Remembering Ajax’s European Cup hero Wim Suurbier

Wim Suurbier, who won three European Cups with Ajax in the 1970s and appeared in two FIFA World Cup finals with the Netherlands in the same decade, has died at the age of 75.

Wim Suurbier
Wim Suurbier Getty Images

Suurbier, a sturdy and adventurous right-back, renowned off the field for his flamboyance and sense of humour, was an important element within the swashbuckling ‘total football’ style played at the time by both Ajax and the Dutch national team.

Between 1964 and 1977, Suurbier made 509 appearances for Ajax. He also won 60 caps for the Netherlands from 1966 to 1978.

During his 13-year spell with Ajax, he helped the Amsterdam club to a superb hat-trick of European Champion Clubs’ Cup triumphs in 1971, 1972 and 1973, as Panathinaikos, Inter Milan and Juventus were defeated in successive finals.

He also took part in two World Cup finals with Oranje. The Dutch lost both finals to the host country - West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978. Suurbier played the whole of the 1974 final and came on as a second-half substitute four years later.

Defender – and attacker

Wilhelmus Lourens Johannes Suurbier was born in Eindhoven on 16 January 1945, and his family moved to Amsterdam shortly afterwards. His first games for the amateur club AVV Amstel were played in the borrowed shirt of his friend and future Ajax/Oranje teammate Piet Keizer, who was in a higher age group and whose games started later.

His talents as a youngster were recognised by Ajax, who signed him up, and he went on to enjoy a long and outstanding career with them.

Suurbier was renowned for his explosive pace. This made him an ideal component in the Ajax and Dutch ‘total football’ teams, as he regularly ventured along the touchline in support of the attack. He complemented his attacking skills with hard, uncompromising defending.

“[He] didn’t believe in making things unnecessarily complicated, in life in general but particularly with regards to football,” said Ajax in paying tribute. “‘A simple game,’ is how he described it, one that was only made difficult by the players themselves.”

“An immense right-back”

“Suurbier’s way of playing was certainly special,” Ajax said. “He was the Netherlands’ first modern [full-] back.”

“With Wim Suurbier’s passing,” the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) said, “football has lost an immense right-back and a colourful person.”

After leaving Ajax, Suurbier turned out for 10 different teams, including Schalke 04, Metz, the Los Angeles Aztecs and the San Jose Earthquakes. He also coached a number of clubs in the United States, and was assistant coach to teams in India and Qatar.