Going Dutch 20 years ago fondly remembered

As Euro 2008 kicks off today, PHILIP BARKER looks back 20 years to a classic European nations championship
To this day, I still do not know how he did it. Marco Van Basten that is (pictured here in 1988 after scoring against one of the tournament’s lesser teams).

Somehow, he twisted his body to lash in an unstoppable shot from an impossible angle. Was it the greatest goal ever to win a major final?

It certainly remains the most spectacular I have ever witnessed at first hand.

Euro 88 was the first major tournament I had covered. At Trans World Sport we couldn’t show a single frame of actual match action, so our coverage was pure “colour”. We flew back and forth between London and Duesseldorf and then down to Munich a few days before the final. England had lost all three group matches and were homeward-bound, a few international careers ended.

By beating hosts West Germany, the Netherlands had won their way through to the final against the Soviet Union. Final day dawned and the atmosphere was good. That morning we made our way towards the stadium. We travelled to the top of the Munich tower, the better to film the crowd enveloping the stadium in orange, and passed Der Bomber, the great Gerd Muller on the way out. It was a time for rubbing shoulders with the great and good. Michel Platini was there, even though France were not.

Earlier, Gianluca Vialli had indulgently accepted my basic questions in Italian with a smile and some thoughtful answers, long before he’d considered moving to Chelsea or learned English.

I’d been assigned to filming outside among the ticketless Dutch fans who swarmed into the marquees on the Munich Olympic Park to see the match on what were regulation-sized TVs. No big screen in the park then. At half time, with their side a goal to the good thanks to a Ruud Gullit header, we’d repaired to the press room for a half-time cup of tea. I lingered after the restart, determined to see at least a few minutes of the actual match before resuming our filming. As I poked my head around the press box into the grandstand, the move started and a few seconds later Van Basten was engulfed by his team mates after that moment of genius.

The rest of the afternoon’s filming was a breeze after seeing such a moment. At the Dutch hotel, Gullit was walking down the line of the TV crews answering in Spanish, Dutch, Italian, French and English. The Koemans were beaming. Rinus Michels, the architect of total football, was gruff, while van Basten, the hero of the hour, would rather have been anywhere else.

The greatest prize for us was yet to come. We’d played “spot the star” at the press bash in the Englischer Garten on the eve of the final. It was as if every Panini sticker book had come to life. Lubanski, Brooking, Charlton, Beckenbauer and ….Lev Yashin. My producer turned to me and nodded significantly.

But how to secure an interview? The Euro 88 press officer, a chap with more than a passing resemblance to Graham Taylor, told us where he was staying. As we arrived at his hotel, Yashin and his entourage walked out of the lift to the restaurant. Expecting a firm “Niet”, we were pleasantly surprised to be told to report at 10 the following morning.

The man that used to leap about all in black cut a very different figure in 1988. Wheelchair bound, his legs had been amputated. He spoke no English so every question answer had to be translated and as the minutes passed, I was certain that a minder would appear to call time on our interview, but no. He answered patiently and with a picturesque turn of phrase, in the way of many from his country and his era.

He’d won the European Nations’ Cup in simpler times, when the host was chosen after the last four became known.

He told us of his delight at playing against England in the FA Centenary match in 1963, and how whenever Pele had scored against him, he had wanted to applaud. I think he was amazed that a foreign television crew were still interested in his story after all these years.

We left him all smiles, why he even signed a match programme for me. That’s something that will never appear on eBay.

As we touched down back at home, we remembered his parting shot. “The next time you see Gordon Banks, give him my regards.” Within what seemed only a few months, the news came through that Yashin had died, but I will never forget the half hour we had with one of the true greats of the game.

Click here to view again “the greatest goal of all time” on YouTube (with surprisingly understated commentary in Dutch)

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