Comparing Apple with Oranje
Were Johan Cruyff and Ajax the John Lennon and Beatles of Amsterdam?
SIMON: So here we are: 94, Baker Street. An employment agency? Of all the places in central London, why have you dragged me here?
DAVID: Look at that blue plaque up there. It's a clue.
SIMON: "John Lennon 1940-1980." John Lennon lived here?
DAVID: No, he opened a boutique here.
SIMON: You're kidding!? The Apple Boutique? I lived just around the corner here for years and had no idea.
DAVID: I thought that with Johan Cruyff taking over at Ajax, this would be a good place to reflect on what happens when the ‘talent' decides to run the business by itself.
SIMON: You know, the Beatles are sort of the English 1960s' version of the ‘golden Ajax'. Lennon and Cruyff are both rebels, artists who despise ‘the suits'. So what happened when the Beatles ran their own business?
DAVID: Try to imagine this place in late 1967. The Beatles are creating a bunch of companies called Apple, here and in another building, to practise what they call "western communism". And the Dutch have painted the whole side of this building as a three-storey psychedelic mural.
SIMON: The Dutch?
DAVID: Well, two Dutch designers, Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger, from Amsterdam.
SIMON: Amsterdammers of Cruyff's generation?
DAVID: Right. They put up the mural, then have to paint over it, because they didn't have planning permission. They also made groovy outfits for the Beatles. Now the Fab Four let them decorate the boutique and make the psychedelic clothes to be sold there.
SIMON: "Wonderful to be here, / It's certainly a thrill." Then what? Business success?
DAVID: Being true artists, Posthuma and Koger insist on putting multicoloured silk labels in all the clothes. That doubles the cost of every item. Crazy! But this barely matters because the staff are smoking dope in the cellar and customers come only to gawp or shoplift. The Beatles are too idealistic to have security.
SIMON: But why didn't they sort things out?
DAVID: They can't be bothered to run Apple themselves. They barely come to their ‘offices'.
SIMON: Just like Ajax is a long commute from Barcelona.
DAVID: Instead, the Beatles give top jobs to their music-loving mates, or people they think are nice, or cool. John seems to think that if a person has ‘talent', he'll be fine.
SIMON: Like Cruyff thinking Tscheu La Ling, because he played football, ran a club in Slovakia and sold health food, knows more about business than Uri Coronel. Forget all that old rubbish about needing experience and qualifications. Talent is all you need!
DAVID: Apple gives money to pretty much anyone claiming to be an artist. One of the most colourful characters is a young Greek TV repairman called ‘Magic Alex', who says he's an inventor.
SIMON: What does he invent?
DAVID: A box with blinking coloured lights called The Nothing Box. John watches this while tripping on LSD and thinks it's so brilliant he puts Alex in charge of the Apple Electronics Division! Alex wears a white lab coat, like a scientist, and spends a fortune building a recording studio which doesn't work. Many years later, he is spotted in the Middle East selling non-bullet-proof bullet-proof cars to dictators.
SIMON: It's amazing Brian Epstein — the Rinus Michels of the Beatles — let them do it.
DAVID: He wasn't around to stop them: he'd just died of an overdose.
SIMON: What happened to Apple Boutique in the end?
DAVID: It lost a fantastic amount of money and closed after six months.
SIMON: Thinking about it, the real similarity is less Ajax and the Beatles than John and Johan. The parallels between Cruyff and Lennon are slightly uncanny.
DAVID: Working-class heroes?
SIMON: They each suffer the life-defining loss of a parent. They get together with a bunch of other local boys. They invent something completely new. They become the face of the new pushy affluent generation of young people in their countries. And they both liked using words to spring surprises: "I've never been able to catch Jaap van Praag telling the truth."
DAVID: "Ringo isn't even the best drummer in the Beatles." Lennon loved puns too: A Spaniard in the Works and all that.
SIMON: Johan has that. The one time I interviewed him — a traumatic story, don't let me go there — he kept chuckling at his own comments. He found his logical paradoxes humorous.
DAVID: They even borrow from each other's home towns. The start of the Golden Ajax is the 5-1 victory against Liverpool in the ‘mist match' in 1966. And John begins his Guru era in Amsterdam: the great Hair, Peace, Bed, Peace "bed-in" with Yoko at the Hilton.
SIMON: "The man in the red/ Said what you doing in bed./ I said we're only trying to get us some peace."
DAVID: That's really the moment Lennon begins to switch from performer to guru. Cruyff later did that too, of course. Yes. Their career paths are uncannily similar.
SIMON: Both achieve everything in their twenties.
DAVID: Then fall out with everyone.
SIMON: Paul strips John of the captain's armband of the Beatles, though Paul isn't really Piet Keizer. He's more like Johnny Rep in his softness and simple warmth.
DAVID: Then there's the fleeing to America. John goes first. Johan picks up the baton. And in 1974 the Dutch are a sort of prolongation of the Beatles: free-wheeling, joyful, entertaining, open.
SIMON: "...grooving up slowly… toejam football ... got to be a joker he just do what he please ... one and one and one is three."
DAVID: Obviously a coded reference to total football and 4-3-3. But then disaster! Ajax's long and winding road ends at that hotel in Drenthe in 1973. Cruyff exiles Jan van Beveren from the national team.
SIMON: I see Danny Cruyff as the Dutch Yoko. Van Beveren ran into the Cruyffs some time after the big bust-up. Johan shook his hand, at least, but Danny just glared. That's when Van Beveren thought: this really is all over.
DAVID: Still, I can see some differences. Johan is a much better family man and father than John was.
SIMON: Absolutely. You know who wrote "Hey Jude", that sweet song about Julian Lennon as a child? Paul.
DAVID: And I hear that Yoko is actually a lovely person
SIMON: What's your evidence?
DAVID: Yoko and I share a healer in London, a terrific guy who was once a bodyguard of President Tito.
SIMON: Anyway, the great difference is that Johan gets back to where he once belonged. He has the 20-year second career as guru, which John was tragically denied.
DAVID: Yes, John would have loved that. "Imagine", his last great song, lays out his future career he had in mind as a sort of world teacher. Perhaps he'd have become a wittier version of Bono.
SIMON: But you also know he'd have fallen out with everyone.
DAVID: Maybe, like Johan, he'd have turned into a grumpy old geezer. It happens to almost everyone in the end.
SIMON: I picture him as old and leathery, and a bit deaf.
DAVID: One way ticket, yeah. Maybe he'd have been the fool on a hill who sees the sun going down... The tragedy is, we'll never know.