Aston Villa fan, Martin Hodson
“Three days before my 10th birthday, I received the best present imaginable. I was going to see the Dutch maestro, Johan Cruyff, play in person.
There was a different feeling about an evening game at Villa and the European occasion added a mystical extra to the experience. Essentially, it was football’s version of Jeux Sans Frontieres’ greater élan compared with It’s a Knockout.
England hadn’t even qualified for the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina, and although Cruyff had recently decided to retire from international football [it later transpired because of a kidnap attempt in Barcelona], the Catalans’ other great Johan, Neeskens, would be destined for the final. And I was about to see both of them in the flesh.
Despite their galaxy of stars, I felt that Villa were invincible and would score with every attack. No matter if the opposition have the ball, we would soon get it back. Oh for that feeling this season...
For 78 minutes the match was a Cruyff masterclass – he scored a cracking goal, bamboozling the defence, and departed to a standing ovation.
But Johan’s substitution provided fresh belief around the ground, and the despair of a let-down nine-year-old soon turned to unbridled joy as Villa bagged two late goals to rescue a 2-2 draw.
I turned 10 a few days later with hopes of seeing my team win the UEFA Cup still very much alive. At least it was until the second leg in Spain, where we lost 2-1 at the Camp Nou.
That memory lives on, so much so that when Johan died last year, I scoured ebay and paid over the odds for a Netherlands No.14 shirt. #Tribute.”