sports journalist

RYAN S. CLARK

By Ryan S. Clark

 

On a recent Friday afternoon, the Director of Training for local select soccer club Spindletop FC sat at a Jason’s Deli table in Beaumont, thousands of miles away from where he was once a star.

 

Jan Van Beveren, 62, is rather ordinary by Southeast Texas standards, a local soccer coach in an area where football is king. In the soccer world, however, Van Beveren is more than that.

 

He’s considered by some to be one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play the sport, a star in his native Holland, and still the subject of speculation there.

 

Despite little American attention, the World Cup is the largest sporting event on the planet. Every four years since 1930, 32 national teams compete for world glory in a host nation for nearly a month, while the eyes of hundreds of millions watch.

 

The 2010 World Cup starts Friday in South Africa.

 

Despite being one of the all-time greats, Van Beveren never played on that stage. His controversial absence from the Dutch national soccer team in two World Cups is still the topic of debate in Holland.

 

There have been books written about him, and Sports Illustrated featured him in a 1982 article.

 

So how did a world-class European soccer star end up coaching kids in Beaumont?

 

“I can make it short or I can make it long,” Van Beveren said.

 

Southeast Texas might not be the ideal place for a soccer star, but it’s a more-than-perfect place to take refuge.

 

 

Rise to prominance

 

Van Beveren’s Dutch accent is heavy when he speaks about how the Babe Zaharias museum in Beaumont reminds him of the house he grew up in.

 

“When I first moved down here, I went to that museum and it reminded me of being in my house,” he said. “You see all these old awards and they were a lot like the ones my father had.”

 

In the 1930s,Van Beveren’s father, Wil, was a world-class athlete who ran for Holland in the 1936 Summer Olympics.

 

That same year his father was named Holland’s Athlete of the Year.

 

Twelve years later, in 1948, Van Beveren was born in Amsterdam, the largest city in the Netherlands.

 

Like so many Dutch youths, Van Beveren played soccer but was told by his parents to not pursue athletics because it was not a promising career choice. Their preference was that he become a doctor or lawyer.

 

Heeding their advice, he played through his teens and gave the sport little thought as a future endeavor. That was until a scout saw his talent and offered him a professional contract at 16.

 

Van Beveren started playing for the Dutch national soccer team in 1967. He was the team’s first choice at goalkeeper and in 1970, Holland fell a point short of qualifying for the 1970World Cup.

 

Four years passed and Holland emerged as one of the world’s best teams.

 

Holland harnessed that success with players like Van Beveren, whose quickness coupled with a lanky, 6-2 frame and big hands made it easy for him to stop shots and get from goalpost to goalpost.

 

But there was another player whom many consider to be the driving force behind Holland’s appearance in the 1974 World Cup. He was also behind Van Beveren’s very noticeable absence from the games.

 

That player was Johan Cruyff, who in 1999 was named Europe’s greatest soccer player and the world’s second-greatest player by International Federation of Football History & Statistics.

 

Cruyff was so skillful that he played for two of the world’s biggest clubs in Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona. He was so great that he had a move named after him called “The Cruyff Turn.”

 

“At that time in Europe, there were quite a few good players and Cruyff was a great player,” said Tommy Smyth, who is ESPN’s lead soccer analyst for the World Cup. “But people looked at (Cruyff) as a bully and he wanted his man and his man was Jan Jongbloed.”

 

Jongbloed, who was also a goalkeeper, was favored by Cruyff over Van Beveren for a few reasons.

 

The main reason being money.

 

Van Beveren said he did not agree with some of the things taking place with the Dutch soccer team at the time. He said there were some players who wanted to be paid more than others. Cruyff’s father-in-law/agent represented most of the players on the Dutch national team and he tried negotiating deals for his clients to get paid more money than everyone else.

 

“It had to do with the dividing of the money. There were suspicious things going on and things were being hid behind the scenes,” Van Beveren said.

 

The 22 players on the national team shared a pool of money allotted by the Royal Netherlands Football Association.

 

But four players on the team also, and unfairly according to Van Beveren, received an extra stipend for playing in the World Cup, according to a document from the Royal Netherlands Football Association.

 

Ruud Doevendans, who wrote Van Beveren’s biography, said he spoke with two of Van Beveren’s former teammates from the Dutch National Team who told him that Van Beveren’s story was correct.

 

There was also a suggestion that Van Beveren was leaking information to the media because he was disappointed with the Royal Netherlands Football Association for giving in to the demands of certain players.

 

“Before a game, they put a piece of paper in front of me that was an article that said Cruyff and some players were late for training,” Van Beveren said. “I asked, ‘What the hell was that?’ and they said to me I knew what it was. The news was in the paper, but it didn’t come from my mouth.”

 

Those issues along with others resulted in Cruyff, an attacking midfielder, issuing an ultimatum. If Van Beveren was on the team, he wouldn’t be. Van Beveren had enough, and quit the team.

 

“Not the coach, but Cruyff makes the decisions here, and that is not the way I like to operate,” he said in Sports Illustrated.

 

Stories like Van Beveren’s have become commonplace with the Dutch national soccer team.

