Holland is a nation that is internationally renowned for the many fine football players it has produced over the years. The likes of Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam, Edwin van der Sar, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol, Dennis Bergkamp, and many, many others have never ceased to impress on the world stage.
Everyone has heard of these players, yet when Dutch pundits compile a list of our nations finest, one completely unknown name is always included in the top 10. Quite an accomplishment, considering the amount of stars our tiny nation has produced over the years.
I’d like to tell you more about Servaas “Faas” Wilkes, born 13-10-1923, who was one of the very first Dutch superstars ever. Johan Cruyff himself called Wilkes “his idol.”
Wilkes comes from an era long-lost, where tactics were less dominant and individual skill made the difference on the pitch. Wilkes was a superstar back in those days, due to his superb first touch and control and ability to skip past multiple opponents with fancy moves. If he was having a good match there would be no stopping him. He was able to slip past any opponent with tremendous skill and agility.
The agile and gentle forward is seen as one of the most graceful and elegant players that has ever graced the Dutch fields. The Rotterdam-born forward was known for his long rushes, skipping past several opponents before slotting the ball past the keeper.
Wilkes, off on one of his trademark rushes.
He was also known for hogging the ball, often he attempted to skip past yet another opponent instead of opting for a pass. It’s not like he never passed the ball, he just preferred to try his own luck at scoring a goal.
Faas was actually destined to become a carpenter and work in his fathers business, but fortunately for Dutch football fans, he decided against this. He joined Rotterdam-based Xerxes instead and broke into first team at the age of 17, in 1941.
He became one of the first Dutch players to receive a transfer fee or compensation for moving to another club. MVV Maastricht offered Wilkes two lorries for his removal company. In a day where professionalism in football was still considered a sin, this was unacceptable. Wilkes would have been banned for a year had he accepted this offer.
The young starlet was still bent on earning his money with football, thus turning his hobby into his profession, but the stern and rigid KNVB (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbal Bond or Royal Dutch FA) prohibited him from moving abroad, so transfers to Charlton Athletic and AC Milan were vetoed.
Despite their rigid views, Wilkes got his transfer in the end. In 1949, the talented forward signed a deal with Internazionale from Milan. This made him the first Dutch international ever to move abroad to ply his trade. Wilkes was rumoured to have earned over 60,000 Dutch guilders a year, not including bonuses.
The FA responded furiously. Chairman Karel Lotsy, a great ambassador for keeping the sport clean of professionals, decided to set an example and he banned Wilkes from the Dutch national side for over five years.
Wilkes became a sensation in Italy, where he enjoyed spells at Internaziole and Torino. His technical ability and frivolous style of play, combined with his charming personality and good looks made him very popular with the fans. You could say he was the Cristiano Ronaldo of his age, which is still evident to this very day, as his picture still hangs in the catacombs of the Giuseppe Meazza stadium.
Wilkes went on to conquer Spain as well, where he played for Valenciaand Levante. Much like the Italians, the Spaniards quickly became fond of the Dutch trickster. He was considered a star, one of the three big foreign stars in Spain, together with Real Madrid’s Alfredo di Stefano and Barcelona’s Ladislao Kubala.
He was basically the first Dutch superstar who managed to impress on the world stage. Considering the time and the circumstances, this was no small feat. There was little or no television coverage for foreign leagues and the Europa Cups had only just been established.
I would also like to show you an amazing anecdote, just to prove how immense his popularity was. In Spain and Italy, Milan and Valenciato be more precise, there are still dozens of men, most in their 40’s or 50’s, called Servaas.
In the twilight days of his career, he returned home to play for VVV Venlo and Fortuna ’54 Geleen, eventually ending up with his first love Xerxes Rotterdam, where he retired from professional football at the age of 40.
The talented forward was also an impressive pioneer for the Dutch national side. In an era where our national team was one of the minnows of international football, Wilkes managed to bag 35 goals in 38 matches. It took 36 years for anyone to break this record, before Dennis Bergkamp finally succeeded in doing so in 1998.
In August 2006, at the age of 82, our nations very first international star passed away in Rotterdam, after suffering from cardiac arrest. May his soul forever dribble across heaven’s ever-green pitch and may many others keep the legacy of Holland’s very first superstar alive.