Saturday 21st November 2015
Ajax v SC Cambuur
Given that this was the first day of ‘Brussels Lockdown’, I wasn’t even sure if I’d get to this game. The Amsterdam ArenA, home of Ajax, was always a stadium I wanted to visit regardless of the state of Ajax themselves. Turns out they are a very decent team, with weaknesses and flaws, who play in an amazing stadium. The Amsterdam ArenA is pretty special and, if Ajax can somehow unify their seemingly factioned fans, it could have an atmosphere to match.
The closure of the Brussels Metro was more of an inconvenience than a problem as I simply took a tram and bus, staying overground, to Gare du Nord to get on the Megabus (www.megabus.com). Sleet was falling, marking the end of the extended Autumn, soaking into my socks before the bus had even arrived. Luckily, it arrived punctually although it was 20 minutes late leaving Brussels. The shops and bars were still open and it felt like a quiet Saturday but not the deserted town the media were portraying it as. The bus was heated, had a USB port for me to charge my phone and, incredibly, the wifi was working. Not bad for 12€ return! The bus took a little over 3 hours due to traffic around Rotterdam.
The Zuiderseeweg ‘Park and Ride’ where the bus stops is connected to Amsterdam Central by the number 26 tram, which gets you into town in under 10 minutes. A ticket for 24 hours (not a calendar day, but for a full 24 hours) on the trams and metro is €7.50 and works similarly to an Oyster card in that you scan when getting on and off the tram. You can buy the ticket from the booth in the middle of the tram. In general, the public transport in Tramsterdam was fantastic. It just works. Like the roads with lanes for cars, bicycles, trams and pedestrians. These things are done with a more of a carefree abandon in Belgium and aren’t done at all in the UK.
Tickets and Accommodation
My hotel was 2 minutes walk from Dam Square. Amsterdam looks even more amazing with Christmas lights everywhere. The Nova hotel http://www.novahotel.nl/EN/english.html met my needs perfectly. I checked in to the hotel, checked in with my family at home and then went to check out the Amsterdam ArenA.
The Arena can be reached via train or metro but it is the same stop. 15-20 minutes from Centraal station and you’re there. It’s quick and efficient and is obviously in receipt of reasonable investment.
I didn’t need to order tickets thanks to a free press pass (thanks Ajax!) but the club might want to review this policy. Dutch fans who want to attend a game need to have an Ajax Club Card, which you can order by clciking http://www.ajax.nl/tickets-support/tickets.htm If you are from outside the Netherlands, you must order via http://www.visitajax.com/ and the tickets are much more expensive! There were a lot of empty seats in this game and yet visitajax.com said ‘Sold Out’. Charging people more money because they are not from the Netherlands just isn’t ethical.
From the road, the ArenA looks like an unstable muffin. The overhanging roof is topped with solar panels and the retracting mechanism. You can park in the stadium itself and a road leads into the stadium. It really is spectacular.
Clearly during the planning stage for the ArenA, people sat down and thought about it. What would fans like? How else could we make use of the facilities in the vicinity? It is close to perfect. Upon arrival at the station, you go down the escalator into a large ‘plaza’ area – I don’t have the vocabulary in English to give it a better name. There is a large concert venue, an IMAX cinema, some large shops and loads of bars and restaurants. It naturally lends itself to people arriving early for the game and having some food and drink together and congregating in large numbers. A few mounted cops surveyed everything outside the bars but there was no sign of chimpery or nonsense. I grabbed a hot dog (interestingly, served with cheese as a default option) and made my way to the stadium as the club had requested that I arrive early due to additional security checks in light of recent events.
The South (Zuid) Entrance was lit up as a French Tricouleur and is adjacent to a bar called Burger Bitch (burgerbitch.nl/) which seemed to me as an imperfect use of English slang and reminded me of ‘My Tea is Rich’ from ‘A Year in the Merde.’
Toddling round to the Main Entrance, clutching my email printout like Charlie Bucket with his Golden Ticket, I wandered into this reception area that is shinier than my head after applying after-sun. The receptionist found my name on the press list, printed my ticket and I made my way to security. They simply verified that my camera case contained a camera and then I ascended the 6 flights of hospitality, function suites etc until I got to the top and was shown to the press room.
Here, I managed to catch the first half of the Real Madrid v Barcelona match (where an ex-Ajax forward was causing havoc) and I had a free ham roll and coffee. The room was set up for a press conference, with names, which made me wonder if Frank de Boer was giving a pre-match announcement. Forty five minutes before kick off, I walked out of the press room and into the cafeteria concourse area with the real fans, drunk a nice draught Grolsch for 3€ before heading to my press seat.
I was pretty pleased that the roof was closed. The last time I visited a stadium with a roof was at Schalke, where the kept the roof open even though it rained throughout the entire match. Once inside, the stadium is impressive. My only gripe about the stadium is that the seat colours are stupid. Deck it out in predominantly red with white writing. There’s nothing intimidating about seeing a kaleidoscope of colour in the stands. Ironically, the fans themselves were not very colourful. By that I mean there was a notable absence of club colours being worn. Again, this gives the impression that the stadium is filled with tourists like me.
I watched some of the Clasico on the fabulous big screens waiting for the atmosphere to build but the volume and atmosphere remained tepid – only the octaves built up indicating a high density of children in the vicinity. I was intrigued by the empty seats behind the goals. I was hoping that meant a big tifo was to be unveiled or maybe that the tickets weren’t sold in that area unless needed.
The ‘Anthem’ is played which could be rousing but few people sing along. The focusing on fans around the stadium on the big screen is a nice touch though. The teams come out and a minute of silence is observed very well. I knew it had ended by the teams breaking up.
Ajax set out playing a fairly defined 4-3-3. However, they lacked any genuine penetration or width from out wide and Milik was disappointing despite his goal. They were frustrating but entertaining simultaneously. Veltman and Riedewald played plenty of long diagonal passes to the wings in the style of Frank de Boer. Klaasen was the main creative and attacking force as the advanced central midfielder.
Bizarrely, all of the first half goals came from crosses or corners and the marking was abysmal. SC Cambuur were unlucky to be 3 goals down at half time but the tragedy that is zonal marking ensured that the goals would flow. Ajax also looked shaky at the back when crosses came in. If I were managing a team against them it would be cross balls all the way.
4-1 up at half time, you could have forgiven Ajax for simply seeing the game out. However, they actually played better in the second half. Younes woke up and became a threat and Cambuur did look beaten. The star of the evening for Ajax was Mitchell Dijks at left back. He defended well and was probably Ajax’s best attacker. The number 10 was also Klaasen in a glaasen. They need a striker though. Milik didn’t convince at all, despite heading a nice goal from a cross.
The half time keepy up challenge for kids is a great idea. Places emphasis development and on ball control instead of glorifying the chubby middle-aged man trying to lob a ball off of a crossbar. I enjoyed this.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about this match was the entrance of fans behind the goal at half time. Like ants emerging from a hole, they spread out in the stand to a chorus of boos. It was clearly some kind of protesting but what were they protesting against? When those latecomers started singing, they were again booed. Seeing fans of the same team booing each other is a new one on me. Perhaps if they spoke to each other, their team would have a more vocal support.
To describe the experience in a few words, I’d say: amazing city, fabulous transport links, wonderful stadium, decent team but flat support. When it comes to atmosphere, I haven’t seen anything to convince me that Germany isn’t king.
- Quality of match: ***
- Stadium character: *****
- Stadium atmosphere: **
- Hospitality: *****
- Ease of access: *****
- Things to do around the stadium: *****
- Overall: ****.5