“Kempes!” I shouted, and I had no idea what it meant


The last time the Dutch football team were in the World Cup final I was 10 years old and I had yet to discover the joys of watching the sport on television. I much rather went outside and played football in person with the neighbourhood children on a patch of grass that sharply declined towards the street, so that you always had to try and kick uphill, just to be sure.

Before our matches started, the other children would shout “Kempes!” For a while I thought this had something to do with determining which side got to start the game, and I shouted along, trying to gain our side an advantage, and drawing bewildered looks. Later, I learned that the kids shouting “Kempes” wanted to ‘be’ Mario Kempes, the Argentinian forward who helped beat the Netherlands in the final of that year. You always pretended to be a superstar football player, and since there could not be two of you on the pitch, you had to make sure you called your guy first, lest you ended up being Jan Jongbloed (an accomplished goal keeper, but a goal keeper nonetheless).

Mario Kempes was held to be the absolute top brand footballer that year. No other player came close in popularity (although the loser’s call was almost always “Cruyff,” even though Cruyff had refrained from playing in the Argentinian World Cup).

1 Comment »

  1. Neil says:

    That’s great story Branko. Thanks for telling it. Isn’t it funny how we remember the most embarrassing or potentially most embarrassing moments of our youth (and adulthood for that matter) most vividly.


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