Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard

London

September 2015

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ajax (Holland)


AFC Ajax are one of the most prominent names in Dutch football since their formation in 1900 in the capital of Amsterdam. Their official title is Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax, although they are also known as AFC Ajax, Ajax Amsterdam or just plain Ajax.



The club was named after the legendary mythical Greek hero Ajax and was formed by Floris Stempel, Carel Reeser and Johan Dade. Their first official coach was the Irishman Jack Kirwan who had enjoyed a long playing career with Tottenham Hotspur. He led the side to the highest level of Dutch football and at the same time they took up their distinctive shirts of white with a broad red stripe in 1911. At the same time they moved into a wooden arena called The Stadium. Ajax were relegated in 1914.

Kirwan's successor was Mancunian Jack Reynolds. He led the club to promotion in 1917 as well as lifting the Dutch (KNVB) Cup for the first time. National championships followed in 1918 and 1919, with the later one seeing the team go unbeaten throughout the campaign. Regional titles would follow in the 20's, with the club moving to the Olympic Stadium once it had been erected for the 1928 games.


De Meer
The 30's became known as the 'golden age' as players such as Wim Andereisen and Piet van Reenen helped the team to eight regional titles as well as national championships in 1931, 1932, 1934, 1937 and 1939. This era saw the clubs big rivalry with Feyenoord spring up as both clubs battled for the major honours. The club also saw a move to their own new 'het Ajax-Stadion', which was known as De Meer after the district it was located in. Ajax's association with the Jewish community also came from the move as many resided nearby and went to games.

The 1940's saw a period of rebuilding following Reynold's retirement, although the KNVB Cup was lifted in 1943 and another league title was added in 1947. The most remarkable game of the decade came when Ajax were 6-0 down in a game away to VUC in The Hague, but they came back to draw 6-6! A couple more regional titles came in before professional football was finally permitted in Holland in 1955, with the Eredivisie being introduced the following year.


Marco Van Basten's exhibition in the museum
Ajax collected the Eredivisie title for the first time and then again in 1960, as well as adding another KNVB Cup in 1961. Star players of the day were Henk Groot, Sjaak Swart and a young Piet Keiser. The team could not establish itself in European competition and several disappointing defeats were suffered as Englishman Vic Buckingham was at the helm.

However, his replacement the former Ajax player Rinus Michels took over after the 1964-65 season nearly ended in relegation. The club was about to transform into a major European powerhouse. A young Johan Cruyff had made his debut before Buckingham's departure and Michels utilised him to the full as he built his team to play 'Total Football' in which every player could swap positions easily and the emphasis was on skill and fitness.



Too see the genius of Cruyff, both at Ajax and elsewhere, click on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ButOkDsxq4

Eredivisie titles followed in 1966 and 1967 with a twenty year old Cruyff netting thirty goals in the latter, in which they completed the double. Ajax made it three titles in succession in 1968, which led to a run all the way to the European Cup Final in 1969. 'de Godenzonen' lost the match 4-1 in Madrid with skipper Velibor Vasovic netting a consolation goal.



The defeat led to the rebuilding of the squad as reserve player Ruud Krol came in with new signings Dick van Dijk, Gerrie Muhren and Nico Rijnders. The Eredivisie was claimed once more in 1970. Cruyff suffered an injury that year and when he made his comeback he wore the number fourteen shirt as a substitute. He wore the same number for the rest of his career. The team reached the semi final of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup where Arsenal ended their run.

However, the following season was to see Ajax finally arrive as a major European name. As well as lifting another KNVB Cup, they reached the final of the European Cup Final at Wembley against the Greek side Panathinaikos and went on to win 2-0 with a deflected Krol shot and a goal van Dijk sealed the win.



The Romanian Stefan Kovacs replaced Michels after the final, but the success kept on coming. Players like Johnny Rep, Johan Neeskens, Wim Suurbier and Barry Hulshoff played prominent roles as the team won the domestic double as well as retaining the European Cup after defeating Internazionale of Milan thanks to two Cruyff goals. 

