AZ Alkmaar legend Kees Kist is the latest name inducted to the Football-Oranje hall of fame.

  • By M. Joseph Valler


A morsel is not as satisfying as a meal, but if you support an Eredivisie side it is often either the banquet (if you support the big three) or the scraps. In 1981 this changed as AZ Alkmaar became the only team to break the Eredivisie hegemony of Ajax, Feyenoord, and PSV in a period that would stretch from 1965 to 2009. The AZ Alkmaar of the late seventies / early eighties, contained a combination of AZ stalwarts (such as Jan Peters, Hugo Hovenkamp, Kristen Nygaard, Peter Arntz, Kurt Welzl & PierTol) or players who would go on to produce their best football at other clubs but would still contribute greatly (such as Johnny Metgod, Bert van Marwijk, Ronald Spelbos, Willem van Hanegem & Eddy Treijtel).

One player towers above them, however.

During this time, this player scored 259 goals in 441 games for the Zaanstreek club, was the first Dutch player to win the European Golden Boot in 1979 and is currently fourth place on the all-time Dutch league goal scorers list; behind Willy van der Kuijlen, Ruud Geels and Johan Cruijff. During a test in January 1977, this player even unofficially broke the world record of having the hardest shot. Timed at speeds of 112 kilometres per hour, it beat the previous record held by Peter Lorimer of Leeds United. This striker’s emergence in the national team came during a fallow period, so he has been largely forgotten by football fans in general. To AZ fans however, Kees Kist is a hero, maybe their biggest hero and it’s easy to understand why. The story of Kees Kist is a story of AZ Alkmaar; his talent grew with AZ and their later successes came with him.

Kees Kist was born on August 7, 1952 in Steenwijk, Overijsseland. The early stages of Kist’s career were mapped out by familial association; when Kees came of age there was only one choice – the amateur side VV Steenwijk, the club of his father Cees Kist senior and his uncle, Teun Kist. In 1967, Cees Kist senior was scouted by Heerenveen, who then offered him a contract. Cees agreed to join Heerenveen on the condition that his brother was also picked up by the Friesland club. The deal was struck and in 1967, Teun Kist commenced a professional career of playing solely for Heerenveen for twenty years. Then, in the summer of 1970; as expected, the eighteen-year-old Kees Kist followed in the footsteps of his father & uncle and departed from VV Steenwijk to join Heerenveen.

And now, a short episode about Kees Kist at Heerenveen:
A hush had ascended over the heads in the Heerenveen locker room. Teammates craned their necks as Kees removed a pair of white shoes from his kit bag. They had never seen any like it. Some looked down at their own black shoes, insecurely tilting their own booted feet and comparing. The silence was broken when one of them asked Kees what they were. Kees replied. The senior player told him that he could not call those shoe but Kees continued to loosen the laces before placing them on his feet. Another told him that those white shoes would be like red rags to a bull and that he was making himself a target for opposition’s defenders, midfielders, strikers, goalkeepers, fans etc. Still, Kees tied his laces and ran onto the field.

Years later, Kist revealed that in his early days at The Super Frisians, Adidas handmade a shoe specifically for him and the reason for this was because of a broken metatarsal. That day, as he stepped out into the air, the Heerenveen support watched their young striker’s arrival in his white shoes. The opposition fans called out. The Heerenveen fans called out. The whistle was blown and Kees was kicked once, twice, three times etc. At the end of his first season, Kees Kist was the club’s top scorer and within eight years, these white shoes would be replaced by one golden shoe and two silver.

The investors were two brothers named Cees & Klaas Molenaar. Both were football men and former players of their local professional team KFC (Kooger Football Club). Following their retirement from playing, the brothers had become businessmen and by the early to mid 1960’s were owners of a growing chain of appliance stores named ‘Wastora’. The Molenaars were real Zaankanters and sought to create a major team in the Zaanstreek. Their first attempt in 1964 (to merge KFC and ZFC) failed but their second attempt was a success.On the 10th May 1967, KFC (now FC Zaanstreek) merged with Alkmaar ’54 to become AZ ’67, with the club to be based in Alkmaar.

