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.
And afterwards Rep swapped his tux with Paul Breitner at the post-match banquet because Fifa had outlawed swapping shirts at the end of games. How can you not warm to that?
So when his name came up on screen, it was impossible not to grin nostalgically.
And then, because the net can be a bastard as well as a gift, a link was offered to Johnny Rep and his confession to doping in the 1970’s.
Amphetamines apparently, before a European Cup game, when he played for Ajax, who just happened to have been one of the greatest club sides in the history of the game. And according to Johnny, it was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff for the time, something backed up by clicking on other links to reports of a new book detailing how many other top Dutch players at the time munched on speed like they were skittles, and another link revealing allegations of how palls of doping suspicion continue to hang over the German ’74 World Cup winners.
Christ, is there no end to this dope sleaze? I know I’m too old to be disappointed by footballers, and yes it was the torn-and-frayed 70’s, and a few pills were nothing, and yes it wasn’t the sinister spectre of cell-alteration and blood-injections, and yes any disappointment is probably rooted in a nostalgia for youth, but qualify it all you like, and argue about degree all you like; it’s still cheating.
Even through much more rheumy adult eyes, it’s tempting to plead “say it ain’t so Johnny” but that’s to still view the world childishly. Because the when, who or where is irrelevant when it comes to the human condition’s compulsion for an edge, and it doesn’t matter how attractive and cool and brilliant an individual might be. Johnny Rep was brilliant and cool and attractive on the football field. Off it his life has apparently included the chaos that comes from indulging in the sort of opportunities that come with the determination of so many to tell you that you’re wonderful, and not unreasonably finding it difficult to disagree with them.
So it would be churlish to piously wag the finger at someone who has at least had the honesty to eventually admit doping. And it’s not just nostalgia for youth that makes one instinctively indulge Johnny despite that admission.
Much greater cheats never admit anything, and never have to. So with no outrage, what’s left? Only more disillusionment, probably, at yet another childish sporting illusion gone. Thanks “wiki”.