Saturday, July 19, 2008
The moment of Feyenoord's century
Today Feyenoord celebrates its centenary. On the 19th of July 1908 the club were formed as Wilhelmina, after the then-queen, to find out later, that they were weren't the first ones.
Instead, they had to settle for Feijenoord, the name of the neighbourhood. In 1924 they won their first Dutch title and added a couple through the years, but their international claim to fame was obviously the 1969-70 season, culminating in a surprise victory of the European Cup.
Feyenoord had reached the semi-final for the first time in 1963, but had not passed the first round since. Ajax were all the rage with three titles since 1966 and it was rather a surprise that the Stadium team finished the season in first place in 1969. That may have been caused by the tiring European adventures of Cruyff and co, who played and lost the final against AC Milan in Madrid.
However, Feyenoord beat Ajax twice in Amsterdam, for the league and the cup, so they were worthy champions. In November, with their new Austrian coach Ernst Happel, they knocked the same AC Milan side out and marched straight on to the final. There, again in the San Siro Stadium, Feyenoord faced Glasgow Celtic, who seemed to have done the hard part by eliminating Benfica, Fiorentina and then Leeds United.
It seemed unlikely that Feyenoord would pose any threat in the final. Holland were still minnows in European football and the national team was a joke. Cruyff had been picked as an exceptional talent by the international press, but few people outside the country knew the names of any player from Rotterdam. Their coach Happel had been a renowned Austrian international, but mainly as a brilliant but swashbuckling defender.
His coaching pedigree was a cup win with ADO from The Hague. Happel is still remembered as the best manager Feyenoord ever had, but no one knows exactly why. His taciturnity is famous, or infamous, depending who remembers him. Infamous certainly for Eddy Treytel, who had been the first choice keeper in the league for the whole season, but was told without any explanation that the ageing Eddy Pieters Graafland would play in the 1970 European Cup final.
For a long time the world had to make do with brief highlights so few people will remember what exactly happened that night, but recently the two hours of the match in the San Siro Stadium have surfaced - not least on ESPN Classic.
Fortunately I got hold of the footage on DVD and could for the first time watch the game in full. Thanks to modern technology I could do my own repeats and notice what a horribly bad job the Italian referee Lo Bello was doing. The history books compliment him for his performance, but with the benefit of the rewind button I could see some blunders of colossal proportions. After fifteen minutes a goal by Celtic's Willy Wallace was disallowed by the linesman, who, at that time, was usually an international referee with little or no experience on the line.
He clearly took his decision on Wallace's position when he received the ball and not when it was played. It would not be the last time one of the linesmen made this mistake that night and this, to judge from the reactions from the commentator and in the following match reports, was hardly noticed by anyone.
However, both finalists should not feel any grudge about the decisions now as these horrific mistakes were neatly divided between both teams. In fact, Lo Bello was almost the scorer of Celtic's first goal. A questionable free-kick just outside the area was quickly taken by Gemmill and hit while the referee was still busy putting the Feyenoord wall on the required distance. The official could only just jump out of the way to avoid being struck, but moved into the sight of keeper Pieters Graafland who had no chance at all.
Within minutes Feyenoord had equalized with a neat header by Rinus Israel, after they were given a soft free-kick themselves. As the game went on, Feyenoord created the better chances and Celtic proved clueless at how to break down the midfield passing of the opponents.
Wim van Hanegem was the start of several quicksilver counter-attacks, although he hardly ever moved himself. He lured two or three Scots with the ball at his foot and just when they thought they had him closed down, turned on the spot into a position to pass to one of his, by now unmarked, teammates, who came running down the pitch. He might have been chosen as Man of the Match, if this had been thought of at that age.
Two men who never came close to that title, were the expected stars of the teams, but both unable to shine on the night. Feyenoord's Coen Moulijn was hurt in training by a reckless tackle, while Jimmy Johnstone on the other side was surrounded by at least two, but mostly three defenders for most of the match.
In the end it was Ove Kindvall who decided the match. A long ball by Theo Laseroms, nicknamed 'The Tank' for reasons several opponents are still too traumatized to talk about, was briefly handled by a stumbling MacNeill and then fell for the Swedish striker with only the keeper to beat.
Lo Bello let play go on, or just did not notice the handball, helping Kindvall to a mythical status in Rotterdam as he lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Williams into the net. Feyenoord won the UEFA Cup twice, but this victory is unequalled in its sheer joy. No wonder it is the highlight of their first century of the red and white Comrades.
• Catch highlights from the game on 19th July (2200 CET) on ESPN Classic in Europe.
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