To add to the satisfaction, the game was played at the De Kuip home of their rivals Feyenoord. After adding the Inter Continental Cup Ajax went on to win the Eredivisie once more in 1973 as well as becoming the champions of Europe for a third consecutive season. A Johnny Rep goal was enough to defeat Juventus in the Belgrade showpiece.



To see highlights of the three triumphs, click below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NuVPnksUi4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azHr7m4Z8kU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=er1DatAkWXM

The concept of Total Football was taken on by Michels as he managed Holland to the World Cup Final in 1974, but Ajax were to hit a period of decline. Cruyff and Neeskens departed to be with him in Barcelona after the tournament and Ajax didn't win another Eredivisie until 1977 under Tomislav Ivic.



Another period of success followed as the league title was clinched in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1985 as well as four KNVB Cup victories. Ajax reached the semi final of the European Cup in 1980, where winners Nottingham Forest put pay to any dreams. Cruyff returned for a short spell as a player around young talent such as Marco van Basten, Jesper Olsen, Frank Rijkaard and Wim Kieft. Cruyff returned as the new manager in 1985 to install an attacking philosify.

To see a vintage display in the Olympic Stadium, go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ifh7FqErJTE



Cruyff led the side to glory as Ajax won the 1987 European Cup Winners Cup Final after a van Basten goal defeated Lokomotive Leipzig in Athens. Several star players began to leave as did Cruyff, but even so the club reached the final for a second successive season. This time it ended in a 1-0 defeat in Strasbourg to Belgian side Mechelen.

Leo Beenhakker led the club to the 1990 Eredivisie title as a young Denis Bergkamp began to make his mark. Louis van Gaal took over as head coach and brought a new set of tactics with him, which paid dividends immediately as the club won the 1992 Uefa Cup Final against Torino. Ajax went on to lift the 1994 KNVB Cup after Bergkamp and Wim Jonk had departed to Internazionale.



The 1994-95 season saw Ajax win their fourth European Cup, by then known as the Champions League when a late Patrick Kluivert goal defeated AC Milan in Vienna. Brazilian side Gremio were beaten to lift the Intercontinental Cup, before Ajax failed narrowly to defend the Champions League when Juventus avenged the 1973 encounter by winning the Rome final after a penalty shoot out.

van Gaal departed soon afterwards as many star players also followed him out of the door, with some on free transfers owing to the Bosman ruling and some on large fees to help subsidise the move to the new home Amsterdam ArenA for its opening in August 1996. Players of the calibre of Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger, Nwankwo Kanu, Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Ronald de Boer, Frank de Boer, Edwin van der Sar, Rijkaard and Jari Litmanen all departed around that time.



New boss Morten Olsen attracted Michael Laudrup to the club as Ajax won the league and cup double as well as keeping their hands on the KNVB Cup the season after. Ronald Koeman was put in charge of the team for the 2002-03 season after a few poor seasons. He was dismissed after a few campaigns to be replaced by former skipper Danny Blind. He upset fans by abandoning the teams traditional style in favour of a 4-4-2 formation. He lasted just over a year before he was replaced by Henk ten Cate.

In 2007 ten Cate's side won the KNVB Cup after defeating AZ Alkmaar on penalties. However once more they had to sell their most promising talent at the end of the following season as Ryan Babel and Wesley Sneijder left the ArenA. Luis Suarez was brought in as a replacement from Groningen. In October 2007 ten Cate departed as the fans became more and more dissatisfied with Adrie Koster coming in as his replacement.



Following Euro 2008 the legendary Marco van Basten returned to take over as manager as new players came in. Unfortunately the club decided to sell Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at the same time, to much criticism. van Basten left after just one season. Martin Jol was appointed in his place. Goals rattled in at an amazing rate with the team ending the season with a goal difference of +86, but still finished as runners up to PSV. Solace was found in an eighteenth KNVB Cup triumph.

During the 2010-11 campaign Frank de Boer took over from Jol and led the side to the Eredivisie title after a last day win over close rivals Twente, to make up for the disappointment of a poor Champions League campaign as well as the departure of Suarez in the January transfer window. They regained their title to collect the Eredivisie for the thirty second time after winning their final fourteen games of the 2011-12 campaign.



