The Netherlands' 1988 UEFA European Championship triumph confirmed Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten as major stars of world football, but right-back Berry van Aerle's unassuming contribution – and subsequent job as a postman – ensured he is close to Oranje fans' hearts.
"It was a beautiful experience, unique – 1988 is a year we will never forget," former PSV Eindhoven defender Van Aerle told UEFA.com. "The European Championship crowned a fantastic club season. We were Dutch champions and won the Dutch Cup, so when you then also win the European Champion Clubs' Cup and – some of us – EURO '88, well, who would have expected that?"
Nicknamed 'Turbo Berry' for his powerful runs up the right, Van Aerle certainly enjoyed his time at the finals in West Germany – not least since it was an opportunity to play in his preferred position. With Belgian international Erik Gerets the first-choice right-back for Guus Hiddink's PSV, Van Aerle was mainly used as a right-sided or holding midfielder in Eindhoven.
Even so, the 25-year-old was in the midst of a sensational spell, fresh from lifting the first of three Dutch Cups and the second of five Eredivisie titles, having also started the 1988 European Cup final against Benfica, won on penalties in Stuttgart. "It wasn't a particularly good match, with both teams very cautious, but it was exciting until the end, with a tense shoot-out," he recalled. "It doesn't matter how you win, just as long as you do."
Tipped to thrive, Rinus Michels' Oranje began the EURO with a 1-0 loss to the Soviet Union, Vasiliy Rats on target, but Van Aerle retained his place for the second match, where Van Basten netted a famous hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over England. However, it took a freakish goal from Wim Kieft in the climactic Group B game to pip the Republic of Ireland and reach the knockout phase.
In the Hamburg semi-final, the Dutch came from behind to beat West Germany 2-1 in what was widely seen as revenge for their defeat in the 1974 FIFA World Cup final. Another score was settled in the final in Munich, the Netherlands overcoming opening-day nemeses the USSR 2-0, with Van Basten's superb volley putting the result beyond doubt following Gulllit's first-half header.
Van Aerle would remain with PSV until 1994, returning to home-town club Helmond Sport for one season before calling time on his playing days. Prior to taking up a scouting role and fan liaison post at PSV, he worked as a postman for a period – a sure sign success had not changed him. As he himself said: "I started out as Berry van Aerle, and one day I will die as Berry van Aerle."
Yet the story of his remarkable summer of '88 so inspired local artists in Helmond that, in December 2014, they made a musical of his life, which played to sell-out crowds in the town. "I watched with my mouth open," Van Aerle said of Berry, The Musical. "This is exactly how my life was – they had everything right. Some former top athletes get a book written about them – for me, they made a musical."
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