Dirk Kuyt has become an instant hit with Liverpool fans, but on Tuesday his thoughts will be with his father.
Said one fan in a letter to the Liverpool Echo: “He could be as good as Dalglish.” Thirty-eight minutes was all Dirk Kuyt needed to win a new following at Anfield. But next time he plays in the stadium he will have one fewer supporter than the last: his oldest and biggest fan will be missing.
Nothing could have stopped Kuyt’s father, also Dirk, seeing his beloved son make his debut for Liverpool as a substitute against West Ham on August 26, but after the match he was rushed back to Holland where he was due to have major surgery for lung cancer. The procedure was delayed a few further days to allow Dirk Sr to make a surprise appearance and present his boy with the Dutch Player of the Year award in a televised ceremony. A surgical tube was in his nose. Father and son had tears in their eyes.
It was bad enough to have Dad missing at yesterday’s Merseyside derby, but on Tuesday Kuyt must play in Eindhoven knowing his father is in a hospital bed in Leiden, just 80 miles away. “My father is ill,” said the striker. “He had his operation last week and it is going well, but he can’t travel at the moment. If the time is there I will bring him to see me again in the future. He came to watch my first match and that meant a lot to me.”
Kuyt was speaking in midweek after playing for Holland against Belarus and scoring his fifth international goal with a header in a 3-0 victory. “I just called my dad from the dressing room. He watched the game in hospital on TV,” Kuyt said with a grin. “I hope he was satisfied!” Liverpool, for all their riches and success, position themselves as the down-to-earth mega-club and their supporters will only accept a hero who does not act like one. Kuyt is the prototype. “He scores goals but is the best team player in the world,” said Dirk van Duyn, who coached Kuyt as a youth. “Liverpool are perfect for him. He will never walk alone.”
During the Belarus game the Holland supporters jeered Johnny Heitinga, their own right-back, mercilessly and erupted in glee when the struggling defender was substituted. It was a cringeworthy moment and Kuyt made a point of trotting across to intercept Heitinga and embrace his teammate in a show of solidarity. He thinks of others. At 26, Kuyt, with his wife Gertrude, has set up a foundation to support children in Dutch inner cities and Brazil, Nepal and Ghana and diverts a percentage of his earnings to charity.
It is not just his family that keeps him grounded. To understand Kuyt you may wish to visit Katwijk, the little town on Holland’s North Sea coast, from which he comes. It is as if you leave modern life behind when you pass beyond its high sand dunes and head for the promenade, where there is an old whitewashed church and lighthouse, and the motor car defers to wheelchairs, bicycles and prams. The place grew out of a traditional fishing village and religion and community are strong.
“The people of Katwijk were workers,” said Van Duyn. “The best newspaper of the village is to listen to the old fishermen.”
Two emblems dominate Katwijk, the Dutch flags that flap from poles everywhere and the blue scarves suspended in the back windows of many cars. These bear the name of Quick Boys, Katwijk’s football club, whose 1,800 players of all age groups and regular first-team crowds of about 3,500 make it the biggest amateur side in Holland. Here Kuyt learnt the game. “He was good, but he became better than we expected. He left with a friend to play for Utrecht and we thought his friend was better, but Dirk kept working hard and now his friend’s at Haarlem and Dirk plays for Liverpool,” said Jan van der Poel.
He is one of the scores of townsfolk down at the club on Wednesday afternoon. Some have bunked off work early to watch their kids at under-five practice; others are here to help with odd jobs such as painting, grass-cutting and the main task of the moment, assisting with construction (everything is DIY here) of a 2,000-seat enclosure that will revolutionise Quick Boys’ tiny ground. Part- financed with the £300,000 development windfall the club received as result of Kuyt’s £9m move to Liverpool, it is set to become the Dirk Kuyt Stand.
Kuyt is delighted that I have been to Quick Boys. “I keep in touch with everyone there,” he said. “When I was playing with Feyenoord I went there every Saturday (Dutch league games are on Sundays) because a lot of friends play for the first team. I want to go back when I’m no longer a professional. When I walk in there I’m not Dirk Kuyt the professional footballer, I’m just Dirk Kuyt from the village.”
What Liverpool fans loved most at first sight was his sheer endeavour. Kuyt’s technique is sure and his goalscoring assured (he struck 71 times in 101 league games for Feyenoord) but his thirst for the fray defines him: every minute he plays is action-packed and, including one run of 179 consecutive appearances, he missed just five games in seven seasons in Holland. “I just try to work hard, sleep well, eat well and do my best. There’s no secret,” he said. “
The first thing you’ve got to do as a footballer is give 100%, and if you do that in a match the good playing comes. My first objective is always to work 100% for the team and for the other players.
“They taught me that when I was growing up. The people in the village in Katwijk have had to work hard to make a living. Most of them were fishermen and my father was too. So maybe you could say I’m a typical Katwijk player.”
Kuyt was offered an apprenticeship on a trawler in his adolescence, but chose football. Rafael Benitez, for one, is glad. “He’s a complete type of player,” the manager purred when, after three years of trying, having also targeted Kuyt when he managed Valencia, he finally signed his man. As one who plays in every position across the frontline (most of his 21 caps for Holland have been as a right- or left-winger) he fits Benitez’s ideal of the flexible, tactically aware footballer. For Kuyt’s part, he sees Liverpool as his perfect fit. He was linked with Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal and pursued seriously by Newcastle and Tottenham, but “it was about the feeling. Liverpool have won the European Cup five times and the English league many times, they have a big history, they play in the Champions League and have a fantastic ground. All these things were important but for me it’s also important you get a good feeling from a club and Liverpool gave me that from the beginning. I had that same feeling about Feyenoord and Utrecht (laughs) . . . and Quick Boys too! “One of the things I’ve learnt is that Liverpool is a very big team, but it’s also a place where everybody tries to help you, even the big stars, and that is a compliment to the club and the people who work there. For example, I always regarded Steven Gerrard as a world-class player, but when I met him he was a down-to-earth lad. He was not shy, but he was modest and you don’t often find that in players so big.”
Kuyt’s Feyenoord got used to trailing behind PSV in the Dutch Eredivisie but he expects the dynamic to be different when he meets them with his new team. “PSV is going to be a tough game but a few good players have left, like Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Andre Ooijer, and I’ve also found out that my friend Phillip Cocu is suspended on Tuesday, so maybe there are a few chances for us,” he said.
He would love success in the Champions League, but his chief ambition is to win the Premiership, which is exactly what his new admirers on the Kop feel. How like Dirk Kuyt (the Dirk is pronounced “Dirik”) to have his priorities right.
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