Modern football might be ruled by money, Messi, Ronaldo and ratings, but tactically and aesthetically, it is Cruyff’s baby.
In his home city, two friends are carving out a space for their vision of the game with a new football-inspired clothing brand, Lack of Guidance, subverting the uniforms of history’s greatest sides by finessing their insignia into laid-back street styles perfect for that time of day when the floodlights have only just come on.
— “The brand’s name refers back to players like Eric Cantona, Paul Gascoigne, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
“It’s more than a name, it’s a feeling,” Rens continues, “of confidence, individuality. I think the funny thing with that is even if you’ve played at quite a low level, you always come across these kinds of people in football. Even in park games.”
Rens’ tracing of that mentality down to football’s literal grass roots is significant.They bemoan the lack of “characters” in professional football today, preferring to seek inspiration instead in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s when the game felt a little freer, less arduously monitored and mapped.
Today, perhaps the game’s real characters are more reliably found in the parks and concrete cages that provide an arena for the dreams of the young and the amateur.
This street football tradition is well ingrained in Holland and has produced many of its best players; Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay honed their skills in the concrete courts of Rotterdam and Gouda respectively, while Dennis Bergkamp – who was given his debut in the Ajax team by Cruyff at the age of just 17 – has spoken at length of how his astonishing talent was shaped by the architecture of Amsterdam. “Most of the time I was by myself, just kicking the ball against the wall, seeing how it bounces, how it comes back, just controlling it,” he wrote in his autobiography, Stillness and Speed. “I found that so interesting! Sometimes I’d aim at a certain brick, or the crossbar. Left foot, right foot, making the ball spin. Again and again.”
of football and wider culture is what first drew the pair to C.P. Company: “I think it’s the perfect example of that, becoming fashionable in football and in a certain subculture simultaneously,” says Rens. “A lot of brands and designers are trying too hard to tap into football culture but for C.P. Company it’s the other way round – football fans, especially those in the Casual culture, want to wear their clothes.”
“Two weeks ago Holland played England in a friendly and I live in a flat overlooking the Red Light District, where the England fans had all congregated,” continues Akaar. “It was crazy looking down on to the street and only seeing people in C.P. Company. Not so many people wear it in Amsterdam, though I’m seeing it more and more.”
“When we first started the brand, we fell in love with the idea of working exclusively with Smit- Cruyff – it’s iconic,” gushes Akaar of the sports shop in the city centre. “It was the first place in the whole of Holland to stock brands like adidas, Nike and Puma and the guys who work in there are so funny. They’re 55, 60 years old and when we took our first shirt in there, they just laughed at us.” Guno Reingoud and Rob van der Straeten, the current owners, started out in the shop as interns back when it was still run by Johan Cruyff ’s brother.
It’s not tough to see why Rens and Akaar are so drawn to Smit-Cruyff. Despite the modern fixations, ultimately football is about folklore and stories, its warmth and meaning drawn almost entirely from acts of heroism, tragedy and farce that can be passed easily between anyone familiar with the sporting context. If Smit-Cruyff is a museum and Guno and Rob its curators, then the shirts are the precious artefacts, loaded with history and sentiment. Lack of Guidance can be seen as an attempt not to wallow in that history but to ensure it remains with us – to keep an eye trained on the modern game, to stop it becoming untethered from its past and drifting out of sight completely. And what better vantage point could there be for that than Amsterdam?