Stanley Menzo: Ajax’s former goalkeeper on dealing with racism in Dutch game

Born in Suriname, Stanley Menzo moved to Amsterdam with his family when he was six

Warning: This article contains examples of racist abuse.

In his first post as a manager, Johan Cruyff wanted a special goalkeeper, a player who matched his all-round attacking vision for Ajax. Stanley Menzo fit the bill.

Menzo had been at the Amsterdam club for a few years. When Cruyff took charge, in 1985, he was an understudy, and had only played a few matches.

Under the Dutch legend’s guidance, Menzo went into the first team, aged 21. Cruyff moved on to Barcelona three years later, but the young goalkeeper would keep his place for seven seasons, a star of the side that won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1987 and the Uefa Cup in 1992.

Over the course of a 16-year career in football, Menzo also won nine domestic league and cup titles across the Dutch game and in Belgium, achieved with a style that helped change what many thought a goalkeeper could be. He was an extra man who could do more than keep the opposition out – an early example of the ‘sweeper keeper’.

But those years at the top were tough.

Born in Suriname in 1963, Menzo moved to the Netherlands when he was six years old. The racist abuse started early in his career. By the time he was at his peak, it reached a horrible intensity – public, frequent and large scale.

In many of the games he played, there would be monkey chants, racist taunts, bananas thrown on to the field.

“It hurt, it hurt me very hard,” Menzo says now. “When you have half the stadium abusing you, it feels very lonely. When I think back, I can’t imagine how I did it – how I played my matches.”

Racism was such a regular feature of Dutch football at that time that almost nobody talked about it – including those who were being targeted, Menzo says. Even though he tried not to let it affect him, it made him question himself.

“We never spoke about what was happening because we didn’t know how to deal with it,” he adds.

“Some players said they didn’t hear it. I can’t imagine that – I heard it always, even when it was one person. It was normal – it became normal.

“I thought it was maybe my personality that made me feel and hear it, and maybe I wasn’t strong enough for…

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