First Division offered the usual battle between Ajax, Feyenoord, and PSV Eindhoven high above the rest of the league. Bellow the mighty trio, it was gradual spread of teams in slightly different form. No big divides and no real outsiders. The last three were relegated.
NEC Nijmegen was 18th with 22 points. Last, but going to play in Europe, as it turned out.
NAC Breda was 17th with 24 points. Third row from left: Ton Smits, Ferry Kotta, Leen Swanenburg, Hans Heeren, Jacq De Kroon, Anton Joore, G. v/d Wiel.
Middle row: Hulptrainer Buitelaar, Willy Janssen, Guus van Schijndel, Frits Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Matthe van Kelle, Ad Krijnen, Koos Waslander, Jo Jansen – coach.
Sitting: Hans Neeskens, Edy De Schepper, Guus v/d Borgt, Ton Cornelissen, Dirk v/d Laan.
Twente finished 16th with 25 points. If there was nothing strange to see NEC and NAC going down to Second Division, Twente’s relegation was quite a surprise. True, decline settled a few years back, but relegation? The squad did not look all that bad, although it was far cry from the great team of the mid-70s. For whatever reasons, Twente was unable to keep strong team and after those reaching UEFA Cup final moved away or retired, suddenly there were less than 5 really good players. Second division became reality.
Helmond Sport was happy at the end – they took 15th place with 26 points. Barely survived, but survived – at least for one more year.
Willem II – 14th with 26 points too, but better goal-difference. Nothing new… if they escaped relegation at all, they were normally at that position.
Similar to Willem II, PEC Zwolle also took its usual position – 13th with 27 points.
Go Ahead Eagles – 12th with 29 points.
AZ’67 had very disappointing season – 11th with 30 points. Quite a drop down, but if one looks closer – nothing all that strange: the rise of AZ’67 was peculiar: their collection of veterans, discarded from other clubs players, and rising stars was very fragile in a long run. The veterans, if still playing, were experienced, but weaker every next year. New stars were bound to move away – to either domestic big clubs, or abroad. AZ’67 had no money to compete with the big three, so the squad inevitably was thinning out and losing it edge.
FC Utrecht ended in their traditional position – 10th with 31 points. Third row from left: J. Stroomberg, J. v.d. Akker, H. v. Breukelen, G. v.d. Lem, J. v. Ede.
Middle row: J. Verkaik (assistant coach), H. Verrips, T. du Chatenier, W. Carbo, F. Adelaar, T. van Leur, B. Rietveld, T. de Kruyk, H. Berger (coach).
Sitting: W. Flight, K. van Tamelen, J. Wouters, G. Tervoort, G. Kruys, J. van Doorn.
Not bad, but the fate of small clubs was well known… Van Breukelen and Wouters were going to be snatched by any of the big clubs. It more likely that Utrecht would be worse, not better in the future.
Excelsior – 9th with 32 points. Enjoy the moment, for next year could be worse. A small club, unfortunately.
Fortuna (Sittard) – 8th with 33 points. Well done, but nothing special. However, Fortuna did well in the 1980s and their rise most likely started this year.
Haarlem – 7th with 35 points. Looked like they became stable, but it was an illusion. Rather, the team was running on inertia and the key was Ruud Gullit. He left to play for Feyenoord… and there was nobody else.
Roda JC – 6th with 35 points and better goal-difference than Haarlem. Slowly, unnoticed, Roda was climbing up.
FC Groningen – 5th with 37 points. Good season, high enough at the end, but with the same problem as Utrecht: Ronald and Erwin Koeman were already the key players of the team – and Groningen had no chance keeping the brothers. It was one thing with them, quite another without them.
Sparta (Rotterdam) finished 4th, having slightly better goal-difference than Groningen. Wonderful season for modest Sparta, rarely ending that high. Good players at the moment, but… for how long? Adrie van Tiggelen, Danny Blind, Robert Verbeek. Add Gert Meijer,one Louis van Gaal, and English Douglas George. The last three were hardly enough to keep Sparta at the top, if van Tiggelen, Blind, and Verbeek leave soon.
