Huub Stevens has achieved many unforgettable victories in his long career – such as the 1997 UEFA Cup triumph with FC Schalke 04 as coach. But the Dutchman still remembers his greatest defeat very clearly. Today Huub Stevens celebrates his 70th birthday.
“That was honestly the lowest point in my career.” Huub Stevens was only in his mid-twenties at the time and a PSV Eindhoven player – but that memorable evening in November 1979 was to be the biggest defeat in his life. The Dutchman, who is celebrating his 70th birthday today, was playing for PSV Eindhoven and the second leg of the UEFA Cup was against the French team Saint-Étienne.
The Dutch won the first leg 2-0, which was also thanks to the meticulous preparation of the young Huub Stevens, his teammates Adrie van Kraaij and Willy van der Kuijlen and his coach Kees Rijvers. They had traveled together to a Saint-Étienne league game in Strasbourg to observe their upcoming opponents.
In his book “Never Give Up” Stevens talks about this strange and dramatic journey with her coach: “We didn’t know that Kees Rijvers’ wife Annie always had to tell him everything while driving, such as: Stop, it’s red! Us “We drove on a ring road with a few traffic lights, and Rijvers happily drove through every red light. He was so busy that he didn’t notice anything. Adrie, Willy and I later took turns driving and arrived at the destination safely.” And in fact: the information they gathered on site helped the team win 2-0 in the first leg. PSV Eindhoven traveled to St. Etienne on November 7, 1979 with corresponding hope.
“I just paid for the door”
But then something happened that no one could have expected before. Shortly after the game started, the Dutch were 3-0 behind within five minutes. Stevens remembers: “Someone later told me that he went to the toilet shortly before kick-off. When he came back it was 0-3. I was really stunned. I had never experienced anything like that and never would experience it once.” But for the young Huub Stevens, the evening became a personal drama for another reason. Because his coach Kees Rijvers decided to take him off the field after just fifteen minutes.
Stevens looked at his coach in disbelief. Why did the coach change him of all people, he asked himself? So should he be the scapegoat for the fact that the entire team was completely beside themselves? Stevens still remembers everything very clearly about that memorable day: “Man, I was mad. I went into the locker room and gave the door a good kick so that there was a huge hole in it. I’ll get the door later “I also have to pay for it. They sent me home an invoice for the equivalent of 240 guilders. An amount for which they could then afford a really good door. But no matter, I just paid for the door.”
At least not double digits
But Stevens wouldn’t be Stevens if he hadn’t caught himself minutes later after a cold shower and whipped the team forward. Because with a goal his team would have been back in the race. Thanks to the away goals rule that still existed at the time, PSV Eindhoven would have reached the next round straight away. But that wasn’t supposed to happen on this damn day. Quite the opposite.
The top-class team from AS Saint-Étienne around the young French star Michel Platini, the established greats like Dominique Rocheteau and Patrick Battiston and the Dutch runner-up Johnny Rep showed no mercy and played their game until the end. It was 6-0 at the final whistle, but observers on site continued to say that the completely one-sided game at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard should actually have ended in double figures for the French.
“And what can I do about it?”
But this biggest and heaviest defeat in Huub Stevens’ professional career also had a funny side in the end – even if back then, immediately after the game, no one could laugh about the situation, as the Dutchman remembers in his biography, which is worth reading: ” After the game, Rijvers got a good lecture from his wife. She was also upset because he had taken me out of the game. I preferred not to say anything and not to look at him. I was still incredibly angry and incredibly disappointed.” But the whole story caught up with Stevens later.
Because the day after the encounter in St. Etienne, his coach came to him and complained loudly that he was actually having a fight with his wife because of him. But Huub Stevens reacted coolly and calmly. He replied thoughtfully: “And what can I do about it? You shouldn’t have replaced me.”
And that was the end of the defeat for the time being – but Huub Stevens never forgot this special day of shame. Fortunately, it would remain the biggest defeat of his career for the eventual European Cup winners with FC Schalke 04 against Inter Milan in 1997. Today the likeable Dutchman celebrates his 70th birthday. All the best and good luck, dear Huub Stevens!