Willem van Hanegem
Willem van Hanegem was born in Breskens in 1944 at the height of the German occupation of the Netherlands. The war left terrible scars on his family as young Wim lost his father and two brothers in bombing raids. His father died heroically as he used his body to shield an infant from the blasts. As a result of these losses, van Hanegem’s youth was difficult but his extraordinary talent for football and tough character drove him to attain success as one of the leading football players of his time.
The young van Hanegem had little interest in school and rarely applied himself. He had no great interest in football either. At the age of fourteen he left school and began a series of odd jobs, most of which ended badly for the Zeeuw. His discovery came one day when he was spotted kicking a football with great touch by the trainer of a local club, Velox. He invited van Hanegem to join his team and the beginning of a career was launched. Van Hanegem proved to be handful for the amateur club which sold him to Xerxes. Here van Hanegem began to develop into one of the country’s best players. In 1968 he was the second highest scorer in the league, an amazing feat for a midfielder known for his strong defensive skills. Van Hanegem, however, remained uncontrollable by his coaches and the referees. It was at Xerxes, in 1968, that van Hanegem was
selected for his first match with Oranje, and before long he was sold to Feyenoord. In Rotterdam he finally got a taste of the fields of international club football as the team stormed through the rounds of the European Cup in the 1969-1970 season. Van Hanegem was benefiting tremendously from playing along side the great Coen Moulijn. The Feyenoord of the late Sixties was constantly challenging Ajax for the hegemony of the Dutch competition. As Moulijn’s influence on Feyenoord waned, it was Wim van Hanegem who rose to succeed him and eventually became the footballer the most associated with the Rotterdam club. But in the beginning the supporters were cool towards van Hanegem as no one really knew what to make of this difficult, dark Zeeuw. But van Hanegem had such an immense skill that he won over his detractors. When Ajax failed to win in the Final of the 1969 European Cup, van Hanegem and Feyenoord created their own chance at going one up on their Amsterdam rivals. The Feyenoorders seized the occasion and won the most coveted European title the following season. Van Hanegem was pivotal in the club’s 1970 European Cup triumph over Glasgow Celtic. a feat which was followed up with the World Cup for Clubs success. He later led Feyenoord in capturing the UEFA Cup in 1974.
Van Hanegem’s international career with Oranje had continued into the Seventies as he had developed into one of the best players in the country. By the 1974 World Cup he stood out as one of great stars of perhaps Holland’s best national team to date. He played an excellent tournament but took the defeat against the Germans particularly hard. He would play one more tournament for Holland in the 1976 European Championship. His refusal to kick-off after a dubious goal in the Semi-Final is legendary. The Czechs had scored after a ridiculous decision by the referee to play on. Back at the center of the field, van Hanegem put his foot on the ball and refused to kick off. The referee instructed him to kick off several times only to hear van Hanegem ask “why?” The referee then told van Hanegem to approach him, which he promptly refused. Van Hanegem told the referee to come to him. The result was a red card. It was remarkable incident. But it showed a character that could not be intimidated by anyone, in any situation.
Van Hanegem retired shortly before the World Cup in Argentina and his absence was widely felt. After hanging up his boots, van Hanegem embarked on successful training career, most notably at Feyenoord. His former trainer in Rotterdam, Ernst Happel, said of him “that even if I live to be a hundred years old, I will never meet another phenomenon like Willem van Hanegem.”