Ajax fans emerged from Amsterdam’s ArenA stadium cheering after the squad’s 3-1 victory in the final match to decide the Dutch Premier League title – they haven’t brought home the cup since 2004 – but the atmosphere at the match was electrifying and later became tense, at times menacing.
“You could feel the tension all around. The people were jumping up and down. The concrete stands in the stadium shook. It was impressive, but quite frightening too,” says Radio Netherlands Worldwide correspondent Theo Tamis.
It was the first time that the winner of the Dutch league title had been decided in a direct encounter between the top two teams. The clash came exactly a week after FC Twente defeated Ajax 3-2 to clinch the Dutch Cup.
With colours unfurled, some 80,000 fans thronged into Museumplein, a large square in the south side of Amsterdam, to welcome their heroes.
The squad travelled with trainer Frank de Boer by coach from the ArenA to the city. The journey didn’t pass uneventfully: in a scene reminiscent of last month’s Real Madrid trophy incident, goal keeper Maarten van Stekelenburg and centre-back Jan Vertonghen let the trophy fall from their open top bus when it touched tram wires above them.
After defeating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final on 20 April, Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos dropped their 15-kilogram trophy, causing it to fall in front of the open top bus, which ran over it.
Clash of the managers
Ajax’s victory has a bitter-sweet taste, the dent in the cup symbolic in the light of recent management clashes.
The club’s board of directors announced their resignation at the end of March after a run-in with football legend and former Ajax player Johan Cruyff, who had been brought in by the club to make recommendations to improve the players’ performance.
When the board refused to implement all of Cruyff’s proposals, the football guru rallied the support of the members’ association and the board was more or less ousted.
Ajax had failed to bring home the league title since 2004. The question mark hanging over the future of the club, as well as the poor performance at the beginning of the season added to yesterday’s emotion at the ArenA.
"People felt that Ajax had lost so many games and so many crucial players, like Luis Suarez and in a sense Mounir El Hamdaoui, and the crisis had reached such deep levels, that the championship was the only way out. The fans wanted a title as comfort for a kind of lost season, a season full of friction," says RNW's Tamis.
Party turns sour
In Amsterdam’s Museumplein, the celebrations marked Ajax’s 30th claim to the league title. The city’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan congratulated the club and its trainer, former player Frank de Boer:
“Under your leadership, Frank, Ajax has won. Amsterdam, have a good party.”
But the party turned sour early in the evening. Daily NRC Handelsblad reports that dozens of people had to be treated for injuries sustained after they were squashed in the crowd. An emergency hospital post was set up behind the stage as ambulances were unable to push through the crammed square.
The festivities started at about six o’clock in the evening. Shortly before 8pm, clashes broke out between groups of supporters. Fans who had climbed up television towers were pelted with beer cans and a bottle was thrown onto the stage.
Soon after eight o’clock, the organisers urged people to go home, but a crush ensued as some 80,000 fans had difficulty finding a way out. At half past nine, Museumplein was finally cleared. Police say they had arrested 46 supporters by the end of the evening.
Cruyff: missing from the match
Johan Cruyff himself decided not to attend the match – he didn’t want to be seen as claiming the credit. He did lavish praise on Frank de Boer and said Ajax’s “new chapter could not open in a more positive way”.
But the football legend warned that the team would have to work on becoming more consistent in their play. “This national championship should be the beginning of a long period where Ajax remains on a constant high level. We want to avoid situations in the future where management changes its policy based on one game that went well or badly.”