Even though I was never fortunate enough to see him play live, Johan Cruyff has become one of my idols. Due to an unfortunate sense of timing, our family left Rotterdam to go and live in New Jersey at almost the precise moment that Cruyff fell out with Ajax and sought revenge by signing for their arch-rivals, and the team I was a mad childhood supporter of, Feyenoord.
I was aware of Cruyff through our time in Holland, it was actually impossible to ignore his legendary status, but it wasn’t until he took over as manager of Barcelona that I really started to understand and embrace his ideas on how the game should be played. Despite rather cruelly forcing the exit of one of my favourite players, by forcing Gary Lineker to play out wide as a way to get him to demand a transfer; (this was of course the post-Everton and pre-Spurs years for Lineker, which meant that I could officially like him!); the Dream Team that he constructed carried legendary status across Europe, winning four consecutive league titles and of course secured Barca’s first European Cup.
Any self-respecting football fan will have seen and no doubt tried out the ‘Cruyff turn’ and seen footage of the highly impressive Dutch side that ‘forgot to win’ the World Cup in 1974; but for me I think it is the refocusing of Barcelona’s approach as a manager, that has led to my idolisation of the Dutch football genius. I have been fortunate enough to watch the Barca team spearheaded by Leo Messi and the other La Masia graduates on a number of occasions and, even though this has sometimes been at the expense of them destroying the Arsenal team that I follow, I have always been blown away by the way that they play football, the way that Cruyff taught us football should be played.
In many ways it seems like there was something missing, in that Cruyff was never allowed to take charge of the Dutch National Side, and it can only be wondered just how mesmerising a team selected and coached by him would have been, given some of the talent that was available over that period.
He may no longer be with us, but his legacy will unquestionably endure, he is quite possibly the only footballer to have been a world class player and a world class manager and to change the beautiful game into something even more beautiful.
The 31st of March marked the 15th anniversary of David Rocastle’s passing, a truly thrilling player that inspired this hugely enthusiastic, if nowhere near as talented(!), right winger, four and a half years his junior, to try some of the trickery that Rocky demonstrated on a weekly basis. It wasn’t just his pace and dribbling that made him such an inspirational figure but his sheer grit, determination and commitment to the Arsenal cause.
He scored some absolutely wonderful goals, some of which I had the great honour of being able to see live; but in many ways it is the story of him bursting into tears on being told by George Graham that he was being transferred to Leeds that best sums up the man; it is difficult to imagine some of the modern Premier League players in the same situation being especially concerned, other than with their signing-on bonus and financial package.
Johnny King took over at Tranmere just before we moved back to the Wirral; the club just survived relegation from the League and then commenced an upward journey that was scarcely believable.
Led by the mercurial Ian Muir and the robust Jim Steel, with the classy Jim Harvey pulling the strings in midfield and the solid Stevie Vickers and Dave Higgins at centre half; they made their way from what was in those days rather straight forwardly referred to as the Fourth Division up to the second tier in a mere 4 seasons between 1987/88 and 1990/91, a period which also included 4 trips to Wembley (not including the Mercantile Credit friendly tournament).
Our Kid was more of a die-hard supporter than I was, but those Friday nights under the lights at Prenton Park provide some very fond memories. The oft-used quote by King that ‘a football season is like a long sea voyage…’ is something that I try to keep in my mind when results aren’t going my team’s way.