33 years after receiving Hans van Breukelen’s goalkeepers’ gloves Darren Wheater-Lowe and the Dutchman were reunited in Nottingham. They talked about everything from Brian Clough to international football and letting in a Stuart Pearce free kick on purpose.
Darren runs a local goalkeeping academy and is my go-to guy for all things between the posts, he’s a former teammate too with an extraordinary tale to tell when it comes to Nottingham Forest’s former European legend.
“They say never meet your heroes; you’ll only be disappointed. Well, I spent an evening with mine and came away thinking that’s a load of rubbish!” Those were Darren’s very own words as he reflected upon the reunion with his idol. The evening with HvB was arranged and compared by Andy Hallam who did a fine job interviewing the former European Cup and Championship winner.
The first question from Andy dispelled a myth that’s lingered like algae on the Trent since 1984; he quizzed Van Breukelen about leaving because he was unhappy, which had been reported in the media at the time. The response was so beautifully Dutch that you could have done kick ups with it in a pair of clogs, he replied in a jokingly shocked manner, “who are you going to believe, me or de press? He embellished upon his answer by explaining that he wanted to sign a new deal at Forest even after PSV Eindhoven came knocking on the door. Despite the fact the Reds hadn’t been in contact with him, he wasn’t going to be pressured into leaving and was happy to stay.
The story of how he was scouted by Forest was so typical of that era, Brian Clough and Alan Hill travelled to watch Hans van Breukelen playing for FC Utrecht v Sparta Rotterdam in the Netherlands. At one-point Van Breukelen went up for a corner at the opposing end and got his head to it, unsurprisingly planting it high and wide of the posts. Brian Clough’s reaction was audible for almost everyone in the stand as he bellowed “I’m signing a goalkeeper not a bloody centre forward!”
Hans said he learnt a lot from Mr Clough, despite the fact there was little or no goalkeeper coaching at that time. He would rely on John Robertson for crosses, perhaps most alien of all was to catch the ball instead of punching it!
Hans went on to tell the audience how he called out his manager regarding his time keeping and the wrath he faced for doing so. Referring to a team meeting scheduled for 10am; in predictable style for those who knew him well, Brian Clough strolled in forty-five minutes late. Van Breukelen recited the dialog between himself and the gaffer. “Boss, you said 10am and Its now 10:45!” This comment had most of the squad sliding down their chairs, accompanied by a collective “Oh no!” Clough’s response was textbook; “listen son, shut up and just keep that ball out of my goal!”
Hans van Breukelen addressed his audience sporting a wry smile as he summed up Nottingham Forest’s greatest ever manager, “Brian Clough was the hardest but kindest dictator!”
Darren Wheater-Lowe sat patiently in the audience with his mate Jonny Fountain as the 63-year-old van Breukelen regaled upon his amazing career between the sticks. Jonny explained to Hans that he’d tried unsuccessfully to get the Dutchman’s gloves from him after his last game for the Reds. At this point Darren seized his opportunity and shouted out “I’ve still got the gloves you gave to me.”
A chorus of “WOW’s” greeted the declaration which was backed up by the exhibits themselves which Darren had brought along with him.
Wheater-Lowe explained to me how he came to possess van Breukelen’s gloves; “I was 15 years old and was playing for Sandiacre Town at the time, they did and still do an exchange with a Dutch club called Sparta 25, based in a little village called Beek En Donk outside Eindhoven.”
“We went to the PSV training ground and met the players, like Eric Gerets , Ronald Koeman and Holland’s next big thing, a certain Ruud Gullit! I had my picture taken with HvB and a mate’s dad just asked him if I could have his gloves? No hesitation, “there you go!” As Darren explained all of this it conjured up the old saying, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Back at the speaker’s evening, the now bespectacled van Breukelen, was in shock as Darren produced the very gloves in question. The former Forest keeper was amazed to see his old, now crusty black and white uhlsport’s after 33 years and thanked him for bringing them. They chatted at length about Sparta, recommending Hans Segars to Forest, and HvB’s distain for Lothar Matthäus and Rudi Voller regarding their poor sportsmanship. HvB also made a startling revelation regarding Stuart Pearce’s free kick at the 1990 World Cup. The Dutchman explained that he knew the infringement warranted an indirect free kick, going on to say that having seen nobody else touch it, he’d allowed it to hit the net without saving it. Make up your own minds!
Darren described the encounter as catching up with an old friend you’d not seen for years. The pair looked at old photos of themselves together, one from the gloves exchange and an earlier shot on the City Ground pitch when Darren was just nine years old, HvB is pictured with his massive hands draped around the youngster.
Darren explained to me that van Breukelen would tape up his fingers to strengthen them and prevent injury, something which he copied off the Dutchman during his own playing days. It also transpired they both have a “wonkey” little finger, another justification for the gloves finding the right successor.
After being reunited with his hero, Darren Wheater-Lowe summed it up perfectly; “Like a lot of the old Forest players I listen to on podcasts, Hans spoke with such warmth and enjoyment regarding his time at the City Ground. I left the Cross Keys that night and headed for the tram stop along with my now autographed gloves, feeling like a kid again back in 1987.”
Many thanks to Andy Hallam and the boys and girls at Great Northern Inns for organising such events, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the likes of Darren and Nottingham Forest fans in general to rub shoulders with their idols.
*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
Main image @FitzCorry Hans van Breukelen (left) with Darren Wheater-Lowe upon meeting.