Ajax went on to make it three in a row when a win in May 2013 against Willem II kept the championship banner flying at the ArenA, to compliment a decent Champions League effort in which Manchester City were defeated at the group stage, while the clubs outstanding youth system continued to churn out quality footballers.

De Boer's side were crowned champions once again in 2013-14 to win four consecutive league titles for the first time in the clubs history. However, they were denied the double by an astonishing 5-1 PEC Zwolle win at De Kuip in the final of the Beker. The team ended as runners-up in the league in 2014-15.

AFC Ajax will play in the Eredivisie in the 2015-16 season.


My visits

Tuesday 24th October 2000



My Eurorail adventure was nearing its end and I found myself in Amsterdam. It had been a tremendous three weeks, but I was tired and ready for home. I decided that this was to be my last day before heading to Belgium the following morning to catch a ferry home and I wanted to make the most of it.

I had found a budget bed in a dormitory full of other backpackers following the overnight train ride from Berlin. After dumping my bag in the lockers I enjoyed a couple of beers before having a brief look in the city and then heading out on the train to Amsterdam Bijlmer Arena station in hope of a stadium tour. In later years I lamented the lack of PC skills as I could have visited other football venues of interest including the site of the old De Meer.



Anyway, I found the arrows pointing to the tours and museum. I was too early for the 3pm tour but I was welcome to spend the next hour in the superb club museum, which I did with gusto. It had a fine collection of memorabilia as many videos showed some of the highlights on the pitch. I was never going to get sick of seeing Cruyff or van Basten at their prime. Both had sections dedicated to them.

I headed off to join around twenty others for the tour which was conducted by youngish bloke who spoke good English. After he explained each area to the others he took the time to explain it briefly to me, which was a lovely touch. We visited the changing rooms, press room and VIP areas as well as seeing plenty of the ArenA from the stands.



The actual ArenA was a quality construction. It was a two tiered bowl with corporate boxes down one side between the levels. The upper seating deck was extremely steep to offer the best possible views, with its fully retractable roof pulled back on my visit. The seats at the front were raised above the pitch with a moat in between so that there was no need for any high fencing. In the gaps between the ends there were areas for pre match entertainment and a small five a side pitch. The ultras banners and graffiti lit up the bare walls behind the goals.

I must have been impressed as I paid for a souvenir photograph to be taken! I took the train back into town and had another walk around, even going out of my way to see Ann Frank's house. After that I thought it was a good idea to get to know the other residents of the hostel. I got very drunk and played some excellent pool, while taking in the aromas.



I seem to recall waking all the room up when trying to find my bed and clambering to the top bunk. While it was hilarious at the time, I certainly paid for it the next morning! The really rough ferry from Oostend to Dover was not a huge help to me, but I couldn't complain. I'd been a very lucky man and the visit to Ajax rounded off my trip perfectly.

Ajax 0 Heracles Almelo 0 (Tuesday 26th January 2016) Eredivisie (att: 44,517)

When looking at potential fixtures around the last of my 2015 annual leave, I was delighted to see a full block of fixtures spread across a full midweek in Holland that would fit the bill perfectly. My Aussie cricketing friend Dave Kenwery had kept in touch to try and meet up and get to some football.

Dave is an AFC Wimbledon fan, but keen on getting to football wherever. His job took him to many coastal locations and at the time he found himself in Amsterdam. After a few chats on Facebook, all was arranged for me to head out.


Because of flight times, I only had a couple of hours sleep after completing my night shift, but that was a sacrifice well worth making. My KLM flight from Heathrow deposited me at Schipol a little earlier than expected, meaning I was through customs and waiting for my host in good time.

It was great to catch up. It had been far too long since we had a good chat. We headed back to Dave’s super apartment on the island of KNSM-Laan, which is reclaimed land in the middle of the water opposite the city. After a quick Jupiler beer it was time to head into town.


It just so happened that my timing was impeccable. The previous day had been DK’s birthday, and it was now Australia Day. My Yarrambat shirt got an airing for the occasion. Dave gave me a tour of the tourist hot spots as we meandered through the narrow streets to our first port of call.

