WORDS: GERARD MEIJER
In the past 53 years, there isn’t much that Gerard Meijer hasn’t seen at Feyenoord. Working and travelling with the team, he has become a friend to some of the greatest names in the game. Still working for the club he loves, he tells TheInsideLeft about the best moments so far…
One Wednesday in August 1959, I received a call from Feyenoord to ask if I could help because they had no physio. I obviously did well because I was asked to stay.
I remember the manager, Guus Brox, said to me: “If you keep doing your best, maybe you can work here until you retire.” He did not know it then but he got it right with his prediction. Now I am 77, I still work four days a week and I still maintain all my faculties. I have a contract for life, my own car, parking space and office. On my desk there are various trophies and prizes: my honorary membership of the supporters’ group, an Award from Radio and TV Rijnmond and a statuette from a supporters group, but it started by chance.
My father was a masseur for football clubs and professional boxers and he took me to the gym as a 16-year-old to see him work. I often trained along with the amateur boxers so I was active early with endurance training and I also think I laid the foundation for my life in terms of fitness at that time.
I was always busy with some kind of training and, as a 14-year-old, I played football and baseball at Sparta Rotterdam. I continued with different clubs until my military service but mainly in my free time from doing sports massage. After my military service, I worked as an employee in a veterinary research laboratory.
I was not a great sporting talent so I went to an institute who offered diploma programmes in massage and pedicure. The son of the owner there was the physio at Feyenoord and told me that he and his trainer, Jack van der Leck, were moving to DOS-Utrecht. This is how I came to apply to Feyenoord for work.
My first game was against a team called Lokomotiva. I could run pretty fast, and during this match I had to run onto the pitch a couple of times. The audience loved it when I ran on and that’s never changed. Now I work as an Ambassador for the club, so I do a lot of PR work after I worked 50 years as a physio and masseur – many people are not even that old!
When I came to Feyenoord, football in the Netherlands had only been professional for a few years, well semi-pro actually. There were limited staff and the game was run by amateurs. Now, there are four directors and a large number of staff, only fully professional players, coaches, medical staff, etc.
The pace and tempo of football is higher than years ago, but I think the chances of injury are greater than before. Also, football has changed, not only in material terms, but also the systems and models of play are different from before. So the job of a masseur is different too, partly because there are a lot more knee injuries and muscle problems than before.
When I first arrived at the club as a young man, the legendary coach Richard ‘Dombi’ Kohn was in the last years of his life. Now Dombi was not just a great coach, he also knew a lot of medical treatments and I was one of the many people to learn from him.
He taught me a way to treat major injuries using hot bandages and I used it for many years until medical science and new treatment methods overtook the method. It involved warming bandages in a combination of paraffin, which was dissolved in a large pan and, when it reached a temperature of 100 degrees, I added milk and stirred it until it was like rubber.
You applied it for a whole day. For example, if it was a knee, you would first cover it with mesh rolls, tightly without air and, when the pulp is at 80 degrees, put on the mesh lubrication. Immediately you had to cover it with plastic wrap and then with rubber bandages. The knee was still warm to the touch the next morning, which encouraged circulation and the method worked fine for that time.
Dombi died when I was a few weeks into my military service in 1963. Before I went, he gave me a 10-guilders note to buy flowers for my wife and he said to me: “Gerard, I’m dying.”
I have always kept the 10 guilders note.
Feyenoord were very successful in the Sixties and the team at that time had many players of my age, so I went along with them everywhere as a friend of theirs. In fact, at that time we were actually still half-amateurs, but the foundation was laid for the future because, in European competition, the late Sixties was to mark the beginning of the great success that followed in 1970 – the high point in Feyenoord’s history.
Winning the European Cup was, for us and for the Netherlands, an incredible experience – every time we won a game in Europe. Something no one expected happened in the Netherlands and every game was a different experience along the way.
The win over AC Milan in the second round was a remarkable result, which nobody had expected, including Milan and, for the final at the San Siro, the Milan team were there supporting Feyenoord because we had defeated them on the way.
The away leg of our quarter-final against Vorwarts-Berlin was also memorable. We had to play on a frozen, snow-covered pitch. Soldiers had already been working for a few days to free up the snow but the pitch was still completely frozen. They had been working with chemicals and had also drilled holes to let water out, which of course failed.
We played on that pitch, but unfortunately, my memories of the game have nothing to do with football. The field reeked of chemicals and, after the match, the kit was damaged because of it. The football boots were also affected – the upper part of the boots was no longer usable and we had to throw everything away.
We visited the checkpoints at the Berlin Wall on that trip, which was interesting but very sad. Fortunately that is all over now.
We progressed to the semi-final, where we beat Legia Warsaw, and then the final, against Celtic, which was a wonderful experience and a great moment for us.
I remember, on the afternoon before the match, I went to give a massage in Willem van Hanegem and Theo Laseroms’ room and there were two lamps in the room that had a resemblance to the European Cup. Laseroms started dancing on his bed with one of the lamps and screaming that we would win tonight. That lamp came out again after the match. Unfortunately, there was a strike in the hotel, so the restaurants and the bar were closed. There was milk available, but milk does not make a party!
However I do remember that, the morning after the game, two buses of Celtic supporters came to clap and sing to us, a very sporting and very special gesture.
Of course, as European Cup winners, we played the Intercontinental Cup that year as well, against the Argentinean club, Estudiantes.
Yes, Estudiantes was certainly an experience for us.
We had heard that it was a tough team and it started upon our arrival at the airport. We had never seen so many police. We put our luggage in a truck and we got into an Army Bus. With the bus, there were four policemen with guns and, behind the bus, a police car and two motorcycle cops. When we travelled, I always sat in the bus beside the driver so I had a good view of the road and the traffic in Buenos Aires was incredibly undisciplined. Nobody moved aside for us on the dual carriageway despite the sirens blaring. Motorcyclists took car mirrors off, while to hit or kick dents in wings was apparently normal there.
We were based at the Boca Juniors stadium, fully supervised because they were afraid of kidnapping! We went once to the city by bus and on the street there was one guard for every three players. Also, behind the training pitch there were huts without electricity and water and much poverty. Led by van Hanegem we gave up a lot of clothes to the people there. In fact, van Hanegem gave almost all his clothes away and he was on the plane later in shirt, trousers and slippers!
When we arrived at a stadium before the game, the players always looked at the pitch and they did the same there. But their supporters had sharpened coins which they threw at some of our players. Johan Boskamp was hit and had a large bleeding head wound so, by the time the match started, the doctor had already been called upon.
Before the start, Ernst Happel and I went to the dugout and there were burning newspapers thrown all around us – we had never seen anything like it. The competition was very tough on a very poor pitch but the result was good for us because we drew 2-2 and won 1-0 in the second leg at the De Kuip. We had won the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup – what a wonderful year for us all.