Written by Bert Plomp
In your life, you experience a lot. You meet many people. You endure all sorts of things. You witness a lot of misery. You watch numerous films and TV series, and you attend football matches, concerts, and what have you. From all these experiences, you pick up something. With some of them, you decide to take action yourself. Certain individuals become your role models, guiding you on how you want to present yourself as an individual to others.
As a young boy, back when I was still in elementary school, football meant everything to me. I played football with my friends every free moment of the day, not only with a ball but with anything that would move, ranging from vegetable cans to stones. We played during recess at school, after school on the shopping square, and on Saturdays on one of the VELOX fields. Usually, there was no football on Sundays, not because it was the ‘Lord’s day,’ but because the boys and I went to the VELOX field or Galgenwaard to watch football.
Together with my friend Joop, I was allowed to play with the ‘big boys’ from the neighborhood, probably because we played better than the rest of the ‘little boys.’ However, playing came with a strict requirement: Joop and I had to be goalkeepers. That was the least desired position on the field. Being a goalkeeper meant being willing to go full length on the tiles, diving on the hard surface to a corner of the goal to stop a ball. Goalkeeping also meant that when the opponent scored against you, you had to retrieve the ball. If you defended the goal on the wet side of the field, the ball often came to rest fifty meters behind your back. If the goal scorer had kicked particularly hard, the projectile ended up in the river Kromme Rijn. Then, as a goalkeeper, you were really in trouble. It sometimes took half an hour to get the ball back on dry land.
With sticks and stones, you tried to maneuver the ball in your direction or to the other side of the river. In the latter case, you also had to cross the Prinsenbrug to get to the opposite bank. That meant covering even more ground. Because water in a river generally doesn’t stand still, the ball often ended up back on the side near the Pieter Baan Center. Approximately five hundred meters away from where it had gone into the water. Midway through the Ledig Erf.
Actually, no one was willing to fish a ball out of the water near Pieter Baan. This psychiatric observation clinic, this prison, housed mentally disturbed criminals and murderers, like Hans van Z. When I was playing there with the ball, I always got the fearful feeling that behind my back, a dangerous lunatic was trying to climb over the prison wall to attack me from behind. Sometimes, retrieving the ball took so long that the rest of the footballers returned home.
When I filled the position of ’tile diver’ on the square, Frans de Munck defended the goal line in the nearby Stadion Galgenwaard of the formidable DOS, strengthened by practice. Frans was a widely celebrated goalkeeper. In those days, he was also the goalkeeper for the Dutch national team. It’s not surprising that this fantastic athlete became my first, significant idol. Not least because his nickname was ’the black panther.’ That nickname particularly appealed to my imagination. Frans owed that designation not only to the fact that he made many spectacular, cat-like saves. This Mediterranean-tinted goalkeeper was also blessed with a beautiful, pitch-black crest. A shiny, deep-black, healthy hairstyle like the ones you saw in Brylcreem commercials at the time. And, as if those blessings were not enough for one person, he smiled at you from under the crossbar with a tightly arranged, snow-white set of teeth.
If you didn’t have to run like crazy to fetch a ball, standing as a goalkeeper, especially on winter days, often meant freezing. If you wanted to be taken seriously by the other boys, you appeared on the square in shorts. Regardless of the weather. Defending your den in long pants was not cool. That was not an option. This harmed the overall appearance. In Frans de Munck’s glory days, it was equally unattractive if white legs stuck out of those short trouser legs. Taking inspiration from my idol, I went so far as to, before the spectacle started, take care of my legs. I smeared my limbs with some brown shoe polish. Not only for the Mediterranean effect but also against the cold. Against signs of goosebumps, which could indicate fear of your opponent. Thus, I hoped to make an impression on the opposing strikers. Boys who had their sights on my goal. To enhance the effect, I wore pure white football socks.
I limited the imitation to brown legs. After all, I couldn’t compete with Frans’s qualities. Besides, I had milkman-dog hair and had just learned to brush my teeth regularly.
These days, imitating an idol is a piece of cake. Actually, it costs a lot of money. If you’re willing to pay enough, you can have all sorts of things done to your appearance surgically. You can get an entirely new face. You can remodel your entire body. You can bleach your teeth so dazzlingly white that you can blind an opponent with them. However, I don’t have the impression that a person becomes happier with all these artifices. Give me the real Frans de Munck. By the way, I haven’t used shoe polish in a long time. Not even to polish my shoes.