SAH News

Richard L. Cleary: The Architecture of Sports in Places Journal

by Richard Cleary | Aug 04, 2017

The death last year of Dutch soccer player Johan Cruyff inspired numerous internet postings displaying his brilliance on the field. Among these were clips of the “Cruyff turn,” which was first performed in the twenty-third minute of the match between Holland and Sweden in the group play stage of the 1974 World Cup. Deep in Sweden’s territory, Cruyff received a pass that drew the attention of defender Jan Olsson, who quickly closed off opportunities for Cruyff to pass or attempt a shot on goal. Apparently stymied, Cruyff turned as if to retreat, but then abruptly pivoted over the ball and reversed direction. Olsson, meanwhile, had followed the feint, and inadvertently opened a gap through which Cruyff played the ball to teammates in front of the goal. Although it did not lead directly to a score, the innovative move, now a staple of soccer training, achieved a victory at the tactical heart of soccer: the contest to create and control space.

Cruyff was a leader of Ajax Amsterdam and the great Dutch national teams of the 1970s, all of which practiced what was popularly known as Total Football — a mode of play blending individual creativity and teamwork, with players adjusting their roles according to the circumstances of play rather than maintaining prescribed positions. In Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer, David Winner argues that Total Football embodied that quality of contemporary Dutch culture which sought to balance collective systemization and individual expression. Winner notes similarities between the premises of Total Football and the work of Dutch architects including Aldo van Eyck and Herman Hertzberger; and in what may be a first for a book on sports, he cites passages of architectural theory, including this from Hertzberger’s Lessons for Students in Architecture: “Each form must be interpretable in the sense that it must be capable of taking on different roles. And it can only take on different roles if the different meanings are contained in the essence of the form…” 1
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Richard L. Cleary joined SAH in 1975 and served on the local committee for the 2014 SAH Annual Conference in Austin, TX.


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