Some weeks ago I wrote (in a review of Tracy Daugherty’s recent biography of Donald Barthelme for NRC-Handelsblad) the following sentences: ‘In the Netherlands Barthelme somehow never managed to become very popular. This in spite of the fact that he was perhaps the only foreign writer ever to include in his fiction a number of Dutch soccerplayers (in the story ‘Concerning the Bodyguard’, two bodyguards discuss the replacement of ‘Dutch goalkeeper Piet Schrijvers’ by ‘the brave Jan Jongbloed’ in the soccergame between the Netherlands and Peru during the Worldcup of 1978).'
Piet Schrijvers and Jan Jongbloed. Whatever happened to those old heroes, I couldn’t help but wonder for a moment. But, to be honest, I had already forgotten about them when, yesterday morning I entered the farmacy around the corner. The customer in front of me was a strongly built man with grey hair and remarkable fingers; never in my life had I seen fingers that big, that... ‘Meaty’.
Mmm, what a familiar face, I thought, when at some point he turned around. It couldn’t be, could it? I tried to catch another glimpse of that face that was somehow so well-known to me. A face that hadn’t changed that much over the years. Finally I stepped forward: ‘Sir, may I ask you something... you have such a familiar face...’ The man smiled and turned to the girls behind the counter: ‘Ah well, I have been coming in here for so many years now, haven’t I girls? Everyone here knows me.’ That voice. As if no time had passed since the seventies. I couldn’t be mistaken. ‘You are Jan Jongbloed aren’t you?’ He nodded, that was him alright. And as the girl behind the counter handed him his pills, I told the once famous goalkeeper about the curious coincidence that I should meet him here, at this moment, just around the corner from where I live, when I had just finished writing a review in which I mentioned this American writer, and the soccergame between the Netherlands and Peru, back in 1978, and the replacement of Piet Schrijvers by himself, Jan Jongbloed, due to a terrible attack of one of the Peruvians. Jongbloed smiled, then said: ‘It happened alright, but not in the game against Peru. It was against Italy, in Cordoba it was, in the twentieth minute, and indeed it was some foul, but Piet had a part in it too, he could have avoided it.’ After that we chatted for some more time, pills and stuff in our hands, and then I said goodbye, too flabbergasted even to think about making a snapshot. Anyhow, some important conclusions can be drawn:
1) Jan Jongbloed was, until this week that is, unaware of the existence of Donald Barthelme, and thus unaware of his role in the story ‘Concerning the Bodyguard’
2) In his story ‘Concerning the Bodyguard’ Barthelme has Piet Schrijvers being replaced by Jan Jongbloed during the soccergame between Peru and the Netherlands during the World Cup of 1978. In reality it was during the game against Italy that Jongbloed replaced Schrijvers (after 20 minutes)
3) Piet Schrijvers himself was partly to blame for what happened.
4) Jan Jongbloed is still alive and looks very healthy (and, a small detail, he has big, meaty fingers, which, in retrospect, gives extra significance to his much cited remark, during that same World Cup of 1978, that he played without gloves because otherwise he wasn’t able to ‘feel’ the ball).