From Total Football to Total Liar: How Holland Taught Me To Deceive

Holland's first appearance in the World Cup Final in 1978 triggered my first ever lie. Thirty two years on the Dutch are back and I have now mastered the art of deception.
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The Dutch team’s progress to the World Cup Final, their first in 32 years, has brought back a troubling memory for me. One, which established a pattern of deceit that would one day, leave me on the brink of ruin and leave a trail of wreckage in my underachieving wake.

Firstly, I’d like make clear that now I'm well into my 30s I hope and believe that I’m as far removed from the liar that I used to be, as this functional Dutch side are from the stunning total football alumni of the 70s that so captivated the world. I only lie in the workplace now, and fixing that’s not a priority.

I had just turned six when the men in orange reached the final in Argentina, were they were to face the host nation. Football had never looked better than it did that night. Never had two finalists been kitted out in two such beautiful and contrasting colours, that deep Dutch orange pitted against the beautiful sky blue and white stripes of Argentina. I vividly remember being both stunned and bemused by the ticker tape thrown down from the stands – something I would try and emulate many times in Subbuteo over the ensuing decade – and I particularly remember the fuss the Argentine players made over the legality of Dutch defender Rene van de Kerkhof’s cast, worn on an injured forearm. Argentine players felt it might injure one of their number whilst the rest of the watching world just saw it for it was, gamesmanship. Van de Kerkhof had worn this cast throughout the tournament and the Dutch team threatened at one point to walk off the pitch before an extra layer of padding was added to the cast and the match was able to begin.

Something about the fuss made over van de Kerkhof’s cast had triggered off some innate desire in me to have my own injury

But what I remember after that is an unsettling incident that occurred shortly after the game started as I made my way down to the ground floor of the same building, to play with our neighbour’s daughter.

Something happened that day between leaving my flat and heading to the neighbours. I embarked upon the first major lie of my life and later, when it unravelled, I found that I was able to remain steadfast in my refusal to admit I’d lied.

Something about the fuss made over van de Kerkhof’s cast had triggered off some innate desire in me to have my own injury. I wanted some of that attention he’d had. And so it was that I raided my dad’s first aid box before leaving the flat. I remember descending the dark and gloomy communal staircase – the building was gloomier than the set of ‘The Others’ – and making my way to our communal loo, shared with about 3 other families. In there, I took the plaster out of its wrapping and quickly decided to stick it over an eye, I chucked the wrapping in the bowl – even then I wouldn’t touch a cistern with my bare hands – a phobia that may not be unconnected to sharing a loo with so many strangers.

Naturally, when I turned up at my neighbours, wearing, I remember, some green summer pyjamas with a jockey logo on the top, they were alarmed to see my plastered eye. I remember explaining to the mum, after her 4-year-old daughter had pulled my shorts down (to reveal I was commando) that I had injured my eye falling down the stairs on the way to theirs, but that somewhat handily, I happened to have a band aid on me and was able to self-administer first aid. I was by then slightly cheesed off at having my shorts pulled down. This had diverted attention from my ‘injury’ momentarily as all gathered laughed at my 6-year-old exposed genitalia. Van de Kerkhof had suffered no such humiliation when his injury had made him the centre of global attention. However, I soon settled down to watching my first final, with my one ‘ahem’ good eye, and a glass of squash. I was being treated like a King. At least I was until I found my mum had been called down.

Demanding to know what had happened to the eye, I found myself quickly and unceremoniously hauled upstairs by my mum without being given the opportunity to finish my squash. Upstairs, dad left mum to deal with things as he sat back to enjoy the football. I removed the plaster from my eye, to reveal a perfectly good eye, expecting mum to leave it there. As far as I was concerned, that was it. But mum quickly set about picking apart my falling down the stairs story. But I didn’t admit to anything.

This had diverted attention from my ‘injury’ momentarily as all gathered laughed at my 6-year-old exposed genitalia

In later years, Dad would begin schooling me and to a lesser extent my sister – she brought home less friends – to lie about our living situation. With all of us sharing a bedroom, dad was concerned one of our friends would report back to their parents that our bedroom was like a really crap bed shop, and that before we knew it, social services would descend upon the house and take me and my sister away where we would be abused. The abuse, he told us, was guaranteed. We were told to tell friends that our rooms were being decorated. But we knew that same story would only work once or twice on the same friends. Therefore we were instructed to cut our friends loose very quickly. Friendships with the Ruiz kids had a short lifespan. Kids became aware of that and my sister and I soon picked up a reputation for being disloyal to friends.

Dad would, as I got older, teach me the importance of remembering everything about every lie I told and whom I’d told it to. When you lied, he told me, you had to make it so real that in time, even you came to believe that it was the truth. I did that to the extent that there are parts of my life that I can’t be certain happened for real. I’m like a replicant in Bladerunner. One morning I expect to open my door and find a silver foil unicorn on my doorstep rather than a final demand letter from bailiffs.

And so it came to be that I became a very polished liar despite mum clipping my wings early on. But what I realised only now about Argentina ’78 was that up to that point, I was an honest kid. Dad’s one on one lying master classes had yet to commence. This was me. That lie was me. And me alone. At some point I made that decision to put that plaster on my eye. As I made my way down that gloomy staircase that summer’s evening 32 years ago, the idea of feigning an injury was one I was determined to pull off. I can’t blame dad for that. Something dark was beginning to surface inside of me. All dad would do was recognise that dark quality and hone it. Maybe he saw in Argentina ’78 that he had a son who was capable of lying, even when confronted with overwhelming evidence that showed he was lying.

One morning I expect to open my door and find a silver foil unicorn on my doorstep rather than a final demand letter from bailiffs.

For the next two and a half decades, I really did struggle to tell the truth, particularly in jobs. Much of my working life was spent temping, and the thing about temping was you were just passing through. You could really be anyone you wanted to be, just a less successful version obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be temping.

I remember first admitting to myself that my lying was a real issue when I met a really decent guy at a job, a guy who had the potential to become a great lifelong friend. But I screwed it up. By the end of the first week, I had told at least a couple of big whoppers about myself, and I knew at that moment, we could never be friends. The friendship couldn’t go anywhere. He would never have been able to meet my friends. I would’ve been on edge, watching him talking to guys who knew me, waiting for the moment when my worlds would collide. The only way a friendship between us could’ve survived would’ve been to have kept him apart from my other friends and build a whole new network of friends that grew exclusively out of our friendship. And that would’ve been too much work so I let him go.

This path of deceit began with Holland reaching the ’78 final, and in particular, van de Kerkhof’s cast. Though my family were Spanish, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Dutch team. My dad was a Barcelona fan and Johan Cruyff, sadly absent from the Dutch squad in ’78, was his man. I grew up watching as many videos as I could get my hands on of that 70s Dutch team. But I have to say, them making the final on Sunday has forced me to take a long hard look at where it all began to go wrong for me and I just need this final to be over now.

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