Football: Fans put rivalries aside at friendly to pay homage to Johan Cruyff

 Fans commemorate Johan Cruyff during the friendly soccer match in Amsterdam on March 25 2016.
Fans commemorate Johan Cruyff during the friendly soccer match in Amsterdam on March 25 2016.PHOTO: EPA

AMSTERDAM (AFP) - Dutch and French football fans filling Amsterdam’s ArenA stadium on Friday evening for once put rivalries aside, united in the memory of Johan Cruyff, who died a day before aged 68.

A usually festive atmosphere for the friendly international was tempered by the news of Cruyff’s passing in Spain, with many fans speaking respectfully of the Netherlands “greatest-ever” footballer.

Inside the 53,000-capacity stadium, the game was halted in the 14th minute for an unprecedented tribute – the moment chosen for the number 14 that Cruyff wore on the back of his playing shirt.

Players and the packed stadium applauded for one minute before the game resumed.

In bars around the imposing ArenA, images of Cruyff dominated television screens showing vintage footage of the nimble player and his trademark mercurial passes in days of Orange football glory.

Tweets paying homage were also constantly flashing by on some screens.

“Johan Cruyff made this what it is today,” said 32-year-old Ron, waving his arm at the Arena stadium behind him, which is also the home of Cruyff’s first club Ajax.

“Tonight is Johan’s night, and his night alone, irrespective of the outcome,” Ron added, dressed in a Dutch national jersey.

“We may be French supporters, but we will never forget Johan Cruyff. He was a great, like Michel Platini,” said French-fan Xavier Zuzu, 63, sporting a bright-blue chicken hat.

“Cruyff is for all of us,” he said laughing as he hugged Dutch fan Ron and several others outside the stadium’s entrance.

A few kilometres away, at Cruyff’s childhood home in the Amsterdam working class Betondorp (“Concrete Town”) neighbourhood, fans gathered to lay hundreds of flowers and bring other tributes.

“He was a god. He was football and he was the Netherlands,” a teary-eyed Peter Heysteeg, 52, told AFP.

“When we were kids, playing in these streets, everybody wanted to be Johan Cruyff,” said Heysteeg, who grew up in Betondorp.

“This was his roots,” Thea Sminia, 72, told AFP outside the home where Cruyff grew up and today sports one of his many quotes on the window.

“Playing outside should be a subject at school,” the inscription reads, showing Cruyff’s intense interest in promoting the sport among the youth.

On the pavement outside the home, cards with inscriptions like “Thank you Johan, for all that you have done,” lay next to the flowers.

Many fans outside the stadium said they supported a move to rename the Amsterdam ArenA to the Johan Cruyff Stadium or the Johan Cruyff ArenA.

Amsterdam officials said they were discussing the suggestion, but also had to consult Cruyff’s family in the matter, as well as other major sponsors.

“That’s the most fitting tribute Amsterdam can give one of its most famous sons,” said Heysteeg, wiping away a tear, as he remembered his 68-year-old hero who died Thursday from lung cancer.