It was a few years ago, perhaps this time of the year in 2009. One evening in Amsterdam, I went to a restaurant with a group of people. Just as I entered, I immediately caught the gaze of a world famous person, sitting and facing the door. I would have always instantly recognise even a silhouette of his face, any time of the day. I was surprised. I held his gaze, he maintained eye contact, we both smiled. Our reserved seats were just a couple of tables away from where he sat with his friends. So I would be walking past him. I had chanced this close to several famous people before, but none went like this one.
So I walked on and found myself just in front of him, both still looking maintaining eye contact. I then made one more step, and I extended my hand to him. He took my hand and shook it warmly. Then I said, Hi Johan, hoe gaat het? And he said to me, Uitstekend! En hoe gaat het met jouw? And I also said Uitstekend! He said Prima! Then I wasn’t sure what to say now, I definitely didn’t want to say anything silly. So I quickly said Geniet van je avond!, and he said Dank je. Jij ook! He kept looking as I swiftly continued on to my own table. He then resumed talking to his friends as if nothing had happened, every now and then he’d look in my direction. My companions were smiling and a little intrigued, they said to me, Wow, we never knew that you were friends with Johan. And I said: Actually I am not friends with Johan. This is the first time I ever shake hands with him, we didn’t even meet before. I don’t know why, maybe he mistook me for an acquaintance.
When I was a kid, people would simply say Cruijff! And nothing more, you’d see nods and various murmurs of appreciation, and that was typical. On this particular evening, I was gratified with a celebrity handshake out of nowhere. This wasn’t much, but it meant something for me. I felt humbled that someone could have been so illustrious as Johan, and yet remain so warm and down to earth in a social context, even with a complete stranger. What surprised me is that, I was quite sure that he realised his mistake, but still remained cordial when he absolutely didn’t have to. That was the sign of a great man to me.
This was my only experience meeting with Johan Cruijff. It will stay with me.