In the Netherlands today, when a player makes a diving header, it is called “à la Bep Bakhuijs”. This is attributed to the great star of the Thirties who made that technique famous. Bep Bakhuijs was probably the greatest player Holland had produced up until that time. In fact, during his prime he was considered by many to be the best striker on the continent.
Eberhard H. Bakhuijs was born on Java in the Dutch East Indies in 1909. At a young age Bakhuijs was sent to Holland for his education by his father, an administrator on a sugar plantation. Bakhuijs stayed with a family in The Hague where he joined HBS and was trained under the tutelage of the English trainer Bill Julian. Julian succeeded in refining many of Bakhuijs’ natural skills and soon he could play with equal facility with both legs. The family with which Bakhuijs was living moved to Hattem, near Zwolle. After switching clubs a few times, Bakhuijs settled to play for the local club ZAC where he grew into a scoring sensation. So much so that he was selected to play for Oranje at just nineteen years of age. He had played three times for the national team, scoring twice, before his international career came to an abrupt halt. Although Bep had been a poor student, it had always been the intention of the family to bring him back to the Indies so that he could build a career in sugar. So as a dutiful son, Bakhuijs headed east in 1930. Once there, he continued to play football for a local club and his development continued. Unfortunately for him but fortunately for the national team, Bakhuijs lost his job in 1933 and was forced to return to the Netherlands. He rejoined his old club, ZAC, which had known only bad times since his departure. In the twelve remaining matches of the season, Bakhuijs scored 36 goals. Consequently Oranje came knocking again. His first match back in the Oranje jersey was, however, a flop but it did not take long before he was the spearhead of Holland’s attack. The Dutch team that was preparing itself for the 1934 World Cup was the most talented the country had seen up until then. The famous attacking trio of Bakhuijs, Kick Smit and Leen Vente was deadly to say the least. Bakhuijs was becoming a scoring machine. It was also during this time that he scored that famous diving header in the World Cup qualifier against Belgium. It remains one the greatest and most talked about goals in Dutch football history.
Great things were expected of Bep Bakhuijs at the 1934 World Cup, but his performance was a disappointment. The whole team played badly and went home empty handed even though they had the talent and opportunity to win the whole tournament. As it was, Bakhuijs did not get second chance at international stardom four years later in the 1938 World Cup. He had two more great years with Oranje where he continued scoring with unprecedented and still unmatched consistency. But in 1937 he become Holland’s first professional player when he signed with the French club Metz. This came after a turn of events in Holland which saw him placed on the professional list. Bakhuijs, who had always been very unsuccessful in work outside of football and was actually quite poor, had been helped out by some local businessmen who invested in his cigar shop in return for him playing for their club. When the KNVB’s amateur status zealots got wind of this they placed him on the black list. This status rendered him ineligible to play for the clubs or the national team. Bakhuijs made the logical step and became a real professional in France. The nation was stunned and many cried out accusations of treason. But they had lost their best player the country had ever known. His absence was a major factor in Holland’s second unsuccessful World Cup run. He had scored 28 goals in just 23 internationals, which is the highest scoring average of any Dutch player who has ever played in as many international matches.
Bakhuijs retired from football and Metz in 1947. The rest of his life he faced personal and health problems. The KNVB kept the door closed for any coaching possibilities. Bep Bakhuijs died in 1982 at the age of 73, sadly he was a somewhat broken man. Strangely the media in Holland gave only scant attention to the death of one of the nation’s greatest ever footballers.
When Robin van Persie made is legendary flying header in the Netherlands' opening match of the 2014 World Cup against Spain, all the Dutch commentators referred to proverbial
"a la Bep Bakhuijs" of eighty years earlier.