Willemsen writes like Tom Waits sings. Melancholy, deep voice, poetic language, tragic stories in which everything goes wrong. And not just wrong, but usually disastrously wrong. This book has 8 stories, the first one lending its title to the book. Mother of all defeats is not what Saddam Hussein uses for Gulf War I, for the rest of the world it might be. Ask any Dutchman what the worst defeat in history was and he'll give you the answer straight away. World cup final 1974. The best team in the world thought they were invincible and lost the final. Willemsen's look at it is at least original, perhaps even controversial. He blames Pieter van Vollenhoven, brother in law of our queen. The story is written to be read out loud, what seem simple sentences could be complete stories if you hear them. Meaningless gestures to just about anybody else, Willemsen uses them to explain what went wrong with the world and this one tragic match in particular.
In the third story of the book he tells about visiting the funeral of Aad Mansveld, famous football player in The Hague. Again he is at his strongest when circumstances are at their worst. Mansveld, far too young to die, kept his sense of humour until the very last. Some anecdotes are nicely woven into the story.
He explains why Suurbier was the culpit in the lost WC final of 1978, knows why an insignificant incident a decade before is decisive when the Dutch have to win in Leipzig to qualify in 1980 and has a brilliant history on Luco Coeck, another football player who went to a different world on a young age.
I like reading Willemsen. Apparently he is fluent in Portuguese and has even written in that language. He deserves to be published in more than just these two languages.