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The Day Dutch Football Came Alive


On May 6th 1970, Feyenoord won the European Cup in a thrilling final against Celtic. It would become not only a momentous day for the Rotterdam side, but also one that spelled the start of a decade of Dutch footballing dominance. 50 years on, we relive the moment it all started.

By: Yeun Au

At 1-1 in extra-time it looked as if the 1970 European Cup final would be decided on penalties. But with 117 minutes on the clock, Feyenoord tried one final throw of the dice – a long free-kick was pumped into the box and striker Ove Kindvall capitalised on an error by Celtic skipper Billy McNeill to net the winning goal. Their 2-1 victory at the San Siro against The Bhoys saw Feyenoord become the first Dutch team to win a major European trophy. It was an achievement that would spell the start of a decade of Dutch football dominance.

Ajax, having reached the European Cup final a year earlier, won the next three European Cups following Feyenoord’s victory in 1970. In 1974, the Netherlands national team reached the World Cup final with their brand of ‘Total Football’, led by superstar Johan Cruyff and legendary manager Rinus Michels. This blueprint paved the way for another final appearance for the Dutch at the 1978 World Cup.

With its influence on the game still prevalent worldwide, we dive deeper into the day when Dutch football got its big breakthrough.

Differences with today’s game

Although it was just one game, the numbers for the 1970 European Cup final provide us with some fascinating differences compared to today’s game.

Comparing the 1970 final to the average Champions League game across the last decade, the main differences can be found in the number of duels, passes and dribbles. This can be attributed to the increased speed of the game over the years. Football gradually became a passing game in which off-the-ball movement became just as vital as on-the-ball actions.

The 1970 final saw a surprisingly low number of passes, but more than double the number of dribbles compared to an average modern-day Champions League match. It was hardly surprising that Feyenoord v. Celtic saw a high number of duels between players, considering the willingness for players to hold onto the ball rather than pass it around.

The dribbler: Jimmy Johnstone

Having won the European Cup three years earlier, Celtic employed an attractive style of play, and right winger Jimmy Johnstone was a key player in this famous Scottish side. Johnstone was known for his dribbling, a skill he showcased during the 1970 final. No player attempted (23) and completed (16) as many dribbles on that day as Johnstone did. In fact, he completed twice as many dribbles as any other player in the final.

Johnstone’s number of attempted dribbles is incredible compared to present-day players. Taking his dribbles per 90 minutes in the 1970 final (19.5), only one player has attempted more than that number of dribbles in a game over the last five Champions League seasons (608 games): Neymar did it twice, with Barcelona in 2017 (24) and again with Paris Saint-Germain in 2018 (22). It was an impressive performance by Johnstone, who’d demonstrated his dribbling abilities on the greatest stage of them all. Johnstone’s statistics serve as an example of both his unique qualities but also how the game has evolved since then.

The all-rounder: Willem van Hanegem

Still regarded as one of the Netherlands’ finest players, Willem van Hanagem was central in Feyenoord’s European Cup victory. During his career, Van Hanegem would also go on to win three league titles, the Intercontinental Cup and the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord, while also reaching the 1974 World Cup final with the Netherlands.

In the final against Celtic, he was the player with the most touches (118) and most passes (85). But he also proved his worth in defensive areas: Van Hanegem made 19 recoveries, more than any other player in this match, and contested the most duels (43). Van Hanegem’s pass map demonstrates his omnipresence that day. He was hugely involved in an attacking sense, with a large proportion of his attempted passes going forwards, displaying the Dutchman’s attacking intent and control of the midfield that day.

The strongman: Rinus Israël

Two minutes after Tommy Gemmell opened the scoring for Celtic, Feyenoord hit back thanks to a header from defender Rinus Israël. Later on, the captain of the Dutch side proved his attacking worth again when he assisted Ove Kindvall’s winning goal in extra time. A formidable defender, Israël went by the nickname of Iron Rinus (IJzeren Rinus). His numbers during the final show that he was worthy of that title: Israël won nine of his 12 duels and his duel success rate of 75% was the highest of all players in the game. But, despite his combative style and a match that saw 58 fouls, Israël conceded just one foul in 117 minutes.

The deciding goal: Ove Kindvall

It took until the 117th minute for the game to see its deciding moment. Feyenoord striker Ove Kindvall, who had joined from IFK Norrköping in 1966, had already attempted six shots in the final, with only two of them going on target. His seventh shot would become the highlight of his career. With just three minutes remaining in extra-time, a subtle lob over Celtic goalkeeper Evan Williams meant glory for Feyenoord and cemented the name of the Swedish striker in Feyenoord history.

The goal was just reward for Kindvall’s repeated presence in Celtic’s 18-yard box: he had 18 touches in the opposition box that day, just two fewer than the entire Celtic team managed in 117 minutes. Kindvall left Feyenoord in 1971 as he returned to former club IFK Norrköping. To this day, he is Feyenoord’s second-highest scorer in the Eredivisie (129 goals), behind Cor van Der Gijp.

The chances

Looking at the numbers, was Feyenoord’s win deserved?

The Rotterdam side attempted 27 shots in the final, compared to just 15 by Celtic, with a large volume occurring inside the Scottish champion’s box. This in part resulted in the Dutch side’s expected goals value being much higher (2.9  v. 1.0). Feyenoord’s dominance also showed in the number of touches they had in the attacking penalty area (37 compared to Celtic’s 20). There was a significant difference in the attacking outputs of both teams that day, and no side can argue that the result wasn’t a justified one.

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This month, many people in the Netherlands will look back at Feyenoord’s historic win from May 1970 as one that kick-started a period of Dutch football dominance. It was a match that became the pinnacle of Ove Kindvall’s rich career, and one that encapsulated Willem van Hanegem’s incredible midfield qualities, something he would go on to showcase at the 1974 World Cup with the Netherlands.