Puck van Heel
Much as Wim van Hanegem would be decades later, Gerard “Puck” van Heel was inextricably linked with both Feyenoord and Oranje. Although he also played for Ajax, he was in essence the first Mr. Feyenoord. Born in 1904, the player from Rotterdam would know unprecedented longevity on the national team.
Van Heel joined Feyenoord at the tender of age of fifteen and was selected for the national team by the age of twenty-one. Remarkably, van Heel was not even a regular on the first team of Feyenoord when he started playing for Oranje. This status changed quickly as van Heel was called up time and time again for the service of his country. A small man, not even particularly fast, van Heel was nonetheless an outstanding defender and leader of the rear guard. He followed in the tradition of Bok de Korver and in particular Harry Dénis, with whom he played together on Oranje for three years. Dénis was a mentor for van Heel and upon his retirement van Heel took over the leadership position on the national team. But before then, in 1928, van Heel received his first taste of an international tournament. The Olympics took place in front of the Dutch home crowd, yet they still went terribly wrong. The experience was invaluable for van Heel as he picked up much from Dénis, a veteran from 1920 and 1924.
There were fallow years following the 1928 Games and it was not until 1931 that Oranje started booking results again. Most players came and went as the trainer and authorities tried to find that winning combination. However, there remained one constant during this turbulent time and that was van Heel. When Oranje began adding the likes of Bep Bakhuijs and Kick Smit, Puck van Heel was the only link to a by-gone era. A connection to the Olympic glory days. Van Heel was the one with the experience, he was the leader, and he was the captain. Van Heel remained the strategist and technician behind the Dutch national team throughout the Thirties. While Bakhuijs, Smit and Vente scoured for opportunities up front, van Heel kept the rear organised.
1934 was a year in which Oranje attained great heights. They qualified for the World Cup with tremendous style and were considered amongst the favourites to win the tournament. But as had been the case in 1928, van Heel and his men went out of the tournament in the first round. The great generation peaked in 1936 and was declining by the time Holland qualified for the 1938 World Cup. Despite low expectations for the team as a whole, van Heel’s performance was particularly commendable when considering the conditions in which the players played. He was the man of the match as his defence held out the Czech offensive for over ninety minutes. But sadly Van Heel’s third international tournament ended in the first round again. He retired from Oranje shortly thereafter.
Puck van Heel has the distinction of being the only man to have been Holland’s captain in two World Cups, 1934 and 1938. Along with Gejus van der Meulen, he is the only player to play both in the Olympics and the World Cup. Van Heel’s consistency and reliability was reflected in the longevity of his career. With 64 international appearances, he held the record for more than four decades until finally being surpassed by Ruud Krol. Like his colleagues in the attack and the boisterous Karel Lotsy, Puck van Heel is synonymous with Dutch football in the Thirties. He died in 1984.