Dear diary

Nothing unusual about a teenage player keeping a record of progress, except when he is a future European Footballer of the Year. In an extract from a feature first published in the Dutch magazine Hard Gras, Hugo Borst describes the contents of Marco van Basten's diary

Joop van Basten now lives alone in the house in Utrecht where he raised his family. His sons Marco and Stanley (named after Stanley Matthews) have moved out. Several times a day Mr Van Basten visits his wife in a mental home – a stroke depriving her of her mind in 1985 – and in Marco’s old room, he maintains a shrine to his son’s career.

Marco’s bed has been stood upright and turned into a trophy cabinet. On the wall are shirts, captains’ armbands, a koala bear sent from Australia and so on.

The real treasures, hidden under some magazines, are three old school files. A charcoal grey one, with three stickers on it, contains Marco’s notes for the seasons 1980-81 through 1982-83. Marco began this period playing for the youth team of Elinkwijk, an amateur club, and ended it playing for Ajax.

A blue file, with a sticker saying “Team Suzuki”, contains Marco’s notes for the 1983-84 season, when he was 19 and playing for Ajax and Holland.

A light-grey file with “Biology” written on it, has a reference to Marco’s school days and his first girlfriend: “Anne is sweet after all! When she is asleep.” It contains Marco’s notes for 1984-85. Marco kept a record of each match for Elinkwijk Under-18s, noting whether he played (or was injured) and whether he scored. Every week he wrote out the league table, with wins, losses, draws, goal difference and goals for and against for every club in the division. Towards the season’s end, when Elinkwijk could no longer win the title, and Marco had decided to move to Ajax, he only noted the results and how many goals he scored.

Then: Texas – Ajax Reserves 3-7. This was his first game for Ajax. It is Sunday August 2nd, 1981, and Marco, playing with Dennis van Wijk, later of Norwich, and Jerry Haatrecht, later killed in a plane crash, scores on his debut.

At the end of his first season it turns out that in 44 matches for the youth team, the reserves and the firsts he has scored 68 goals. He signs the pages with a signature that long remains childish, is sometimes experimental, and later acquires its definitive shape. These are undoubtedly finger exercises for when he is famous.

Marco’s notes are succinct. Only rarely does he elucidate. For instance:

31-1-82 Tournament Hannover. I played five minutes all tournament and so I hope the whole bunch get a heart swelling.
Wednesday 7 September 1983
Debut in Dutch team!
– in Groningen
– played well
– didn’t score

It is exciting to turn the pink pages and read the handwriting of a footballer who was then already an international, to recall matches with the help of his notes, This is the best page:

Wednesday 12 October 1983
Ireland Holland 2-3
First half: 4-4-2 – 2-0!
Second half : 4-3-3 – 2-3!

Marco was 18 then and a schoolboy. Beneath the line-up, which has Gullit at sweeper and Ronald Koeman in midfield, he has noted only that he has scored once. He stood on his hands after the winning goal. That night was the birth of the Dutch team that won the 1988 European Championships.

One of the last pages of the light grey folder, one of the last notes he makes:

Sunday 5 May 1985
Haarlem – Ajax 1-0
I reserve!

Underneath that he has written

De Mos [Ajax coach Aad de Mos] was made non-active as Ajax manager on May 6!

Mr Van Basten says that Marco recently walked into his old room for the first time in years, that he had never used to care about it, but that this time he said: “Good, isn’t it, that I won all that!” Marco had accepted that his career was over. He retired last year.

It is 12.40 pm. Mr Van Basten wants to visit his wife. A page in the charcoal grey file has the word “FEINTS” written at the top. Mr Van Basten glances as it, “he must have been 14, 15 then. You can borrow the files if you want.”

Marco’s repertoire at the age consisted of 14 feints, taken from Didier Six, Cruyff and Rudi Krol, among others. Some are intelligible, others described cryptically. They took him far. Even with the iron construction around his right calf, even with pins in his bones, with gristle in his joint – with or without cartilage – he mastered all 14. What is written here in child’s handwriting is inside him forever.

“If the weather stays like this, I’ll be able to take her for a walk,” Mr Van Basten remarks happily.

From WSC 110 April 1996. What was happening this month