Game of the People is in Amsterdam these next few days, home of a club that has a much more glorious past than future. Ajax Amsterdam may still be the top club in the Netherlands, by some distance, but on the European stage, we are unlikely to see a Dutch side standing astride the continent as we did in the early 1970s.
Ajax attract very good crowds to the impressive Arena, but they have no local rival. The Dutch version of Spain’s “clasico”, “De Klassieker” is Ajax v Feyenoord . It’s a derby that has attracted hooliganism, fierce rivalry and bitter words down the years. The two clubs were the standard bearers of “Total Football” in the 70s, providing the bulk of the Dutch national team at the time. The two cities are only 35 miles apart, which under Easy Jet or Ryanair rules, is probably classified as a local derby.
Ajax – and Feyenoord’s – dominance over Dutch football has made it quite difficult for smaller, less well-patronised clubs to flourish. Ajax’s dominance of the Eredivisie didn’t start until the late 1960s. The very first official Dutch champions, in 1899, were RAP Amsterdam. In fact, RAP won the double that year. But they were short-lived, merging with another old Amsterdam club, Volharding before abandoning football in 1914 to play cricket.
Three other clubs enjoyed some degree of success before merging and dying a slow death. Blauw-Wit (Blue-White) was founded in 1902. They were originally from Kinkerbruut, a neighbourhood in Amsterdam Oud-West in the province of North Holland. But they started playing in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam in 1928.
In the North of Amsterdam, De Volewijckers were founded in 1920. When their Mosveld ground was bombed during the second world war, they moved to Ajax’s Stadion de Meer. It was a successful move, for De Volewijckers won the Dutch league in 1944.
Before Ajax took a grip on Dutch football, Amsterdamsche Football Club Door Wilskracht Sterk, DWS for short, won the Eredivisie in 1964. They even reached the last eight of the European Cup in 1964-65, losing to Fenerbache after overcoming Lyn Oslo and Vasas Gyor in the first two rounds. DWS also had the dubious honour beating Chelsea in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup by the toss of a coin after two 0-0 draws in 1968-69. Two members of the Dutch team that reached the 1974 World Cup final, Jan Jongbloed and Robbie Rensenbrink, played for DWS.
Unlike in countries like England, consolidation is not uncommon in Continental Europe and in 1972, Blauw-Wit and DWS merged, to be joined two years later by De Volewijckers to form a new “super club” that could rival the mighty Ajax – FC Amsterdam.
It didn’t work, though, despite Ajax falling from the imperial heights they had reached in the Johann Cruyff period. FC Amsterdam started well enough, finishing fifth in the Eredivisie in 1974 and reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup the following season. But they were relegated in 1978 and struggled in the Eerste Divisie, eventually disbanding 1982.
Currently, the only other team in the top two levels of Dutch football from Amsterdam is Jong Ajax, which is quite simply Ajax’s reserve team. They play at De Toekomst in the city, a 5,000-seater ground in the shadow of the Arena.
You have to go right down the Dutch football structure to find another Amsterdam club, ASV De Dijk, a club that plays in the Hoofdklasse on Sundays. But they can, at least, claim they have had players of the caliber of Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and Ruud Krol in their ranks. There are countless other amateur outfits around, some that have a history, but it looks unlikely that Ajax will ever have a serious rival to their position as the Amsterdam club.
Ajax remain the most popular but most disliked club in the Netherlands. They have it their own way in Amsterdam, drawing 50,000 per game. But it does seem strange that a city that has given Europea so much from a cultural and sporting perspective is not able to support more than one major club – Rotterdam has three senior clubs (Feyenoord, Sparta and Excelsior) and Eindhoven two (PSV, FC Eindhoven). In Amsterdam, though, you have to take the Bill Shankly approach: “There are two clubs in Amsterdam; Ajax and Ajax Reserves.”