Another childish sporting illusion goes up in smoke. Thanks ‘Wiki’
For those of a certain vintage, the name Johnny Rep continues to reverberate with an impossible glamour
Dutch footballers (from left) Johnny Rep, Johan Cruyff, and Johan Neeskens wave to the crowd before taking on West Germany in the 1974 World Cup Final. Photograph: Getty Images.
Sometimes there’s no outrage to fill this space with. But the space still needs filling, which is when the “date” trick comes in handy. Simply “wiki” the date and see what comes up. It’s an old move that usually yields nothing more than the year some Russian Field Marshall fell off the perch, or when the Ottomans ransacked the city of never-heard-of-ich. But sometimes it pays off: happy birthday Johnny Rep – 62 today.
Anyone under 40 is now going “Johnny Who?” So for the pubescent among you, it’s Xabi Alonso’s birthday too – 32 today: it’s all or nothing with this “wiki” lark.
And there’s something very admirable about Alonso, the anchor presence of a Spanish midfield that has perfected “tiki-taka” football, and a man that continues to present a gaping credibility gap in Rafa Benetiz’ reputation considering he reckoned Liverpool’s midfield would be better for dispensing with Alonso in favour of – try not to titter – Gareth Barry.
But everyone knows Alonso. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Valdivia or Vilnius: Xabi is a global brand with all the digital-familiarity that brings. “Wiki” his breakfast habits and something will come up. He even played GAA in Navan for God’s sake. There’s probably YouTube available of him picking his nose.
But for those of a certain vintage, the name Johnny Rep continues to reverberate with an impossible glamour. What a name: honestly, that’s a handle to reckon with. It’s rock ’n’ roll, and early 70’s rock ’n’roll too, with all that hazy smoky swagger. Johnny Rep is a name worthy of co-writing Exile On Main Street, marrying Bianca Rep, and f**king off to St Tropez one step ahead of the cops on a speedboat called Mandrax.
Except Rep’s rock ’n’ roll was football, and never was a team more rock ’n’roll than the Holland team he played in at the 1974 World Cup, a team containing Cryuff, Neeskens, Krol, and on the wing, a languid blonde guy called Rep who looked like he should have been wearing a telecaster instead of the “oranje”.
The team played the way Rep looked, all swagger and sideburns, brio and brut; total football, the tika-taka of its time, so good they forced Brazil to morph into thugs. They went one-nil up in the final against West Germany without the home team even touching the ball. And when Neeskens whacked home the pen’, and followed up on the re-bounding ball by whacking it even harder, as if hammering home national revenge for the obscenities of three decades previously, I guarantee you it looked like the most impossibly exciting thing in the world to millions of small kids everywhere.
Mind you, it was the Germans that eventually got the cup. That was a bitter one, but even the Dutch excuses were kinda cool, like how Cryuff and Neeskens supposedly missed manager Rinus Michels tactical team-talk because they were sneaking a smoke.