What follows is a reimagining of a minute by minute for the World Cup final 1978.
June 25th 1978, 08:00 UTC-3h: We’ve made it. After three and a half weeks the final day of the World Cup has arrived. 37 matches have all but flown by. 14 teams were weighed and found lacking. Only Argentina and Holland remain. Today we will find out which side will be crowned World Champions. Join us throughout the day and from kick-off for more updates.
12:00 UTC-3h: For Holland it will be the second World Cup final in as many editions. This time, though, they will be hoping for a different outcome. Four years ago Holland looked the finest side in the tournament, yet lost to pragmatic West Germany on the grandest stage. Even though a fair part of that ‘74 squad made the trip to Argentina, it is hardly the same team anymore. Were the Elftal a chess set, both the king and queen are now missing.
Rinus Michels had pulled double duty in 1974 anyway, even jetting between West Germany and Spain during the tournament to fulfill his obligations as Barcelona’s manager. George Knobel took a stab at being Bondscoach next, and led a divided squad to the European Championship in Yugoslavia. Holland lost the semi-final against eventual champions Czechoslovakia but prevailed against the hosts in the Third Place match. Knobel had already handed in his resignation before the start of the tournament, figuring the rifts inside the squad too large to overcome.
Jan Zwartkruis was always thought to be more a stopgap solution, yet qualification for the World Cup 1978 was duly achieved. Rumor has it Zwartkruis still held the reigns in Argentina even though the KNVB had secured the services of Ernst Happel. (A rumor which goes back mainly to Zwartkruis himself.) Mind, it was never likely that a loving relationship would develop between the rather outgoing Dutch players and the gruff and distant Austrian coach.
All of the locker room unrest was compounded by the absence of the nation’s greatest ever player. In October 1977 Johan Cruyff had earned his 50th cap for Holland. It should prove to be his last. Fast forward to the summer of 1978 and Cruyff was seriously mulling retirement. By now 31, injuries had caught up with him. Happel tried to persuade Cruyff with all his might, but the latter did not put on the oranje shirt again. [Only 30 years later would Cruyff reveal that, in 1977, he and his family were subjected to attempted kidnapping. Police protection and death threats were to follow. Leaving his family behind for weeks on end to play football on another continent was under these circumstances unimaginable.]
It is a testament to the quality of the Dutch football system that the side nevertheless reached the final again.
13:00 UTC-3h: It appears the Dutch team bus, on it’s way to the stadium, is stuck in traffic. Little wonder really, as half of Buenos Aires seem out and about. The capital is buzzing with excitement. People flood the streets clad in albiceleste, white and light blue. Flags are waved, ticker tape is raining down. Pictures captured by the TV cameras, sent around the world.
Behind the facade, the military junta reigns. The rights to host the World Cup 1978 had already been awarded to Argentina in 1966. Ten years later the military seized power. Official numbers state 8,961 ‘forced disappearances’ during the ensuing Dirty War. The regime targeted anybody from guerillas and military activists to students and journalists. Voicing political opposition could prove fatal. Estimates put the number of victims closer to 30,000. In Europe people took to the streets to protest against the junta and demanded their national teams boycott the World Cup. Some of the loudest shouts came from the Netherlands.
Amidst inner turmoil and external pressure, a football tournament to the military regime seemed a good platform to promote stability and national unity. An ailing economy was tasked to modernize stadia and infrastructure. The expenditure ran up $700m. An, admittedly bittersweet, anecdote at the intersection in all of this was the World Cup logo. The design evoked a popular pose of former president Juan Perón, greeting a crowd, arms aloft. By the time the junta could have intervened, merchandise had already been produced. To change the design then would have entailed a barrage of lawsuits and anyway, the money was much needed.
[Jonathan Wilson’s marvellous book “Angels With Dirty Faces” is very much recommended for anybody interested in this era of Argentine football history and the surrounding circumstances of the World Cup 1978.] Continue reading