid their players. This was long before social media and in those days we were ignorant about these kind of things. But I was astounded that I was apparently worth that much to a club like Sparta!
The thought simply never occurred to me that the club had not offered me a contract to do me a favour. I only thought that this was the best day in my life - and I was more than happy to sign this lucrative contract and become rich quickly!
And so the deal was done. Dad was upset, I was delighted and my friends envied me. That about sums it up. There is little need to add that I had been very naive and very ignorant. I just thought that I was going to be paid handsomely, but I also felt that Sparta was getting a rather talented player in me. My brief career with Xerxes had done quite a bit to boost my self-confidence...