Willem Hesselink: The original “Mr. Bayern”

Not many Bayern Central readers may have heard of Willem Hesselink, a Dutchman who was FC Bayern München’s first-ever overseas signing back in 1902. A man who was known for his ferocious shot, but would also become the club’s coach and president. All at the same time. Athlete, academic, wine expert, forensic scientist. The first “Mr. Bayern”.

When James Rodríguez struck his first goal for Bayern against Schalke 04 at the Veltins-Arena, Bundesliga EN tweeted that he was the first Colombian to score for Die Roten for twenty-four years. Of those Bayern and Bundesliga fans who were around then, can anybody remember who the last man was?

Adolfo Valencia. Remember him?

Lumbering S-Bahn

Yes, Adolfo Valencia. A burly and rather clumsy striker, whose greatest impression in Munich was a silly haircut that looked like a badly-placed rectangular mat on top of an otherwise bald head. Bayern have had many strikers over the years, and Valencia was not among the best. Known as el Tren – “the train” – for his combination of power and pace, he was more like a lumbering late-night S-Bahn arriving two minutes behind schedule at München-Ost.

On the afternoon of April 2nd 1994 at the Olympiastadion against 1. FC Köln, Valencia collected a slide-rule pass from Christian Ziege. Charging forward into the opposition box with no defenders in sight, the lumbering Colombian calmly stroked a right-footed shot past the helplessly static ‘keeper Bodo Illgner.

Fast forward to September 19th 2017, and James’ equally smooth effort. From around the same distance as Valencia, but with his left foot.

When James set up Arturo Vidal to score Bayern’s brilliant third goal against die Königsblauen, it got me thinking. First about the South American players who had made their way to Bavaria, and then foreign signings in general.

Bayern’s first signing

Football today is truly international. Most of the world’s leading teams have squads bristling with foreign imports, and Bayern is no different. Indeed, the majority of the current first team squad are from outside Germany. It was not always that way of course. Of the team that that lined up against Köln in 1994, Adolfo Valencia was one of only two foreign players. The other was Brazilian future World Cup winner Jorghino.

It is indeed interesting, then, to note that Bayern’s first actual “signing” was from outside Germany. Way back in 1902, when the club was barely a year old. That man was Willem Hesselink, a Dutchman signed from Eredivisie champions HVV Den Haag. A twenty-four year old who had travelled to Munich to study at the prestigious Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität.

Bayern’s first Dutch player, long before Martin Jol, Jan Wouters, Roy Makaay, Mark van Bommel or Arjen Robben. Or Edson Braafheid.

The son of a wine merchant and diplomat, Willem Frederik Hesselink was born in Arnhem on 8th February 1878. A wonderfully complex character, he was not only a footballer with a fearsome shot, but a national tug of war champion, excellent all-round sportsman and record-setting athlete. As a twenty year old in 1898, he set a figure of of 6.20 metres in the long jump, a national record that would stand for twelve years. Both his local club Vitesse Arnhem and MVV Den Haag had initially been founded as cricket clubs, and Hesselink was no slouch with the bat and small red leather ball either.

The Cannon

Not content with life as a multi-talented sportsman, Hesselink was also an highly motivated academic. His first doctorate earned in Munich was in chemistry, where one of his professors was the Nobel Prize winner Wilhelm Röntgen. The subject of his final dissertation was something close to his heart: wine. Specifically, the port wines from the Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro region in Portugal.

Hesselink’s academic exploits would earn him the nickname De Dokter – “The Doctor”. Unsurprisingly, it was just one of at least two nicknames. The other was Het Kanon – “The Cannon” – a reference to his ability to strike a football. His decision to move to Bayern was more than a blessing for the young Bavarian club. Hesselink had scored an incredible 66 goals in 54 matches for Den Haag, and had been described by the Berlin sports journal Sport im Wort in glowing terms after a local team had encountered him on a tour of the Netherlands.

On the pitch Hesselink cut a rather dapper character, with his old school black moustache and distinctive knitted blue cap. If you put him in a suit, he would not have looked out of place at the local baron’s banqueting table after an afternoon shooting game birds. He probably would have been pretty good at that, too.

Mr. Bayern

The statistical records tell us that Hesselink stayed for just under six years at Bayern, but the story is far more interesting. As well as a footballer, athlete, academic and master of fine wines, the Dutchman was also a talented organiser. At the age of just fourteen, he had been one of the founders of his local team Vitesse Arnhem. He brought this organisational and marketing skill to Munich as well.

It is hard to believe, but while Hesselink was studying for his chemistry doctorate and throwing himself around on the pitch as Bayern’s first foreign superstar, he had also replaced Franz John to become the club president. He was also the coach. As an organiser, he was involved in the merger with local rivals Münchner SC, which resulted in Bayern adopting their now famous red shirts.

As a player, coach and president, Hesselink could claim to be the original “Mr. Bayern”. Only one other man – Franz Beckenbauer – has covered all three roles, and even der Kaiser was unable to manage all three jobs at the same time.

That was not all. In May 1905, a year after he became Dr. Willem Hesselink, the Bayern supremo was involved in the second international played by the Dutch national team. In a 4:0 defeat of neighbours Belgium in Rotterdam, the man who could clearly do no wrong also found the back of the net. According to the records that still exist, it was his first and last game for the Oranje.

Doctor, Doctor

In 1908, Hesselink moved back home. By this time, he had earned a second doctorate in philosophy, meaning that he would be addressed in Germany as Dr. Dr. Willem Hesselink. He could have chosen to do anything, but set up a medical laboratory in his home town before becoming director of the local health department.

For most ordinary people, this would have been a satisfying conclusion to an interesting and varied career. Not for Hesselink, who became a member of the International Academy of Criminology specialising in blood analysis, fingerprints and handwriting analysis. In the spirit of his never doing things by halves, he was quickly considered an expert in his field.

When he was not involved in developing forensic analysis and playing a role in murder trials, Hesselink still had time to fuel his footballing passion. He rejoined Vitesse as a player before becoming coach, treasurer and president. Essentially, repeating what he had done at Bayern.

Having crammed a lot into his life before his fiftieth birthday, Willem Hesselink passed away in 1973 at the grand old age of 95.

Fine Duoro DOC

As a historian and long time sports enthusiast, I can think of a fair number of historical characters I would like to have a beer with. But in terms of the number of topics I could cover and questions I could possibly ask, Willem Hesselink is right up there on the list. Who else could answer questions on subjects as diverse as wine, philosophy, forensic medicine and FC Bayern München?

Of course, that beer would have to make way for a glass or two of fine Duoro DOC. In fact, I think I would need to make that a couple of bottles over a couple of evenings.

Acknowledgments go to transfermarkt.de for the statistics, and Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling for his original article published on the website of the University of Münster.