Catalonia Calling! #27

Thank you Johan Cruyff, the Flying Dutchman! - 26/03/2016

Catalonia Calling #27 is called Thank you, Johan Cruyff, the Flying Dutchman and is my personal homage to the great Dutch footballer, who both played for and coached FC Barcelona.

He was also a childhood hero - he was considered the best player in the world when I was really getting in to football.

Obviously, his contribution to the resuscitation of FC Barcelona was immense but had it not been for his magnificent Dream Team, which began shortly after my arrival in Barcelona in 1988, I may never have become a culer at all.

I feel an enormous amount of personal gratitude so Thank you Johan Cruyff, the Flying Duchman!

By the way, I'm in Sant Andreu to Llavaneres this weekend - hence the change of scenery.


Childhood Hero

I was born in 1960 so when Johan Cruyff won the first of his three European Footballer of the Year Awards in 1971, I was 11 years old and like most boys of that age, I was football crazy, so its not surprising that the Flying Dutchman made a great impact on me.

There wasn't much European football on television back in those days but we got to see the odd international or European Cup, European Cup Winners' Cup or UEFA Cup game, especially when there was an English team playing and all of us avidly read our copies of Shoot! or Goal! and swapped football cards in the playground.

We played football at break, lunchtime and after school in the park and often we pretended the game was Forest against whoever or England against whoever.

When my team were Forest, I liked to be Liam O'Kane and when we were England, I liked to be Martin Peters because he was nicknamed 'The Ghost'.

Obviously, sometimes you had to be a team that wasn't England and our favourite rivals were always Germany and Holland so when we were Germany I was always Gunther Netzer and when we were Holland I was Johan Cruyff, once again because I loved being the Flying Dutchman.

The Flying Dutchman takes it on the wing and comes inside. He beats one man, dribbles past a second and shoots. The goalie saves. Better luck next time, Johan!"

I wasn't a Barcelona fan but for any football fan of my generation, the great Johan had an enormous impact on our lives, and the Clockwork Orange Holland side, which he led to the World Cup Final against Germany in 1974, remains one of the great sides of all time.

FC Barcelona as a Player

Obviously, in 1973, I had no idea that I would end up being such a mad Barça fan so I don't remember much about the Flying Dutchman signing for the club.

As not only a fan, but also as a writer and blogger, I've read up and written about Cruyff's arrival and it's pretty clear that the signing changed Barça's fortunes forever.

Barça had had the great 5 Cups side led by Kubala in the Fifties but the Sixties had been a real fallow period with La liga pretty much being carved up by Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid and Barça were a big club with a massive stadium, who were known as underachievers.

Cruyff signed for Barça on August 23rd for a record sum, after having refused to sign for Real Madrid because they were, as far as he was concerned, a fascist club, which hardly made him popular with the merengues and the Franco regime, which was just about to enter its death throes.

He didn't debut until October and made an immediate impact on the side that was coached by Rinus Michels alongside Carles Rexach, Hugo Sotil and other great players.

The high point of Barça's first Liga winning season in well over a decade was the 5-nil win over Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabéu.

Although the successful run didn't continue over the next few seasons in part due to Cruyff's conflictive character and inability to get on with subsequent coaches, it's fair to say that the Cruyff-Michels tandem changed the club's fortunes and imposed a style and philosophy of football that would become a Barcelona trademark.

My Arrival in 1988

I arrived in Barcelona in the spring of 1988, when Luis Aragonés had taken over for a season after Terry Venables, and immediately began following Barça because with Gary Lineker, Steve Archibald and Mark Hughes on the side, it was almost like following an English club.

Johan Cruyff took over as coach at the beginning of the 1988-89 and almost immediately annoyed me by playing Gary Lineker on the wing and then criticising him for not scoring enough goals.

This put me off Barça a little and to be perfectly honest, I began following Real Madrid a little more closely in part because this was the period of the great Quinta del Buitre, made up of Butragueño, Sanchis, Michel and Martín Vazquez.

I was a football fan and I had no idea that I'd be spending the rest of my life in Barcelona so I was just interested in watching a decent game but I often wonder how different my life would have been had I become a merengue.

The Dream Team

Everything changed at the start of the 1989 season with arrival of Koeman, Stoichkov and, in particular, Michael Laudrup, who remains one of my favourite players of all time.

In actual fact, the Koeman shirt in the picture was meant to be a Laudrup shirt but when I got to the shop they'd run out and realising that if I didn't buy a shirt there and then, I'd probably never buy one, I bought one with the only other blond northern European player on it.

I really enjoyed the football. The combination of tactics and possession that makes Barça's play so recognisable. It's evolved a lot over the years but the basic style is still the same.

I celebrated the Ligas and the 1992 European Cup of course but I still wasn't really a culer yet. That came on the last day of the 1992 season.

Becoming a Culer

I watched the last game of the 1992 in Bar López, just below my flat on Cecs de de Sant Cugat in Santa Caterina.

We used to call it Santis because the father and son who ran it were both called Santi.

The father supported Real Madrid and the son, who I became very close friends with, supported Barça so they had two tellies and if you sat in the right place, you could watch both games at the same time.

For the last game of the 1992 season, Real Madrid were a point clear at the top of the table so for Barça to win La Liga, they had to lose and Barça had to win.

Unfortunately, Barça had a tough last game against Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid a theoretically easy one against Tenerife.

Real Madrid went 2-0 up and the Tenerife got 1 back so they went in to half-time winning 2-1 whilst Barça were leading 2-0 so La Liga seemed like a lost cause until late in the second half Madrid's Rocha scored an own goal and then a minute later Pier scored the winner for Tenerife.

The bar went wild, Barça won La Liga and me, Santi and a few other mates went down to Canaletes and on a drinking session that lasted well into the following day.

I woke up some hours later and something in me had changed - I was a culer! - and if you know anything about football really becoming a supporter of a team isn't a trivial thing.

It's an emotional commitment and an essential identity marker and to be perfectly honest, it opened the door to a more general identification with Catalan culture and language and I have to thank Johan Cruyff and the Dream Team for changing my life.

Nothing I've said and written about Barcelona and Catalonia since would be the same had that moment not happened.

Cruyff's Legacy

Around about this time, the young Pep Guardiola was beginning to establish himself in the class Barcelona Number 4 position.

He was Cruyff's eyes and ears on the pitch and the player capable of putting the coach's complex tactical theories into practice.

Both Xavi Hernàndez and now Sergio Busquets are his heirs and have guaranteed the conceptual style of Barcelona's football even after the Dutchman left in 1996.

There was a long fallow period until Joan Laporta brought Frank Rijkaard, another Dutchman, in as coach in 2003 but despite the lack of success, Barça's football remained recognisable.

Cruyff's real legacy became clear in 2008, though, when his protegé Pep Guardiola took over as coach and FC Barcelona's incredible cycle of beautiful football and unparalleled success began.

In Cruyff's Name

It's almost impossible to thank the great man enough for what he's done for the club.

Joan Laporta made him Honorary President but mealy-mouthed Sandro Rosell took the honour away.

Now, with his death coincidng with the the planned renovation of Camp Nou, it seems like a good time for the stadium to have a change of name.

Estadi Johan Cruyff sounds good to me. What do you think? Give me a like or make a comment below if you agree.

A Final Thought

Anyway, thanks very much for watching. Please subscribe, like and comment.

Also remember that I do all this completely free. So if you want to support my work and research, you can click on an ad, buy my book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective on Amazon or make a donation a

That's it from me for this week. Viscal el Barça! Visca Catalunya! Visca Johan! Look after yourselves.

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