Despite their involvement in the merger, the Molenaars did not yet have full control of the club – this would come in 1971; when, following relegation and falling attendances, the club found itself in grave financial difficulties to the point where professional players and coaches had gone unpaid for three months. Cees and Klaas stepped in once more, taking the entire debt and control of the club in the process. The effect of this take over was almost instantaneous as AZ beat De Graafschap 2-1 and along with Champions Haarlem, returned to the Eredivisie once more. In the 1972 – ’73 season, the brothers immediately highlighted their ambitions by signing two promising young players who would remain at the club for ten years and become synonymous with its success.

The first was the 23 year old Dane, Kristen Nygaard who was signed from IHF Aarhus. The second player was a 19 year old Kees Kist from Heerenveen. The period stretching from 1972 to 1977 would be the years of building. There were plenty of bumps on the way; 3 managers in 4 seasons & losing in the KNVB Cup on penalties to amateur side Ijsselmeervojek (to name but two). There was progression, however; rising from mid table to two consecutive fifth places and slowly acquiring those players who would bring the team later success. Kist’s own progression during this period was dramatic; in his first season he scored 7 in 31, in his fifth it was 26 in 34. By the end of those five years he had scored a total of 70 goals in 166 games.

For the Molenaars, the first real signs of a recoup in their investment would come in the 1977-78 season. AZ would achieve a third place finish despite another change in trainer but crucially for the psychology of the team, AZ broke their duck and won their first major trophy; winning the KNVB Cup, defeating Ajax 1-0, courtesy of a Henk van Rijnsoever goal. That season, AZ also had their first taste of European football and 20,000 spectators came to watch them beat Luxembourg’s Red Boys Differdange 11-1 at home and then 5-0 in the away fixture with Kist scoring 5 over the two legs. The excitement was to be short-lived however, as AZ were drawn against the Barcelona of Cruyff and Neeskens in the 2nd round. AZ drew 1-1 at home and in the replay it finished 1-1 with Kist cancelling out Carles Rexach’s opener. The game finished with penalties and Barcelona emerged victorious at the Nou Camp.

For the 1978-79 season there would be one final personnel change on the road to glory as out went Cor van der Hart and in came the experienced former national team coach; the German, Georg Kessler. No father figure, Kessler was a reputedly hard-task master; the remote and distant type rather than the ‘arm-round the shoulder’ coach. He was also a strategist with an eye for team building and it would be this latter facet that was key to AZ’ future success. Kessler had arrived at the optimum time; this was a different AZ to that which had gone before.The confidence on the pitch was now clear to see – dominant in possession and pressing high. This character was embodied by Kist. Kees was an ‘English style’ forward – a poacher, who only sees the goal. Physically strong, he also had a lightness of touch that was unmistakeably Dutch. Kist typified AZ’ courageousness by putting his body on the line to score & was fearless in the face of an onrushing goalkeeper or quickly massing defence.

An endless supply of Kristen Nygaard through passes was key to this success; Kristen played close to Kees and their partnership lasted ten years and made a friendship that has lasted till this day. In the words of Ronald Spelbos, the AZ of that time played with ‘panache and courage’. That seasons European campaign was short-lived, however; as their future nemesis, Ipswich Town beat them 2-0 at home after an earlier 0-0 in Alkmaarderhout. In league competition, AZ would finish fourth with personal success for Kist – crowned at the end of the season as highest goalscorer in Europe with 34 goals in 34 games and presented with the Golden Shoe in a grand ceremony at the Paris Lido.

The 1979-80 season would be the one which the Molenaar brothers would finally realise their joint obsession but sadly only one of them would be around to witness this. Cees Molenaar died suddenly of a blood disorder at the age of 51. With Kist’s 27 goals in 34 games, AZ remained in the race for the championship but long-term injuries to Jan Peters and Kurt Welzl curbed AZ’ progression and all they could do is watch as Ajax ran off with their second consecutive title.

