Tuesday, 24 July 2007

My #1 Crush

Time for a more light-hearted post, I think. Yes, football. No, I don't like to use the word soccer.

I have been a pretty serious fan of Ajax Amsterdam since the wonderfully offensive game of 1995 and the success in the Champions League that year. The mists of Vienna, the young, innocent and still unspoiled Patrick Kluivert scoring 1-0 late in the match to beat Italian giants AC Milan and take the cup home. For a fan, life couldn't get any better.

Now I happen to be a third-generation fan. The probably even better Ajax of the early seventies with the undisputed star Johan Cruyff got my father and grandfather all hooked, for life. It was a team grown men still get all misty-eyed over. Three successive European cups with superior football is by any means pretty damn impressive.

Unfortunately, the high of 1995 has since receded. True, we made the final again in 1996, but lost in a penalty shoot-out to Juventus Turin, a club that appears to lack soul because they never seem to be capable of filling their stadium. It's been pretty much downhill since, with the team struggling to even make much of a mark nationally in the Dutch league, even though there is only one serious competitor, PSV Eindhoven, a club for.... I won't start a rant about their supporters. Nor their no-risk=no-fun style of playing.

Ajax's game is now less sure-footed and attractive, and Louis van Gaal, legendary but prickly coach during the last big era, now seems intent on outclassing Ajax with his new team, small but rich and well-run AZ Alkmaar. Anyway, PSV has won six of the last eight titles, Ajax has won two, and AZ looks sure to become a serious competitor over the next couple of years. It's owned by a banker who has a reputation of calmly soldiering on for years through grim times but getting what he wants in the end. And he really wants the title.

Which brings me to this year's disaster, also known as Tragic Sunday. On the second last weekend, AZ manages to overtake PSV and Ajax to jump to the top of the league. All it needs to do is beat lowly Excelsior Rotterdam in an away match. Anything other than a big win seems inconceivable. Holland is gearing up for a mighty upset, Alkmaar for a party and the second title ever. Ajax is in second place, needs to beat Willem 2 Tilburg and hope for an unlikely upset in Rotterdam to take the title. PSV is just behind Ajax, needs to beat Vitesse Arnhem with big numbers and hope for the others to fail. The defending champions are hanging in the ropes and look ready for a knock-out blow. I'm loving it, prepared to do a lot to take the title from PSV and even more to bring it to Amsterdam.

You can probably guess by now what happened: AZ lost, Ajax beat Willem 2 2-0 but PSV decided to rise to the challenge and win 5-1. PSV's was level with Ajax but had scored one more goal during the entire campaign of 34 matches. It kept the title.

As usual with humiliation, there were suddenly plenty of people around to rub in it. I was planning to go to a party in Eindhoven that night. I braced myself for some merciless teasing and hit the bar.

To brighten up this rather bitter ending, a picture of my favourite player of the current team, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Isn't football fun to watch? ;)

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