Johan Cruyff’s title-winning final season, putting one over Ajax. By Ernst Bouwes
The long-term significance
This was Johan Cruyff’s final season as a player. Ajax, whom he rejoined in 1981 after eight years in Spain and the United States, declined to extend his contract for another year because they doubted his crowd-pulling abilities at the age of 36. So, out of spite, Cruyff went to bitterest rivals Feyenoord. Incredibly he was to take them to their only title between 1974 and 1993, but their fans never really knew what to make of the move – Cruyff grabbed all the headlines and it seemed more his title than Feyenoord’s. Most of their away games were sold out, but home attendances went up by only a couple of thousand per match.
Story of the season
Despite an early thrashing by Ajax, Feyenoord ran away with the title, remaining unbeaten at home, where they won 14 of their 17 matches, and clinching the double with a 1-0 win over Fortuna Sittard. Ruud Gullit, who had been signed from Haarlem in 1982, contributed 15 goals from midfield.
The relegation places were established early on. Willem II, who flirted with bankruptcy during the season, were to win only one match at home, but they did surprisingly well away from Tilburg with four victories in their first five matches. Having beaten Go Ahead Eagles a week earlier with six goals in as many attacks, they went on to humiliate PSV 2-1 in Eindhoven. They would be the last team to win a league or cup match in the Philips Stadion until Ajax did so four years and eight months later.
It was one of the worst European seasons for Dutch teams, who all went out long before Christmas. NEC Nijmegen, who had reached the previous season’s cup final while being relegated, went two up at home to Barcelona in the Cup-Winners Cup, but a backpass own goal from the halfway line brought the visitors back into the game; they won 3-2 then 2-0 in the second leg. The national team were poised to qualify for the 1984 European Championship but missed out on goal difference as group rivals Spain got the 11-goal victory they needed with a 12-1 thrashing of Malta in their last game. The team also failed to reach the next World Cup finals, so it’s doubtful that they would have made a big impression in France, although they did beat future Euro semi‑finalists Denmark 6-0 in a friendly.
This was also a season when the generation of 1974 came up against the leading figures in the 1988 European Championship triumph – Jongbloed, Rijsbergen, Haan, Cruyff, Rep et al competed against Koeman, Van Aerle, Van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit. At the time we didn’t realise our luck, with average attendances standing at only 8,300 (compared with more than 18,000 in 2006-07).
For the record books
That early home win for Ajax against Feyenoord, 8-2 in October with three for Marco van Basten, remains a record margin. “But we are still going to win the championship,” Cruyff told his team-mates afterwards. The 1,079 league goals were the most there has been for the past 45 years. Volendam were the only club not to be involved in at least one six-goal match. The most extreme case was a 7-4 home win for FC Utrecht against Excelsior, who had been 4-1 ahead early in the second half – and won the return fixture in Rotterdam by exactly the same score.
Same place today
Half the Eredivisie teams are still there, although only five have stayed up for the entire time. Helmond Sport are the only ones yet to return after relegation. This was the sole season former UEFA Cup finalists FC Twente spent outside the top flight.
Moved furthest away
Professional teams can’t drop more than one level in Holland, where there is no direct link from the second division to the regional leagues. However, Haarlem, Go Ahead Eagles and Fortuna Sittard have spent recent seasons at the lower end of the second division (Eerste Divisie). Both Vitesse and Heerenveen have gone from being second-level stragglers to regular candidates for European football this century.
Went on to greater things
Marco van Basten ~ Scored 28 goals in his second full season with Ajax. Later to join Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard at AC Milan and also played a decisive role in the Dutch victory at Euro 88.
Jan Molby ~ The Danish midfielder was also in his second year at Ajax, whom he left for Liverpool at the end of the season.
RKC Waalwijk ~ Moved up from amateur football to the national second division in 1984 to replace a club who had gone bust. Despite a shoestring budget, they spent 19 seasons at the top level before relegation last season.
Disappearing from view
Arie Haan ~ A star of two Dutch World Cup finals teams and a triple European Cup winner with Ajax, the midfielder returned home for a final season with PSV after eight years in Belgium.
Players’ addresses ~ In their annual season guide, the magazine Voetbal International still published the home address of every player – they finally stopped two years later.
Dick Advocaat ~ Future manager of the Dutch national side and Rangers among others, Advocaat finished his playing career with FC Utrecht at the age of 36.
From WSC 250 December 2007