During the latter half of the 1960’s into the 1970’s Dutch football experienced a flowering of talent and ideas that culminated in Ajax Amsterdam winning three consecutive European Cups, the modern day Champions League, from ’71 – ’73. Naturally Johan Cruyff was their best known player, from my memories the best player of his era and as far as his overall influence in the game above Pele and Maradona, but they had a superb manager in Rinus Michels and a number of highly skilled and intelligent players who made Total Football a reality. The club’s home was at De Meer Stadion, opened in 1934, and for 62 years it was the site of their success, at least in the league.
De Meer was an intimate ground and while peak capacity was just under 30,000 later safety regulations limited to the stadium to 19,000 supporters. For much of its life De Meer also lacked floodlights, with installation finally occurring in 1971 allowing midweek matches to be played. Before the floodlights most of Ajax’s midweek home matches were played at the Amsterdam Olympic Stadion, and even after the lights “big” matches like European competition, took place at the same ground. The capacity of the Olympic Stadion was more than double that of De Meer and even though the atmosphere was less intimate, there was an athletics track and a banked cycling track between the pitch and the stands, being able to have 64,000 supporters at the match trumped other considerations.
This situation wasn’t unique, Arsenal played many European matches at Wembley when Highbury was too small to meet demand, but it went on until 1996 and the move to Amsterdam Arena. The funny thing is that Ajax first played at the Olympic Stadion in 1928 as far as I have found without being literate in Dutch: they played for a longer period at there than at the De Meer. Naturally Ajax played more matches at De Meer but those big European nights in the 60’s and 70’s up to their latest Champions League win in 1995 were at the Olympic Stadium.
Our photos of De Meer are interesting beyond the ground itself because they are from April 26th, 1996, taken before the final match at the ground. Going thru our archive is a slow process in part because of photos like these ones and the ones of the Olympic Stadion that show a bit of history. Every ground has a history but some have a larger part of the fabric of the game. De Meer was the home of Total Football while Amsterdam Olympic Stadion was home the the first modern day Olympic flame housed in the Marathon Tower. Our photos of the Olympic Stadion were taken in 1996 when the ground was being renovated, removing stands and add ons that followed the Olympic Games. This reduced capacity considerably but as Ajax would now be playing all of their home games at Amsterdam Arena lowering capacity wasn’t an issue.
Amsterdam Olympic Stadion was also the full time home to other football clubs: from 1928-1972 Amsterdam Football Club DWS, an acronym for the Dutch phrase “Strong Through Willpower,” and FC Blauw-Wit (Blue-White) shared the ground before merging into FC Amsterdam before leaving the Olympic Stadion in 1980. Imagine one Ground being used by three different clubs as their full- or part-time home over such a long period. How things have changed though, with the merged clubs being reborn with the demise of FC Amsterdam in the 80’s and the changes in the European game that have left Ajax on the outside looking in over the 20 years since they lost the 1996 Champions League Final to Juventus on penalties.
The changes in the business side of the game and the Bosman Rule combined to make building a powerhouse much more difficult for those outside the big four leagues. Ajax aren’t the only team and the Dutch Eredivisie isn’t the only league to suffer as Scotland, Belgium and many other smaller countries have seen their own top clubs, that had some success in Europe before the changes in the game, fall by the wayside. There is renewed talk of an “Atlantic League” that would give top clubs from smaller countries a Premier League of their own but the idea has been mooted before without any changes. Whatever the case, the current situation isn’t helping the leagues in the smaller countries and in many cases has reduced them to feeding the clubs in the big four European leagues.