Football Heroes (1): Kirsten Nygaard
In the end of the seventies AZ'67 (nowadays just AZ) started building on a team that became a national top team. They won a cup in 1978, guided by Wim van Hanegem, the best Dutch player ever, if it wasn't for that one other. Next to him on the midfield was a Danish number 10, a classical playmaker. He took over when Van Hanegem left. AZ'67 played 4-4-2, something that Dutch teams never seemed to do. They had three great strikers, but only two of them could play, they stuck to their system.
In the season 1980-1981 they won the title, only losing once in the process. Six games before the end of the season they were already unreachable for the rest. Since the mid-sixties, no team from outside the big three had managed to win the Dutch league. Since then, none has. So AZ'67 has done something unique, the only team to beat the big three in the last 35 years. Next to that, they reached the UEFA-cup final, in which they lost to Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town. Another small provincial team to be big, is it a coincidence?
The playmaker in the championship team was Kirsten Nygaard. Great left foot, good long distance shot, wonderful passes to the two strikers, he was an old fashioned number 10. Which was also the age I had in those days. I used to play complete matches with playmobil and a marble, having labelled the players with names of well-known stars. Although AZ'67 certainly wasn't my favourite team, already at that age I recognised a great star.
The following season was the big sell out. The owners of the club were disappointed by low attendances and sold several key players. Nygaard left to Nimes, perhaps not a top team, but certainly a lovely climate. He played for a few seasons before retiring. He became a golf-pro and made a nice living, staying in the south of France. In the mid-nineties disaster struck. Driving from Denmark all the way to France, he had a car accident in which a big iron stick not only went straight through his front window, but also through his skull. He was in coma for 2 months.
Somehow, he recovered, though obviously he has some visible damage from the whole story. Tonight I saw him being interviewed. Although he speaks like somebody who has (had) brain damage, he still is fluent in Dutch, a language he probably hasn't spoken much for over 20 years. I was well impressed. He told a good story. Four years ago, the world cup was in France. Nygaard has plenty of time, basically doesn't do much but watch football. The WC in the country you live in, is a major event. But it takes a lot of energy, which is not good for his health, he still has epileptic fits sometimes. The day after the final, his wife finds him lying on the bathroom floor. "Did you watch some football games?" the doctor asked him. He admitted to having watched a few. "You shouldn't, it is bad for you", is the medical advice he gets. He laughs when he tells the story. "It is all I do nowadays", he says, "I watch every game I can".