Abe Lenstra (1920-1985) Dutch football player
Abe Lenstra is one of the greatest players in Dutch football (soccer for Americans) history. He was born in Heerenveen in 1920, the official founding year of the club he would take to its greatest successes in the 20th century. Already at the age of 15 he was ready for the first team and immediately he was the best footballer of them all. Eventually he would score 523 goals in his career, more than anyone before him. Between 1942 and 1950, SC Heerenveen would become champions of Northern Netherlands for nine times in a row. Sometimes this was reached already in January in a season that would run from September to April. However, Abe Lenstra would never win the all-over Dutch championship (in which the five regional champions would battle each other).
Sometimes Abe Lenstra was invisible for minutes on the pitch. But then he would get the ball and turn the match in his favour. The famous match against Ajax in 1950 is the strongest example of that (6-5 win after a 1-5 deficit twenty minutes before time). The dummy movement was his specialty.
With the ball at this left foot - and the audience at both - the inconspicuous Frisian transformed into a magician. In the years after World War II, many European top clubs tried to sign him, but the wonder footballer refused to leave Friesland. Astronomical figures (for that time at least) and blank checks could not do the trick for the clubs. "I do not want to lose my pension", said the man who worked at the Heerenveen municipality besides his football duties.
Eventually he would leave the club however. The cautious SC Heerenveen board did not choose to participate in professional football, but Abe Lenstra wanted to take that opportunity. Between his 34th and 39th, Lenstra played 135 matches for Enschedese Boys, scoring 89 goals.
His international career is another story. Between his first and last game for the Dutch national team were twenty years. Lenstra played 47 international games and scored 33 times. Nice stats, especially in an era where football between countries was a lot less frequent than nowadays. But it could have been a whole lot more for Abe Lenstra. Clearly World War II was in the way, but the stubborn Lenstra was continuously fighting the Keuzecommissie, a group of allegedly wise men who decided the line-up in those days. Abe only wanted to play on his favourite position of inside left (a position that doesn't exist anymore in this era of defensive football) and rather went fishing if the Keuzecommissie put him elsewhere on the pitch. The statistics are also impressive if you keep in mind that the Orange national team was nowhere near the quality team that the world would enjoy since the 1970's, with players like Johan Cruyff, Wim van Hanegem, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Ronald Koeman, Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Yet, Abe Lenstra never won anything important. Still he is a myth. In Friesland, but also in the Netherlands as a whole. The question is why? The answer lays somewhere in the combination of his exciting style of play, his faithfullness and dedication to Friesland, his aversion to football directors (this made Ruud Gullit popular also), his superior tactical insight and his fabulous technical skills.
Even now, as SC Heerenveen has settled in the top of Dutch football, as it has tasted the likes of European top football in the Champions League, and as Abe Lenstra has been dead for over fifteen years, he still is the thread that binds the club culture together. The SC Heerenveen stadium is named after him, an Abe Lenstra statue is raised in front of the complex, and his personality is still copied into the club's: self-willed, stubborn, sober, down to earth and right and fair. Ús Abe.