 

The arguing, bickering and infighting is something the team has become infamous for.“

 

The main problem with the Dutch is their relentless drive to argue everything,” said Jan Roskott, who covers Holland for WorldCupBlog.com. “Cruyff said recently he’d rather coach in Spain than Holland. If he would tell players something in Holland, it always was: ‘Yes coach, but ’ Whereas in Spain, they’d simply do what the coach said.”

 

West Germany won the 1974 World Cup by beating Holland 2-1, and arguments in pubs across Europe started.

 

There was a feeling that if Van Beveren had been in goal, Holland would have won its first World Cup.

 

“They are probably the best team that has never won the World Cup,” Smyth said.

 

“In ’74, they had the epitome of how you play soccer. Jan being left off the team ... it’s like saying that those old Dallas Cowboy teams go to the Super Bowl and they left Bob Hayes off the team.”

 

 

 

A second chance

 

Van Beveren’s omission from the 1974 World Cup sparked debate and ultimately a recall to the Dutch national team before the 1978 World Cup. Van Beveren said he was under the impression that things were going to be different until more internal problems reappeared.

 

Van Beveren again quit the national team, a year before the World Cup was even played. That year Holland advanced to the finals again only to lose to Argentina.

 

During the opening stages of the World Cup, Van Beveren was asked to do some television commentator work before Holland’s game against Peru. Once it had been announced that he was going on television, people began calling in with death threats.

 

Soccer is easily Holland’s national sport and when the World Cup comes around, the Dutch support the national team. Death threats came up because fans assumed that Van Beveren was going to disparage the team on national television.

 

The fans who called in threatened to kill Van Beveren’s first wife and his two sons.

 

“I went into the station and they said I wasn’t going on the air because of the death threats,” Van Beveren said.

 

“These people called and said that if I said anything bad, they’d hurt my family. I went to my club and told them it was time for me to go.”

 

When his professional contract expired in 1980, Van Beveren was contacted about playing soccer in the United States, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The turmoil in his home country had led him to look elsewhere, and he jumped.

 

He played for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Dallas Sidekicks for six years until retiring in 1986.

 

 

 

Teaching the game

 

Van Beveren still wanted to be involved with soccer and he became a select soccer coach working with Dallas-area youth. During his time in Dallas, he got remarried.

 

His second wife, Toosje, was also from Holland. She said she met Van Beveren after a mutual friend from Holland invited the two of them to meet him for dinner.

 

“When I met Jan, my daughter was 16 and I told her that I met this really nice guy and it was Jan Van Beveren,” said Toosje, who has been married to Van Beveren for 19 years. “She said ‘Jan Van Beveren? Mother, I always had a crush on him.’ It’s funny to think about now, but that’s a good example how young people used to think of Jan.”

 

Photos from the ’60s and ’70s show Van Beveren as a handsome man with blonde hair and an inviting smile.

 

Throw in that he was 6-2 and it’s evident why women were Van Beveren fans.

 

Toosje, who is a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said Van Beveren enjoyed teaching the game, just not in Dallas.

 

She said that select soccer in Dallas became more about making money and turning a profit instead of teaching kids how to play soccer. She said the experience frustrated Van Beveren.

 

At least until four years ago.

 

That’s when Van Beveren got a phone call from an old friend who told him about Spindletop FC, the largest select soccer club in Southeast Texas.

 

Van Beveren and his wife drove to Beaumont, saw the town and then discussed him moving down here.

 

“We came to Beaumont three-and-a half years ago and he felt it was more about the kids and teaching kids to play the game of soccer,” Toosje said. “That is his goal in life. When this opportunity came up for him, the fact it was away from Dallas was a little harder.”

 

The couple agreed that Van Beveren would take the job, which meant being away from each other for weeks at a time because select soccer is pretty much a year-round sport. Though it was difficult at first, the couple has become used to it as they see each other every three weeks with Van Beveren driving to Dallas or Toosje driving to Beaumont.

 

Van Beveren arrived at Spindletop and impressed many of the players and parents he was working with.

 

One of those parents was Kelly Kroutter, who is the Spindletop FC board president.

 

Kroutter said that he went online one night and did an Internet search on Van Beveren so he could know more about his daughter’s new coach.

 

“I Googled his name and when I did that, 25 or 30 pages came up and I thought, ‘There might be more to this,’” Kroutter said. “I started clicking on the pages and people started saying he was one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever live. The more I read, the more I was fascinated. But my question was, ‘Why does a guy with this resume want to come to Beaumont?’”

 

Kroutter said his question was answered after he and Van Beveren talked. Kroutter said that Van Beveren wanted to get away from the publicity in Holland and live a normal life.

 

That’s understandable given all the fanfare back in the Netherlands about Van Beveren. In 2007, a journalist published Van Beveren’s biography. Whenever Van Beveren goes back to Holland to visit his mother, people recognize him and ask him about what happened in 1974.

 

Van Beveren said he doesn’t really like getting caught up in the past, but rather focuses on the future in helping make soccer a priority for Beaumont-area youth.

 

“I am pleased with how my life turned out,” Van Beveren said. “I am doing something I love and I get to teach it to kids. All that stuff about not playing in the World Cup, I am over it and I really don’t think about how it could have changed my life.”

Soccer star who missed the chance to play in theWorld Cup ... twice ...

holds on to passion for the sport as coach in Beaumont

Goalkeeper's save

Sports  |  June 6, 2010  |  Page 1A, 4A, 5A

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