Bennie Muller loved Ajax. His glory days in the sixties were something that stayed with him forever. "Time flew by. It went so quickly; it was like a movie. If I look back at it now, I think: 'If only I had enjoyed it even more”’, he said years later.
Little Bennie had just started playing football. He was seven years old and in his trusted Uilenburgerstraat in the centre of Amsterdam when an unknown man approached him, asking him if he would like to play for Ajax. He doesn’t consider it necessary and would rather continue playing football, but he agrees. During his try-out match a few weeks later, the Ajax coach takes him off the pitch after ten minutes. They have seen enough; this boy can play football. However, Bennie is not completely happy; he would have rather finished the game.
Eventually, Muller –under light pressure from his father – transfers from a small club in Duivendrecht. But that doesn’t sound too logical to him. Ajax, that’s attitude. Boys with expensive tracksuits and a smart mouth. But once he is a part of it, it proves to be not that bad. And those costly tracksuits he used to hate were something he and his friends used to be jealous of. His teammate Sjaak Swart becomes one of his buddies.
In 1958, Muller debuted in Ajax 1 against MVV Maastricht away (3-0 loss). Despite his smaller posture, Muller developed into a reliable and strong midfielder. He linked his unyielding playing style to a great view and refined technique. With those qualities and his great kick, he is very valuable to Ajax in the sixties. Behind goalscoring machine Henk Groot, Muller plays an essential role in the midfield. In 1962, Muller and Groot win the Intertotobeker with Ajax, the first European trophy in the history of the club.
After the arrival of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruijff’s breakthrough, Ajax became the top club in the Netherlands. Muller won the Eredivisie five times and won the Cup three times. His first personal moment of glory was the victorious decisive Eredivisie match against Feyenoord in 1960. “I was a ballboy only two years ago, and now I’m a champion.”
Two years after his Ajax debut, Muller is selected to join the Dutch national team. With them, he played a friendly match against Israel in 1965. It’s a special moment for Muller; he is Jewish and immediately feels at home in Israel. His pride in his Jewish roots wasn’t something he hid during, and especially not after, his active career. In total, Muller was a regular for the Dutch national team for eight years and played 43 interlands in those days—more than any other Ajacied in the sixties.
In 1966, when Rinus Michels was head coach, Ajax became a pro club in an increasing number of aspects. With his stunning goal, Muller had a heroic role in the Europa Cup 1 tournament against Besiktas. Muller played in the famous ‘fog match’ against Liverpool, symbolising Ajax's international breakthrough. With best friend Sjaak Swart and a young Johan Cruijff by his side, the Golden Ajax takes shape.
But while his club progressed, Muller – in his football years – was getting old. Together with men like Henk Groot, Sjaak Swart, Piet Keizer and Johan Cruijff, he laid the foundation of immense European successes, but when Ajax lost the Europa Cup 1 final against AC Milan in 1969, it was a reason for Michels to make a tougher selection. Older players had to make way for younger talent, which usually grew up with the professionalism of their coach. The much-needed toughness resulted in Nico Rijnders and Johan Neeskens being added to the team.
Muller was promised a regular starting place after the lost final against Milan, but the coach changed his mind the following season without giving Muller an explanation. Muller only played seventeen matches in the 1969/1970 season, a few of them as a substitute. The title won in 1970 doesn’t count as a real one to Muller.
Heavily disappointed, he left for Holland Sport in 1970. In the years after his departure, he sees Ajax conquer the world. It’s a bittersweet reality for the player who gave everything he had to the club for all those years.
When Muller marries his girlfriend Nellie after a period in military service, the couple opens a cigar shop in the Haarlemmerstraat. When Muller started the shop, he thought he had started a calm job besides playing football. In reality, it was a lot tougher: the days were long, and the work was hard. Despite that, his store, where Muller sells tickets for the matches he plays himself, turns into a household name.
Despite his Ajax career not giving him the financial security it provided other Ajax icons, Muller is proud of his years at the club. With his wife Nellie, with whom he was inseparable, he was a frequent guest on the stands at Lucky Ajax. Together with his friend Sjaak Swart, he watched many home matches in the Johan Cruijff ArenA. In the 2013/2014 season, Muller handed the championship trophy to captain Siem de Jong.
Bennie Muller might not have won the most important Europa Cup with his club, but he will be remembered as one of the pillars of the Golden Ajax’s great success. With 426 official matches for Ajax, Bennie Muller is in an honorary seventh place of Ajax’s Club of 100. He was a true Ajacied.
The family has announced Bennie Muller’s funeral will be held with a selected group. In the playing round of the upcoming week, there will be a moment to commemorate Muller’s passing.
Ajax wishes all those close to Bennie Muller a lot of strength while dealing with this loss.