Amsterdam | Football City Guide
Amsterdam. Cue instant visions of seedy sex clubs, young and excited foreign tourists (badly) rolling up a spliff and endless canals that easily make you feel like you're stuck in a beautiful maze.
Dubbed the 'Venice of the north', Amsterdam has a population of 872,000 which expands all the way over two million when you include the metropolitan area. Famous for its many attractions including the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum and some of the habits noted above, this bustling city brings in over five million tourists a year.
The tourist scene isn't the only successful industry here, with large businesses such as Tesla, the Phillips Conglomerate, Netflix and even Uber basing their headquarters in Amsterdam. It's a forward-thinking city that likes to have a good time, and who could blame them?
Slightly off the beaten track in early February (the city still looks incredible).
The city has gone through various ages, with the 17th century cited as its 'The Golden Age', having become the wealthiest city in the western world. An inevitable decline settled in the 18th and 19th century before the city started to rebuild and expand, especially after the Second World War. Like most successful cities, it's centre is becoming unaffordable to locals and businesses are switching from servicing local residents to the new influx of tourists, which increases year on year.
After five visits to this wonderful city, I'm always struck by its visual beauty and fortunately there's a club which does the city's majestic appeal justice and makes any visit for fans of the beautiful game all the more special.
The Ajax club shop in Amsterdam | Photo Credit: @ajaxgekta
This glorious capital is home to one of Europe's most successful sides, AFC Ajax. The club, founded in 1900, has amassed 34 Eredivisue titles and 19 KNVB cups in its history and are dubbed one of the Dutch 'Big Three' alongside rivals Feyenoord (of Rotterdam) and PSV Eindhoven. Alongside their domestic success, AFC Ajax has scooped up a mightily impressive four UEFA Champions League titles, earning them the right to keep the trophy and have a multi-winner badge on their shirt (one of only five clubs to do so). Other European successes include the UEFA Cup, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA Super Cup on three occasions. It's safe to say AFC Ajax are a giant in the European game, even if recent history hasn't been so kind to them.
If the list of honours isn't enough to get you going, maybe the list of stars which enabled such accolades will. From Johan Cruyff (more on him later) to Marco Van Basten, Sjaak Swart to Clarence Seedorf, the red and white faithful have been blessed with a stunning array of talent over the years. In more recent times, Christian Eriksen, Matthijs De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong have all graced their ground, before moving on to pastures new.
It's fair to say AFC Ajax peaked in the mid-90s, in an era before the Premier League established itself as the number one league in Europe and the explosion of TV rights, which left the Dutch Eredivision in the dust. Then Real Madrid coach Jorge Valdano described the side as “not just the team of the nineties, they are approaching football Utopia.” This was at a time where they won both the domestic title and the Champions League without losing a single game. AFC Ajax then reached the Champions League final the following season, only to lose out to eventual winners Juventus on penalties in Rome.
The name AJAX is inspired by Greek mythology. Ajax fought in the Trojan War and was a physically imposing and invincible warrior. He can be now found on the club's home badge, which was first made public in 1928 and has gone through a few modifications since to meet the changing needs of the ever-commercialised game. The image of AJAX is now an abstract of his head, drawn with just eleven lines to symbolise the number of players representing the side on the field (a pretty neat fact if you ask me). Stadiums
The beautiful seat design from Euro 2000 and the away end in the top right corner
Ajax's current ground, the Johan Cruyff ArenA, will bring back memories from Euro 2000 for most middle-aged football fans, which was joint hosted by Holland and Belgium. If you're a Spurs fan, it might be the remarkable 2018 Champions League semi-final second leg win over Ajax that jogs your memory.
Its history, however, is relatively short and we need to take a few steps back first in order to understand the full history of the club. The red and white's former stadium was the De Meer Stadion (opened in 1934), situated on the south eastern part of the city. In many ways the ground wasn't appropriate from the start, accommodating up to 29,000 at its peak which dropped to 19,000 when the safety requirements kicked in. For a club of Ajax's size and stature this proved a problem, leading the side to play their bigger fixtures at the nearby Olympic Stadium (Amsterdam hosted the games in 1928) as well as any fixtures under the lights (De Meer had to wait until 1971 to get floodlights installed).
Its small and intimate size worked domestically for the club but its lack of security and proper seating fostered and contributed to the formation of the famous 'F-Side' groups, notorious for hooliganism which became a growing problem in Dutch football. The ground was living on borrowed time and it was eventually demolished to make way for a housing estate. Nothing remains of the original structure but the roads in the vicinity of the old ground are named after famous football stadiums such as 'WemblyLaan', 'Anfield Road' and 'Bernabeu Hof'. There're also murals of past success on large ceramic tiles in the area around the old ground.
Numerous plans to build a new stadium for Ajax came and went in the latter part of the century, including one off the back of a failed bid to host the 1992 Olympics. New plans were put forward years later which included an athletic track and fortunately this was scrapped in the final draft. Ajax finally got the green light and between 1993-96, work was underway on the new Amsterdam Arena, which would host 50,000 fans and laid claim to having the first retractable roof at a stadium in Europe.
It's since been renamed the Johan Cruyff ArenA after the legendary player passed away in 2017. Further renovations around this period saw the capacity increase to 55,500 by adding more rows of seats between the stands and pitch and altering the exterior of the stadium, giving it a fresh modern look.
On my most recent visit there unfortunately wasn't a game on so the next best thing was to take the stadium tour. It was certainly one of the better tours I've had. After touring the dressing room and press area, you enter the field and the steepness of the stands gives off an imitate feel which is not always the case in most modern grounds. A quick bit of research online confirmed my thoughts, with the stands being amongst the steepest in Europe, having an angle of 37 degrees. The views are relatively unobstructed and clear all the way around bar the first few rows behind the goals, which is further back from the goal than really necessary.
The ground and its surrounding in the summer time | Photo credit: @rayenpanday Extra Bonus Content Once you've had your footy fix (be it the stadium tour or if you're lucky, a game), the capital city has plenty to offer. One of those is the Heineken Experience, which is actually much better than it sounds and you'll come out the other side with plenty of beer facts for your next pub visit back home. Another is to head further south towards Vondelpark. It's an expansive, 19th-century urban park with a playground, ponds and an open-air theatre. The nearby Rijksmuseum, recently renovated, is another international draw.
The most common thing to do when entering Amsterdam by train is to leave the central station and follow the crowds heading south towards ‘The Dam’ and the city centre. The first thing you notice is a multi-story car-park which on second glance is exclusively for bicycles. The city, and the Netherlands in general, is made for cycling. However, behind the station itself and across the river is the A'DAM Museum, which has fantastic views of both north and south Amsterdam from its observation desk. There's also an over the edge swing for thrill seekers (maybe next time....). A very short boat ride will get you there and it will give you a different perspective of the city.
Amsterdam can also be enjoyed without all the thrills by taking a simple stroll around its canals. The views, with the water, narrow tree-lined paths and cramped tall buildings are so unique and picturesque (perfect for those Instagram snaps). It's a city that caters for all kinds of people, and five visits in, I'll keep coming back for more.
Written by Richard Tester
Main article image contributor: @sebasvisuals