With a seemingly unnecessary ‘J’ in his name, a tab in his mouth and a few extra pounds round the arse (in a Frank Lampard way), Martijn Reuser was the type of player that made football romantics want to pay money to go and watch a football match.
What he did best was strike a ball. He did it economically, accurately and with a technique most only manage occasionally by fortune. He was the sort of warm automaton who stood still, smirking and intent over a dead ball; a few seconds looking at the ball, a few seconds looking at goal. WOPR-like calculations were almost visible on his eyeballs as his internal computer calculated complicated equations mere mortals simply don’t understand. More often than not this studied, mathematical calm would then be executed swiftly and silently, like Zorro!
A collective eyebrow was raised among the Ipswich faithful when, with 15 minutes left of a crucial promotion game against Fulham, the shortish, barrel-chested man from Holland came off the bench for his debut and trundled around behind the strikers in a surprisingly free role. Hello?! What do we have here? With seconds left on the clock Jim Magilton played him in and a deft poke of the toe sent the ball under Maik Taylor for a crucial three points. Regardless of how good he is, a last minute winner in a promotion six pointer is always going to endear a player to a new set of fans but this one seemed different. Exotic memories flickered of vintage Dutch imports.
He quickly achieved cult status via some mesmerising cameos from wide, or tucked inside behind and supporting the front men. He was neither quick nor overtly powerful but his breadth of delivery was phenomenal. Through corners first and then gradually, when Magilton relinquished them, free kicks, it quickly became evident he was also a dead-ball genius not afraid to have a pop. If we got a free kick within 35 yards, breath was swiftly baited.
In the 2000 play off semi final second leg against Bolton, the North Stand faithful bayed for Reuser to be introduced to overturn the now familiar play-off capitulation. Burley obliged and, suddenly, the until-then-unruffled Robbie Elliott found himself being tormented like a lame mouse at the hands of a well-fed cat. Reuser’s superior speed of thought twice tempted Elliott into a scything tackle that garnered a booking.
Seeing Elliott tortured so mercilessly was almost better than watching Reuser seal the win. He did the same in the Play Off final, more uncharacteristically, bursting clear of an admittedly knackered Barnsley defence and shooting powerfully, with top spin, over the keeper from the edge of the box.
Reuser’s star was undoubtedly brightened for us fans by the fact that, as untrusted genius, he was often kept in reserve and appeared to positive effect quite frequently at noticeable times. A Giggs-like run and finish against Bradford was followed by a trademark free kick that beat West Ham at Upton Park. His goal against Coventry was just a tap in but it sealed European football at Portman Road for the first time in donkey’s years. Every intervention seemed notable and noble.
He saved his most memorable intervention for the penultimate game of the season and, although not his best goal, his diving finish sparked my favourite song at Portman Road, ever. Having pipped Ipswich to automatic promotion the previous year, Joe Royle’s Man City were sent home and down to the Championship with their own bastardised song ringing in their ears when Reuser made it 2-1. “Bluuuuue Moon / You got promoted too soon / Now you’re going back down / And Europe’s coming to Town”.
If Burley was unsure about Reuser, the next manager (Joe Royle! Doh!) openly criticised him, as did some less rounded fans. Joe Royle’s attacking three required pace Reuser never had, and his midfield three required defensive traits that diminished Reuser’s threat. He was never going to fit into a Royle team but, to Reuser’s eternal credit, he never shirked, although this was often evident only in a headless chicken approach to tackling and chasing that was as comical as it was counter productive. With his occasional Erroll Flynn ‘tache and mop of dark hair his bustling substitute appearances often burned him out before he could use his real powers to damage the opposition.
When he and we knew the end was nigh, as his contract ran out, he appeared sporadically but still entertained. In one of the most ludicrous games of football I have ever witnessed, Reuser showed Royle and his detractors he still had it. After throwing away the lead repeatedly, Royle sent for the saviour. Within 15 minutes of his introduction Martijn had bulleted in a spectacular half volley and slipped in fellow erratic exotic, Pablo Counago. The frailty with which Reuser’s brilliance is paired meant a further goal a piece had to be endured before the game ended in a coronary inducing 6-4!
There are regrettably few youtube moments of his efforts still knocking around but a lot were like this pearler for Willem II against De Graafschap. John Wark was more consistent, Mariner was more obviously glamourous, Thijssen was a better exponent of Dutch football but none struck a ball with the beautiful menace of Reuser.