Ajax is waiting for the tough job next week to reverse a 2-0 defeat against Getafe. A swirling Johan Cruijff ArenA must give Amsterdammers a move towards a continuation of the European campaign. How the so hated cold stadium became the warm home of Ajax.
It is 6 May 2009 and in the NOS Journaal a reporter comes into the picture who is standing in front of the Johan Cruijff ArenA as he talks longer and looks increasingly agitated. His voice shoots occasionally in the air, his head goes back and forth more and more and at a certain moment he uses his microphone-free hand to reinforce his report - more of an argument actually -.
Gerrie Eickhof is visibly fond of the subject, the constant disaster at Ajax. Leaving Marco van Basten that day as a coach completes the "deconfiture of Ajax" as far as the experienced NOS man is concerned.
Once Eickhof looks over his shoulder at the then thirteen-year-old stadium, the biggest offense. "Since they moved from the cozy stadium De Meer in Amsterdam-Oost to this megalomaniac flying saucer where no grass wants to grow yet ...", Eickhof fulminates. His legendary rant (look back here) does not earn him a hate post, but months of free beer from Ajax fans who totally agree with him. By the way, they have to pull their ArenACard for it, at the time the already denounced payment method in the stadium.
"I really think the stadium has cost us a few titles due to fatal glides and the deadly atmosphere." Writer and Ajax fan Menno Pot
The fans will never have been able to imagine at the time that the same "megalomaniac flying saucer" will be jammed early in the evening about eleven years later for the home duel with the not too appealing Getafe in the not too appealing Europa League tournament .
And then not with quiet little room men. As one immense throat, an attempt will be made to roar the favorites to the next round, as is customary in recent years. Even for a cup game against the amateurs of SV Spakenburg no more chicken can be added and passionate sympathy. There is little discussion about where the Dutch national team will play the three group matches during the European Championship of 2020: in Amsterdam South-East.
The Johan Cruijff ArenA, as the stadium has been called since 2018, has come a long way. It was built as a sort of fortress, with lots of concrete and iron tourniquets in a drastic armpit of Amsterdam. There were no more pointed fences like in De Meer, but there were deep, wide canals that literally kept the fans at a good distance. The mobile, white roof made the appearance even more modern.
May 15, 2011: Ajax conquers the 30th national title in a swirling Amsterdam ArenA with a 3-1 win over FC Twente. "Then the stadium took us", says Danny Blind. (Photo: Pro Shots)
The grass was too green or too brown or too slippery or completely missing
Sketches of the stadium were made in the nineties, when there was a raging atmosphere in Dutch stadiums, stadium director Henk Markerink explained several times later. Moreover, the stadium also had to be a home for concertgoers, martial arts enthusiasts and the American football club Amsterdam Admirals. Partly for that reason the seats were multi-colored. The ArenA was opened with an over-the-top spectacle, as everything was rather over the top .
Except the grass.
It was too green or too brown or too smooth or completely missing. All activities put too many feet on it, and too little light, even when the roof was open. It was therefore just as difficult as the fans. A new mat had to be added every three months.
Danny Blind, currently Ajax commissioner and previously Ajax trainer, was the captain when the relocation took place in 1996. "The board did a lot to make us feel at home right away, we were taken several times to take a look at the construction. But it wasn't De Meer where you drank coffee between board members, field servants and the archivist. The ArenA was everything two stories far apart, you arrived on a VIP deck, sat close to the highway instead of the popular East, where Johan Cruijff was born on the other side and where there was a wonderful lawn. "
Yet that is not the main reason that the ArenA was immediately denounced. "That was because of the poor results," Blind believes.
Ajax had had years of great success from 1992 to 1996 - with consecutive national titles and UEFA Cup and Champions League wins - but after the move it went badly for two years. Blind: "And then causes are searched for. The ArenA was not fun, there was something in it, though. And the grass was just bad, while we needed a good mat for our game. But again: those are sub-reasons. The bad results were the main reason. "
There was an atmosphere of 'everything was better in De Meer'
Everyone and everything put their shoulders to the wheel, Blind remembers. "I went to a rose grower in Mijdrecht who experimented with light boxes above grass in a corner of his greenhouse. He called me, I thought: what can it do? It turned out that part of the solution for the grass was now installed in many stadiums. "
In 1998 Ajax again won the double with cheerful, flashy play under Morten Olsen. Yet the love between fans and stadium remained cool for a long time. Blind: "A large part of the supporters lived for the past, perhaps in the past. In De Meer everything was better."
The atmosphere was downright cynical and grumpy in the new home, writer and Ajax fan Menno Pot agrees. "I also think that the stadium has cost us a few titles due to a number of fatal slides and the deadly atmosphere."
In Pots last epistle The new Ajax is also discussed the transformation of the ArenA. The successes of recent years, with reaching the Europa League final in 2017 and the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, play a major role in this. Pot: "Nobody had expected Ajax to join the European top until four years ago. Now that feeling is there again, the stadium where it all took shape is embraced."
The stadium got a 'nest scent' again
The stadium itself has started to exhale more football. Director Markerink talks about "nest smell". The canals have disappeared, the public is much closer to the field and the open corners (in jargon: the cheeks) have been partially closed, so that capacity has also increased to almost 55,000. The seats are red with 'AJAX' and three andreas crosses in white between them. There are flags and banners hanging like a kind of waving record, the interior decoration is becoming more and more beautiful, with the great featured archival photos in the escalator as eye-catchers.
Pot: "The club has reinvented itself, in terms of vision and appearance. That runs nicely parallel to the improvements in the ArenA."
Not unimportant: a new generation of visitors has arrived. Pot: "They didn't grow up with De Meer, Cruijff and Keizer, they only know the ArenA and get hot from Ziyech and Tadic."
The Johan Cruijff ArenA during Ajax-Feyenoord in January 2018. (Photo: Pro Shots)
A new-fashioned ultra-culture with drums and a capo
Placing side by side and merging the young fanatic VAK410 and the already present F-Side in De Meer brought more atmosphere. There is more and more singing, nowadays even for ninety minutes. This fits in with the ultra-modern ultra-culture, which also includes drums and a capo (a kind of lead singer with a megaphone).
Pot, who nowadays sees it on the other side: "From me, the drums may remain silent a bit more often and the sounds may be more competitive. But I am happy with the young generation, because it has brought the ArenA to life more. Especially on European In the evenings it starts to fall from the bottom to the top, you have the feeling that you are looking at the famous 'Gelbe Wand' by Borussia Dortmund. "
A benchmark was May 15, 2011. Then Ajax finally captured the coveted thirtieth national title by settling home with direct competitor FC Twente on the final day of the competition. Blind, at the time assistant coach: "Then the atmosphere was really great from start to finish, then the stadium took us."
Pot: "Everyone set aside their reserves, they just had to win." The success was a first breakthrough. The second took place during the 2016/2017 season. Pot: "The real adventurous Ajax football came back under coach Peter Bosz, plus success in Europe. It has been elaborated on. Now it is really our temple."