PSV Eindhoven finished 3rd with 51 points, but dropped out of the championship race at one point. No enough stamina. Big, solid team on the surface, but only that – PSV was getting old and depending on old players too much. Of course, van de Kerkhof brothers were still the movers and shakers and if they were the only veterans the picture would have been fine. There was plenty of talent around – Piet Wildschut, Huub Stevens, Jan Poortvliet, Ernie Brandts. All in the perfect age, although none a true leader. Add Norwegian Hallvar Thoresen and South Korean Jung Moh Huh – still rather exotic addition, but South Koreans were increasingly signed by European clubs. Not bad… but lacking good goalkeeper, lacking big scoring striker – and here was the problem: PSV got 40-years old Piet Doesburg and 35-years old Ruud Geels. Famous names, but at this age there was hardly any hope for the future. No wonder PSV lost steam near the end the championship. PSV needed rebuilding and fast.
With 54 points, Feyenoord finished 2nd. Lost the title, which never makes the club and its fans happy, but the problems of the second half of the 1970s were finally resolved: the new strong squad was made. It needed a few finishing touches, but essentially was already completed: Hiele, Wijnstekers, Troost, Houtman, Valke, Vermuelen, the Dane Ivan Nielsen, plus very strong new additions Ruud Gullit and the Bulgarian Andrey Zhelyazkov, who became the first foreign-based national team player of Bulgaria after 1950. Wim van Hanegem was still in the team, providing inspiration, but he was almost 40 and playing his last season. His presence was more moral than active – the new team was doing quite well without him on the field, newer stars took the reigns at last. However, Feyenoord was outdone by the arch-enemy.
Ajax won the title with 58 points and after having wonderful season – they won 26 games, tied 6, and lost only twice. Scored astonishing 106 goals, receiving meantime 41. Four points clear of Feyenoord at the end. Feyenoord was good, but Ajax was seemingly coming back to the greatness of the early 1970s. Third row from left: Jesper Olsen, Frank Rijkaard, Sjaak Storm, Sonny Silooy, Gerald Vanenburg, Wim Kieft .
Middle row: Hassie van Wijk (assistent-trainer), Rob Nolet, Keje Molenaar, Leo van Veen, Hans Galjé, Peter Boeve, Jan Mölby, Aad de Mos (trainer), Tonnie Bruins Slot (assistent-trainer)
Sitting: Dick Schoenaker, Sören Lerby, Marco van Basten, Piet Schrijvers, John van ‘t Schip, Johan Cruijff, Edo Ophof.
Good job by Aad de Mos, who had already wonderful squad, although not at its peak as a team – but very promising for the future, for it was full of young, not famous yet talent: van Basten, Rijkard, Silooy, van’t Schip, the Danish players Olsen and Molby. The core was at or near their prime, already international stars – Danish Lerby, Schoenaker, Kieft, Vanenburg. Piet Schrijvers was quietly stepping down, but still reliable and influential. And the return of Cruijff simply ignated the team to a wonderful, attacking and attractive season. It was more than winning the title – Ajax seemingly was returning to the great days, to the great football, and very likely to leading position in Europe. Exciting and promising season, which ended on sour note when Cruijff and the club clashed once again and the great one left and joined the arch-enemy. Both sides shared the blame – on one hand, Cruijff always demanded too much and was quick to leave, when things were not going his way. Yet, he wanted to finish his career with his original club. Ajax also wanted the living legend to play his last football at home, but the club traditionally looked for cheaper solutions whenever possible and had long history of frugality, often looking plain cheap, even mean. The club also had history with his mercurial star, saying one thing now and another the next minute, and always going for the better deal. Since both club and player were ‘pig-headed’, mirroring each other, a compromise was rather impossible and Cruijff was left without a contract. It was both sad and in character. It was also laughable, for at the bottom both sides wanted the same thing. It was also a heavy price to be paid by the club and Cruijff to have the last laugh soon.