In the face the previous season’s tragedy, the mood around the club for the 1980-81 season remained one of excitement. It was felt that, if the club could field their strongest side and without injury; the Eredivisie title would be AZ’s for the first time. For Kees Kist it would be a bittersweet achievement. Due to a broken toe early in the season, Kist would have to watch his teammates from the bench. Kurt Welzl and Pier Tol provided cover for Kees and on his return following the injury, the three helped AZ to score 101 in 34 and concede only 30. Five matches before the end of the season, the title was finally AZ’ to boast and by 12 points and 37 goals ahead of their nearest rivals Ajax.

The previous seasons 2nd place finish meant UEFA Cup qualification and on the road to the final, AZ met Red Boys Differdange (Luxembourg), Levski Sofia (Bulgaria), Radnicki Nis (former Yugoslavia), Lokeren (Belgium) and Sochaux (France, and the team that had knocked out the holders Eintracht Frankfurt). In the final, AZ would play an Ipswich Town side led by future PSV coach Bobby Robson and featuring former FC Twente midfielder Frans Thijssen and former Ajax midfielder Arnold Mühren. AZ had a history with Ipswich Town; two seasons before they had knocked out AZ and unfortunately little had changed. Ipswich defeated AZ 3-O at Portman Road and to the anger of AZ supporters, the team were told that the return would not be at Alkmaarderhout but at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. Many AZ supporters, refused to travel to the city of their rivals Ajax. At the Olympic Stadium, AZ defeated Ipswich 4-2 but unfortunately the margin was not great enough and they narrowly lost their first European final 5-4 on aggregate.

Despite their European disappointment, the 19801-81 season would be AZ ‘67’s peak. The players had not only reached their playing peak but also their peak value. Slowly, the team which took eight years and four managers to build, was broken up and sold off.

The ’81 – ’82 season would garner a further KNVB cup and a haul of 29 goals in 34 games for Kees Kist but AZ had now passed their best and by the end of the season, Kist would be on his way to Ligue 1, to play for Paris Saint-Germain. Sadly, AZ’s first European Cup campaign was over before it had begun and the eventual third place finish meant that they would not get an opportunity the following season. The KNVB cup final showed flashes of the previous seasons brilliance; the first leg against FC Utrecht’s was lost (1-0) at the Alkmaarderhout but a Kees Kist hat trick in the second leg, secured at 5-1 victory and so left something for the fans to remember him by.

A few weeks later, AZ also said goodbye to George Kessler, who in three short years had become their most successful coach. He was succeeded by his assistant Hans Eijkenbroek and soon the gates opened and the team was emptied. Valencia CF came in for Kurt Welzl; the offer was accepted and he was replaced by fellow Austrian Franz Oberacher, but unfortunately the goals did not arrive with him.
Johnny Metgod went to Real Madrid, Spelbos to Club Brugge, Jan Peters went to Genoa and even Kist’s hugely influential partner Nygaard was purchased by Nimes. Other players such as Hovenkamp and Jonker remained for a further season but by 1984, the majority of that great team had gone – even Henk van Rijnsoever was forced to quit due to a lengthy injury.

When a club other than the big three wins the title, it usually has to do with money and the club with the most will have a good chance. The money to spent on new recruits or to refurbish the existing players wages was not forthcoming from Klaas Molenaar and soon AZ Alkmaar were a team not equipt to progress in the UEFA cup. That year AZ were quickly dispatched by Inter Milan and due to finishing in eleventh place in the league, they would not get another chance. Four fruitless years passed until, in 1986 Klaas Molenaar announced that he and his company Wastora would completely withdraw from the club.

In the interim; despite 12 goals, winning the Coupe de Ligue, a third placed Ligue 1 finish and the promise of UEFA cup football the following season, Kees would move once more – this time to the just relegated FC Mulhouse. By now, Kees was thirty one and the time he had spent in France was not as productive as previous seasons. Kist returned to AZ for a final season in 1986 but his presence was not enough to halt the decline. In 1988, exactly seven years and five days after they secured the championship of the Netherlands, AZ Alkmaar were relegated to the Eerste Divisie.

Very little would be heard of AZ for the next eight years; 1981 was the end of an era and it would be 28 long years before AZ fans could sing once more.

Matthew Valler (7 Posts)