Jan Paul van Hecke had a World Cup finalist close to tears with his performance for Albion in Amsterdam recently.

He will hope for another special night when Europa League football returns to the Amex in the coming weeks.

The Dutch centre-back’s uncle, Jan Poortvliet, played at left-back in the 1978 World Cup final as Holland suffered a highly unfortunate 3-1 extra-time defeat by Argentina amid the tickertape of Buenos Aires.

His later career included a short, tough stint as boss at Southampton.

Poortvliet follows his nephew closely, which made Albion’s 2-0 win at Ajax all the more special.

Van Hecke said: “He watches almost every game and he is enjoying it.

“He said he was crying a bit when he saw me at the Amsterdam Arena.

“I had him on the phone because he is coming to the game against Marseille. That was good.

“I know he is always watching on TV and he is proud.

“He lived in a different city so I would just see him every four weeks when I was younger – not like every week.

“But it was nice to see him and play with him.

“I didn’t see him playing but I heard great memories.”

Poortvliet won 19 Holland caps and played primarily for PSV before venturing into France and Belgium.

Now 68, he is head coach of FC Eindhoven under-18s.

There is not much in the way of advice about defending, football or even the pro game in general coming van Hecke’s way from his uncle.

The Seagulls defender said: “He is not really like speaking to me about that.

“He is just enjoying it and hopes I do really well.”

Asked about any other family connections within the game, van Hecke said: “My brothers play at a lower level but they have talent as well.’

Those will be the brothers who support Ajax but saw ‘JP’, as he is known, frustrate their favourite team in the Europa League recently.

In strictly footballing terms, van Hecke has found a type of elder brother at Albion in Lewis Dunk, alongside whom he currently appears to form the first-choice defensive pairing.

Van Hecke said: “I have learnt a lot from him. Maybe not really with that many words but just looking at him is enough.

“To see how composed he is and how he defends.

“At the beginning I came to the club and thought, ‘He is a centre-back but he is our best player on the ball’.

“He looks like a No.6 who can play everywhere.

“I was so surprised and then I just see the level how he has performed for that many years already.”

The challenge for Albion has come when Dunk isn’t there.

Is that when van Hecke, still relatively inexperienced in the Albion side, has to step up into a more authoritative role?

“Yes, a little bit because he is a big player and he takes that leadership on.

“He is the captain. If he is not there, other players need to step up and do that role as well."

While Roberto De Zerbi very much favours 4-2-3-1, he has switched to a back three through, in large part, necessity during recent injury problems.

It is a system van Hecke played on loan at Blackburn and one he enjoys.

But De Zerbi has, typically, taken the challenge up a level.

“At Blackburn we played a back three - or back five. That was with wing-backs.

“Now we play with Kaoru (Mitoma) and Simon (Adingra), who are more wingers, so it’s a bit different.

“I enjoy it, I think it is a good way of playing. You create a lot of chances with it, so it’s positive.

“It’s a bit different also in defending but nothing really changes in how we want to play.

“It is just in the details. We still want to play the same way."

Van Hecke is speaking to The Argus at Terre a Terre, the well-known vegetarian restaurant in East Street, as part of Albion’s support of American Express and their Shop small initiative.

Some of us present had just seen his performance on the club’s in-house quiz show Buzz’s Boot Room.

He was then put in front of lights, a camera and a few people and asked to deliver a few lines about Shop Small, which took a couple of takes but nothing excessive.

Apparently he is one of the funniest players in the squad and it comes across on that show.

“I’m not sure about that. I just try to always be a good guy and sometimes you make jokes and make someone happier.

“I am not really good at lines, as you can see.

“I need to improve my level at that!”

But it begs another question – and it is one which a few Albion fans will have been wondering about since their trips to Amsterdam.

Why are the Dutch, almost without exception, so good at English?

And don’t say “because we learn it at school” because we all learn French at school here but very few people can actually speak it.

Van Hecke said: “In school I learned it from when I was four until 16, two lessons a week.

“In the Netherlands you sometimes speak English.”

Then he added with a smile: “And because other countries are lazy!

“They come to us and they know we speak English very well so I know that is one reason but there are other reasons.”

Jan Paul van Hecke is supporting the American Express Shop Small campaign, which encourages the nation to back their high streets ahead of Small Business Saturday on Saturday 2 December. American Express incentivises its Cardmembers to support their local small businesses through its Shop Small Offer, which gives American Express Cardmembers a £5 statement credit when they save the Offer to their Card and spend £15 or more at participating small businesses between 1-3 December 2023. Terms apply. For more information search, Amex Shop Small UK