Willy van der Kuijlen would be proud, in all his modesty

Willy van der Kuijlen stole the hearts of millions of football fans. One of them was Frans van den Nieuwenhof. As a child, he lived in the same neighbourhood as Willy. He cheered him on as an 8-year-old season ticket holder. And he decided that Willy’s years were the best in the club’s history.

Text Paul van Vugt
Image Saskia Kropff

In 2011, Frans wrote the biography ‘Our Willy’. It was mostly a textual biography. And, according to Frans, it was therefore not the monumental work that would do justice to his colourful career. With the thick book ‘Willy’ brimming with photos, that is what we have now. A 384 page monumental work that connects generations of football, thanks to the contributions from Ruud van Nistelrooij, Guus Hiddink, Marcel Brands and Willem van Hanegem, among others.

Hidden scrapbooks

“After his death, I spoke a lot with his family and others involved. As it turned out: Willy had kept dozens of scrapbooks throughout his career. Filled with everything from newspaper cuttings and match reports to plane tickets with the Dutch team. Typical Willy: hardly anyone knew about these books. Willy’s enthusiasm betrayed the fact that he was living his boyhood dream every day of his career.”

“The scrapbooks stoked the fire to release this new book. Supported by the Legends Lounge, which helped make this book possible. They urged me: ‘If you’re going to make a tribute, do it right. Create a work that does justice to the person and the style of Willy van der Kuijlen.”

“As a player, Willy embodied the PSV DNA. He just clicked at every layer of the club. From the management to the supporters. A great man, in everything he did. You can even see that in his action photos. He always looks good in them. That says everything about they style he had when he played.”

“How would Willy react to this memorial? With pride. Because the book was made in his spirit and created in close collaboration with his family. And because the focus is on what Willy thought was important and wonderful in his career. And no, those weren’t necessarily his goals, but his dedication to the club and to the sport. For his role of service.

The words in a notebook he kept as a 16-year-old say a lot. After a game where he scored seven goals, he wrote: ‘It doesn’t matter who makes the goals’. And he wasn’t just saying that. He really didn’t care. Years ago, I reminded him of a game where he scored three goals. Then he looked at me with a smile: ‘Could be’. He was devoid of pretension. That was Willy. And this book is helping his memory stay alive.

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