In 1959 Abe Lenstra played his 47th and last match for Oranje. His international career had begun nineteen years earlier in 1940 when he had made his international debut against Luxembourg. The duration of Lenstra’s tenure with the national team is an absolute record in Holland. Lenstra ended his international career with great style when in this last match, which was against Belgium, the 39 year old living legend scored his 33rd international goal. This goal made him the second highest all time scorer for Holland, after Wilkes and tied with Cruijff.
Abe Lenstra was born in Friesland in 1920. His father was a board member of the football club Heerenveen, which of course was the club for the northern province. Naturally the young Abe was drawn to football for which he had shown a natural aptitude for at a young age. Abe already began to play for the first team at the tender age of fourteen. At twenty he was already invited to join the national team. Lenstra played two matches for Oranje before the War broke out but these were not a huge success. The primary source of the problem was the friction which existed between the older veterans from the “west” and the young Friesian upstart. The problems were particularly intense between Leen Vente and Lenstra.
After the War ended most of the veterans from the Thirties were not invited back onto the national team. Lenstra continued to star at Heerenveen, which was eventually dubbed Abeveen. The Frisian star was now at the head of new generation of players and soon became associated with Faas Wilkes and Kees Rijvers on the national team. These three players together formed a deadly attacking team reminiscent of the Bakhuijs-Smit-Vente offense of fifteen years earlier. The trio were eventually dubbed “het gouden binnentrio” (golden inner trio) and their fates were invariably crossed. As it was they only played together ten times but managed to create a myth in the process. The three were on the team together in the 1948 Olympic Games in Great Britain but fell short of their potential. It was the only time Lenstra would represent Holland in an international tournament and it can always be remembered as evidence of the great generation that could have been, but never was. The debate over amateurism vs. professionalism tore them apart.
Lenstra was the only one of the three who did not go in on the foreign temptation of the lucrative professional contracts despite many offers. AC Milan, in particular, was anxious to sign on the legendary talents of Lenstra but to no avail. Instead he joined Enschede and was voted Sportsman of the Year in 1952 and 1953. With the foreign exodus of all the great stars of his day, it was only Lenstra who could produce some beautiful moments during those dark years for the national team. But in the darkest days of the national team, Lenstra was not playing for Oranje either. He had always had a reputation for being hard-headed and he was frequently at odds with the KNVB. This led to a two year absence from the national team for Lenstra.
When football was finally professionalised in Holland, the golden inner trio were reunited for a few matches. Lenstra was the oldest of the three, but he had not lost his touch. In 1958 Oranje was a goal away from the World Cup when Lenstra missed an open shot with just him and the keeper in front of the goal. It would his last chance at qualifying for an international tournament. He retired a year later.
During his nineteen year international career Lenstra’s sportsmanship stood out as an example to all. He died in 1985 of an acute heart failure. He was just 64 years old.