WORDS: GERARD MEIJER
After winning the European Cup in 1970, Feyenoord had much more to look forward to. In the coming decades, Gerard Meijer would work with characters as memorable as Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Pierre van Hooijdonk but it was often the coaches who left the greatest impression on him…
In those incredible years of the late Sixties and early Seventies, we had a competition from the Ajax of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff and, despite the great rivalry we have always had over the years, there has always been respect for each other among the two clubs.
Unfortunately, with the fans this is not always so and the occasion of Amsterdam v Rotterdam is always something special. Ajax have had more success, but Feyenoord is still the first European Cup and Intercontinental Cup winner from the Netherlands. But, besides all this, the clubs still need each other and, anyway, they are both red and white!
The one year Johan Cruyff spent with Feyenoord in 1983/84 was, for me, a very special year. It was educational and a great experience, although I don’t mean any injustice to others. I certainly understood him very well and patiently listened to him.
It was difficult for some to understand that Feyenoord entered into a contract with this Amsterdammer and some players also had problems with that. But due to our results, that was soon over. Johan directed the players on both the training pitch and during matches and the good results were partly because of him, with the big end to the championship, which we won and also the cup success to make it a Double year for us. Myself and the older Feyenoord supporters, as well as many others, are still grateful to him.
In that season, Ruud Gullit also experienced Cruyff and I think he learned a lot from Johan. He came to us from Haarlem thanks to a contribution from a Rotterdam businessman, the father of entertainer Paul de Leeuw, who gave us a guarantee for the transfer amount.
Ruud had a lot of potential and you could see early on that Feyenoord would not be his final destination. After us, he moved to PSV and then had his great years at AC Milan with the Dutch enclave there. Of course I have also seen him as coach and for me it was a pleasant experience but he was not always understood.
Before Ruud returned as coach, though, we had the joy of winning the UEFA Cup in 2002 – finally a big prize for us again!
We had a hard-working team with a specialist in Pierre van Hooijdonk, who scored the most incredible goals for us, a large number of free-kicks. He scored a penalty and a free kick in the final that day to help us to a 3-2 victory. In addition, that final was played in our own stadium, which of course was especially unique.
That season was a busy one for me, staying in hotels a lot, but I was never bothered by it; I found it a really enjoyable experience. I also think Borrusia Dortmund were somewhat underestimated finalists and Feyenoord had a difficult team to play against.
It was a wonderful experience, a great event for us and the crowd. When the match was over and after a ceremony honouring the players, they walked around the pitch and I sat on the centre spot, turning to watch the group and enjoying their celebrations and those of the crowd. That was a great experience for me.
If I’m right then I have gone through 36 coaches and I can establish that I had a good relationship with every one of them, with some more direct than others, but each one had their own way of working.
I will begin with Bert van Marwijk. For me he was a very nice trainer to work for and with a charming family. I run into him regularly at home and away matches. With us and the Dutch national team he successfully achieved the almost impossible, winning the Uefa Cup for Feyenoord and taking the national team to the World Cup Final. Actually I have nothing to add. Only the words he always used: “We do it all together.”
Leo Beenhakker: He is Feyenoord with a true heart and soul. He is a good coach with a great story and a rucksack full of experience and success, especially with Real Madrid where he is still very popular – I know because I have experienced the reception he receives there myself.
At Feyenoord he was also successful and he was a coach with a distinct and personal approach. I remain friends with him now.
Wiel Coerver: That was a very special time, with ups and downs. He was also successful with us, winning the league and the UEFA Cup in 1974. He gave a lot to the development of youth and invented special training drills focused on pass-and-move football. He has also had a book and a film released about it – he could only talk about football.
Finally, Ernst Happel: I think that, in the current time, he would have been a good coach. He had a clear vision about football and said everything in a few words. He had a simple way of displaying his most intricate analysis of an opponent using words so every player could understand. He proved that by winning the European Cup and Intercontinental Cup and he also reached the World Cup Final with Holland in 1978. He made from a simple group of players a strong team.
If I had to choose, I would say my preference is Happel, who I had a special bond with. He was a great professional and, besides that, he was also a very good player. The great Austrian player Franz Hasil and he often played a game to see who could shoot the most balls onto the bar and he almost always won. Happel knew no mercy, simple.
Now I have retired from my medical role, I am an ambassador for the club and its supporters. I’m still in the service of Feyenoord with a working week of four days – Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, as well as games at home and away. I do a lot of PR work and attend meetings with supporters and, four times a year, those between Directors and supporters.
I visits schools in the district to do little talks with the children and I also host the Fancoach project, which supports fans and students in the community. At home games I receive and greet VIPs and I help run the supporters’ bus club. I also present the match ball to the winning supporters.
I go to away matches with the Directors, which is also nice and, if requested I sometimes do talks about football and 50 years of Gerard Meijer at Feyenoord with sponsors or companies. I write a column once a month for the website for a supporters’ magazine, musing on the past. If the desire is there, I also visit funerals and weddings!
In May 2009, after 50 years working for the club, I had a fantastic anniversary following the last home game of the season. I arrived by helicopter into a full stadium with a lot of emotional supporters and friends waiting. I received many gifts from the club, players, fans, referees committee and many others. When I think back, I get goosebumps.
The fans’ stand behind the goal is now named The Gerard Meijer Tribune and that’s very special to me because this has never happened in our stadium. Also it has been advocated by some 25,000 supporters that, when the new stadium is built, a square there will be named after me. Normally this is only for people of the royal family or people who are already deceased. It must be approved by the mayor and city council yet but this is very special for me.
Over the years I’ve always had confidence in the management, players and coaches, not to mention the supporters. Otherwise I would never have stayed so long at the club.
I must confess that I’ve always been sealed like a bank and many players are still grateful to me for that. If I was going to write a book about my experiences, well then it would be a bestseller. But believe me that book will never happen.
I will, however, leave you with a moment I will always remember from back in time.
In 1961, we became the first Dutch club to make a trip to Russia and, via Moscow and Leningrad, we arrived in Tbilisi. We played a match in Tbilisi and one of our players collided with their keeper. I rushed on and saw that our player had no problem, but their keeper had an eye shooting out of its socket.
There was great panic and nobody could do anything, so I sent everyone away and, after rinsing everything with water, I saw an opportunity to get it back in place so I sent him directly to the hospital.
That evening we heard from a delegation of Dinamo Tbilisi that all was well and the next day, upon departure, the parents of the keeper were at the airport to thank me with a few nice gifts.
Years later, we returned to Tbilisi for a European Cup match and I was invited to the official dinner for the leaders. Why? I wondered.
During the event, I was asked to stand and I was addressed by the chairman of the Football Association. He spoke about the incident with the goalkeeper’s eye and then he awarded me with a golden lapel badge. That was a very special experience, just back in the past.
To all this I must add something, however.
In 50 years I have traveled to three quarters of the world, to many stadiums, hotels and airports. But I’ve actually seen very little of the cities where we have played. Otherwise it’s been a great career and a wonderful life – it still is! I hope you now have a little knowledge of me, it has become a long story but I hope you have enjoyed hearing it.