KICKING AND WRESTLING
Written by Bert Plomp
Football was our passion and our life. Every free moment, a ball was kicked around on the square in Napoleonplantsoen. My friend Joop and I were always there. Joop’s older brother Ronus and my older brother Theo also often joined in. The two of them were both four years older than Joop and me. Ronus attended the Stedelijk Gymnasium, and Theo attended the Rijks HBS. Unlike Joop and me, they diligently did their school homework every day.
Together with other neighborhood boys, we played matches among ourselves and also faced ’teams’ from other neighborhoods, especially from the Kovelaarstraat boys, occasionally against those from Sterrenwijk. These neighborhoods were unjustly labeled as slums at the time, not by young boys like us, but by our parents. Residents of new neighborhoods generally looked down on those living in old, simple houses. So-called workers’ houses, located in narrow back streets. They felt and behaved superior to those ordinary tenants of old buildings. Without saying it out loud, they considered those people somewhat antisocial. This unfounded attitude often led to tensions.
As a boy from a new neighborhood, I preferred not to show my face in the Kovelaarstraat. Nevertheless, as a young lad, I occasionally did. Sheila was the reason. This charming girl with red hair lived in that street. Although Sheila was often teased at my school for the color of her long locks, I found her even more attractive because of it. On the street, however, other children would mock her with: “Rooien en valen zijn donderstralen” (Redheads and fallers are thunderbolts). When I visited Sheila at her home and walked through her street, I was spied on from behind curtains on all sides. Occasionally, a mischievous little boy would suddenly emerge from a house. Before I knew it, he would give me a punch in the stomach. If you gave the kid a tap back, all hell would break loose. It didn’t stop me from continuing to visit Sheila.
Instead of playing football, there were often scuffles on the square with boys from the Kovelaarstraat. My brother Theo sometimes bore the brunt of it. Theo, as an HBS student, represented everything that annoyed a resident from this neighborhood about someone from Napoleonplantsoen. One afternoon, during a ‘friendly’ football match against the Kovelaarstraat, Theo committed a nasty foul. A rough tackle, unworthy of a player from the Hercules football club. The already heated tempers instantly flared up. Theo made a run for it and quickly entered the phone booth on the square. There, he was surrounded by furious opponents. While being jeered at, fists pounded on the phone booth windows. Theo had to do everything in his power to keep the door of the booth closed. Although his own friends tried to rescue him, the opposition was overwhelming, and he was on the verge of being overwhelmed at any moment. And, as is often the case: when the need is greatest, help is near. Suddenly, my uncle Kobus appeared, seated on his Zündapp. My father’s brother was an Indonesia veteran and not easily intimidated. On Sundays, for example, he sold hot sausages at the Galgenwaard stadium. He walked through the stands with a large container on his stomach, navigating through the excited crowd. The metal container was divided into two parts: a wet one with sausages floating in boiling water and a dry one with pre-buttered rolls. Somewhere on the side was a small reservoir filled with mustard. While plying his trade, he repeatedly obstructed agitated supporters’ views of the field. Now he was roughly pulled by his white chef’s jacket, then he was rudely pushed aside. He constantly received all kinds of curses. Uncle Kobus remained stoic at all times.
After parking his steel horse, Uncle Kobus walked decisively towards the phone booth. He grabbed one of the biggest troublemakers by the throat and ordered him to get lost and leave my brother alone. Said and done. Theo was a free man again. Uncle Kobus was truly a family man. He was small but sturdy and not afraid of anything. You didn’t want to mess with one of his relatives.
We were always very passionate during a football match on the square. It was inevitable that, now and then, a ball would slam with a dull thud against a shop window or a living room window, much to the dismay of the respective shopkeeper or resident. With fear and trembling, everyone anticipated the moment each day when the school day ended, and the ‘matadors’ once again entered the square. Despite all the complaints, not a single window was ever shattered during a football match.
In our neighborhood, along the banks of the Kromme Rijn, there were gigantic meadows. Constructed meadows where you could set up numerous beautiful fields for playing without bothering anyone. Where no windows could be broken. However, you were not allowed to enter these meadows; they were vigilantly guarded by park wardens. By the ‘Grüne Polizei,’ as we called those officers. The determination with which these despicable, green pests brought unsuspecting boys to police station Het Ledig Erf was truly astonishing. When boys kicked a ball on one of those immensely large grass fields, those tough duty snitches, dressed in their green uniforms, were quick to pounce on them. To seize their ball. You would see such a big lout, with a malicious grin on his face, making off with your beautiful ball. Running away with the piece of toy that meant everything to you in your youth. You saw your valuable possession, tied under a bungee cord of a green service bike, disappear around the corner out of sight.