This article first appeared in Football Bloody Hell in June 2022
As with my last article – I’m writing in yet another European final week. This time, it is Roma and Feyenoord taking to battle for the UEFA Europa Conference League trophy, which at the time of writing, has not yet taken place. I Gialorossi are driven by the showman Jose Mourinho, and an in-form Tammy Abraham is an exciting, rejuvenated player that many a UK neutral will be keeping an eye on. Then on the other side of the tie, Feyenoord have the skilful Luis Sinisterra and the artful midfielder Orkun Kökçü in their ranks. These young talents are just further examples of a long line of quality nurtured in Rotterdam’s De Kuip stadium.
To be synonymous with anything to the extent you are known as Mr or Mrs is quite the feat. So, if I said to you who is Mr Feyenoord, what would you say? Dirk Kuyt? Robin van Persie? Jon Dahl Tomasson? Icons like Wim Jansen or Ruud Gullit could be thrown into the mix. However, the answer is a somewhat understated legend for ‘De Club van het volk’ (club of the people) and his name is Coen Moulijn.
Coenraadt ‘Coen’ Moulijn was born in Rotterdam in 1937. A talent on the left wing from the very start, he began his career with Xerxes DZB at the age of 17. He would only spend a year there before being snatched up by bigger city club Feyenoord. Within his first year at the club and only his second year in professional football, he achieved his first Netherlands cap.
Coen seemed to be Rotterdam through and through. Over a 17-year period at ‘The Club on the Meuse’ he amassed over 487 league appearances with a total of 84 goals. The thing that encapsulates this player is his somewhat nonchalant demeanour despite clear world beating skill. Comfortable on that left wing, he had a certain guile, pace and technique that is innate for a select handful in the world’s game. He knew his ability but never got ahead of himself.
His YouTube showreel is filled with a plethora of different goals and contributions. Powerful runs with pumping legs are juxtaposed by the delicate and intricate footwork. Like an artist, his footwork was agile enough to paint a flurry of colour down that left side in a beautiful swirling heat map. Clips are in black and white, but Moulijn’s skill is a universal timeless entity of its own – bursting back through the annals of time, his prowess draws comparison to that of Messi and other names we know today.
The highest of praise from prestigious names
Maybe his attitude was a sign of the times and a reflection on his city. A classy Dutch gentleman it seemed, the quotes and legacy he left speak louder than perhaps the man himself. Johan Cruyff added him to his all-time favourite Dutch national team, stating:
“Coen mastered one movement better than anyone: threatening to pass his opponent through the centre and then speeding past him on other side. He was an exceptionally talented football player. A typical product of the Dutch school.”
Hans Kraay was a renowned tough defender at Feyenoord and his rapport with the tricky wing player is perhaps the best description.
“Coen was unique. Coaches tried to tell him how to play but he’d shrug and do his own thing. Like Messi. He played on intuition. His move to the inside was unique. He was able to make the opponent stand stiff like a puppet and he’d race past him. He didn’t look like much though. When I saw him first up close I didn’t even recognise him. He looked like an accountant.”
Another Feyenoord mainstay of this time “Iron” Rinus Israel said:
“He was a modest, hardworking man. I think the fans loved him because of that too. Whenever Coen would have ball possession, people would get religious experiences. I think he was the best Feyenoord player ever.”
1970 European Cup
Moulijn was, of course, part of a strong core that aided Feyenoord’s European Cup exploits in 1970. At the end of the 1969-70 season, Feyenoord had won the league but parted company with boss Ben Peeters. In came Ernst Happel from ADO Den Haag looking for a new challenge. A huge advocate of the 4-3-3 formation, Happel found focal points in his side through the young Wilm van Hanegem, Franz Hasil, Wim Jansen and Moulijn. Rinus Israel was solid at the back alongside Theo Laseroms. Up top, Swede Ove Kindvall and Ruud Geels were deadly attacking outlets.
In the early stages of the tournament, Feyenoord were lucky to avoid such forces as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and the like. Being matched with KR Reykjavik, they proceeded to dismantle the Icelandic side 16-2 on aggregate. Geels and Kindvall filled their boots – notching nine goals collectively over the two legs. In the third round, AC Milan were the next opponent. The Rossoneri faithful were so confident of winning that only 17,000 turned up to the first leg at home which they won 1-0. In the second, 60,000 packed out De Kuip to see Happels’ side overturn the deficit to make it 2-1 on aggregate.
The next foe were East German outfit Vorwaerts. In a tough meeting with a well-disciplined team, it was rinse and repeat as Feyenoord came from behind over the two legs to win 2-1 again. The draw was kind and offered up Eastern Bloc’s finest Legia Warsaw. The final hurdle, a tense 2-0 settled Happels’ men as a final with Celtic awaited. The Scots had overcome Leeds in both legs.
Celtic, being European champions in 1967, were seen as the favourites before this match at the San Siro. So, a consummate team display that reaped a 2-1 in favour of Feyenoord was a shock to the system. The underdogs had set up to contain Celtic – outdoing their mercurial nature with grit and determination.
Celtic took an early lead through Tommy Gemmell, but just two minutes later Rinus Israel levelled with a header. Everyone in that Feyenoord XI was working overtime to put out the Bhoys’ intense offensive flame – every time key man Jimmy Johnstone got the ball, he was surrounded by at least three men. The game went to extra time and Feyenoord left it late to win. Four minutes from time, a long freekick bobbled around the box. Amidst penalty shouts for handball, it fell to Kindvall who deftly rounded a defender and then lobbed the helpless goalkeeper. Celtic were stunned.
Now, for most players including Moulijn, this was a career high. Moulijn himself would retire just two years after this triumph, but it was a great era for the Rotterdam club regardless., as the Eredivisie was also won in 1971 and 1974.
Over the years in Europe, rivals Ajax would overtake Feyenoord in terms of stature. Moulijnwould fade away too. He did live a full life with his wife and family after a great career, but perhaps the era and his pure loyalty is the reason Moulijn’s name is lost among a generation where mobile phones and the internet were not at large. Coen passed away at age 73 – struck by a cerebral infarction on New Year’s Day in 2011, he died just three days later. Alas, his memory is ever present in the roots of Feyenoord. Mr Feyenoord – a boy who had grown up kicking balls against factory walls, a boy whose nonplussed style charmed many admirers, a boy who encapsulated not only the spirit of his club but also his city.