After our livener it was on to Belushi’s who were geared up to offer the right ambience for any Aussies looking to party. The Tooheys New went down well, as we were snapped by the pub photographer. We got through plenty of football and cricket touring chat. It was good to hear the opinions of a fresh voice on cricket tournaments.


Cafe de Dam, Louis Bar was our final destination before the match. The tiny bar just off Dam Square had football scarves of clubs from all over Europe pinned to the ceiling. As a regular Dave knew the friendly lady behind the bar. The place just had a great vibe. My host was able to offer advice to visiting tourists looking for somewhere a bit livelier.

We grabbed some slabs of pizza to go from over the road as we headed to Nieuwmarkt station for the fifteen minute train ride to the Amsterdam ArenA, disembarking at Strandvliet station which was slightly nearer to the ticket office.


Fans who aren’t Ajax members were forced to buy tourist packs for over €50 for a match, although DK had since discovered another way around it. You get a club scarf with a tourist ticket and all seats are in one block. We still had time for a Heineken at one of the bars outside the stadium. We didn’t see any match programmes.

Fortunately a token and pin system was in operation inside, meaning it was a task to get beers. I was about full and could feel the lack of sleep coming to hinder my progress. Our decent seats were at the rear of the lower tier behind the north goal, about half way between the goal and corner flag.


As the teams came out the Ajax ultras in the top tier in the far corner unfurled a massive banner. The ArenA was by no means full, with the visitors from Almelo being located in a couple of boxes down the main side. The visitors section remained empty.

I must confess to struggling to stay awake in the first half. I felt myself go a few times, but I need not have worried. I missed very little. Not only had Heracles turned up to park the bus, they put a few rows of cars in there for good measure. This was the first time I'd been to a game with a closed roof, but I could have probably done with some cold air to relieve my drowsiness! 


They showed literally no ambition in inflicting any damage to the Ajax goal. The home side were lacking in invention and ideas on how to break them down. There were attempts on goal from  Daley Sinkgraven, Mike van der Hoorn and Riechedly Bazoer but generally Bram Castro in the visitors net had very little to do.

The interval gave me a rest bite from the tedium as I took the opportunity for a stretch to take some photos and use the facilities and have a wash in cold water to bring myself round. I have to say that some of the home fans were a bit aggressive in general. I just got an impression that the tourist block wasn’t their favourite, although my judgement was not at its best.


The two blokes next to us turned out to a Hull City and a Barnsley fan who seemed to be enjoying their evening. Dave and I both came to the conclusion that Heracles would be a danger on a rare break as the game went on.

Straight after the break Anwar El Ghazi had a shot saved for Ajax. Arkadiusz Milik had a header blocked from a set piece as the defensive wall of Heracles stood firm. Milik came close again before the visitors actually had an effort on goal after sixty four minutes as Brahim Darri came dangerously close to opening the scoring.


Home substitute Viktor Fischer had another attempt blocked as the clocked ticked round and the home fans became even more frustrated. Even the singing of ‘Three Little Birds’ had been sang half heartedly before the start of the second period. It seemed to be that type of night.

Fischer had a shot saved before Joey Pelupessy nearly carried out a classic smash and grab raid for Heracles, but he fluffed his lines when about to shoot on goal. The game petered out shortly after, as the away team went over to thank their few supporters who had made the trip. It had been an awful ninety minutes of football.

We followed the crowds and headed back to Strandvliet station. Despite a slight detour, we found our way back to Waterlooplein station for a walk to CoCo’s Outback bar. The place was jumping with people from all over joining Australians in seeing in their big day. We bumped into the youngsters Dave had assisted earlier.


We had a cracking time as I enjoyed a good gargle on the VB’s on offer. It was certainly more interesting than the football! The bar kicked out and we grabbed some food before taking a cab back to my hosts flat.

Generally it had been a great day out in fantastic company, spoiled by a poor game. Nevertheless, I was glad I’d experienced a game in the ArenA, even if the atmosphere was a bit flat. It certainly made the next morning interesting!
















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