Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Can you hear the F-Side sing?

From the desk of the Editor
Menno Pot
October 10, 2002

Many non-Dutch Ajax USA members have seen an Ajax home game at the ArenA. I know U.S.-based fans who are crazy enough to come over quite regularly. And I know a handful of English Ajax USA members with season tickets, coming over for almost every home game.

[Photo: De Ajacied]

They know what the ArenA looks, sounds and smells like. They know how Ajax 'feels' and they know the salty, greasy taste of typical pre- and post-game supporters' snacks, such as a kroket or frikandel, pulled from the automatic 'snack wall' at Febo. You are true Ajacieden and I respect you, but you all have the same handicap.

You don't speak Dutch.

The most important (and probably only) disadvantage of that: you don't understand the yells, chants and club anthems sung by the F-Side, the block of fanatical supporters standing (not sitting!) behind the south goal of the ArenA, and their younger brothers of Vak 410, in the upper corner of the north curve.

[Photo: De Ajacied]

On some occasions, you don't want to know what they're and yelling. Thank God, racism is non-existent at the ArenA (which is more than fans op PSV can say), but when frustration is in the air, the F-Side cut up rough. On those moments, boeren (= farmers, peasants), as almost everyone from outside Amsterdam is referred to, is one of the friendliest words resounding from 'South H', the F-Side's section of residence. Many yells are one-liners about agriculture and provincialism, homosexual promiscuity and prostitution. Against Feyenoord, the May 1940 Luftwaffe bombardment of Rotterdam is a popular subject.

Enough of that.

Luckily, there also are beautiful, melodic and encouraging yells and anthems, with lyrics of love and pride. An anthology should kick-off with the official club anthem, The Ajax March, which is available on cd single at the Ajax Fanshop and is played at the ground prior to every Eredivisie home game, as the teams enter the pitch: 'A cheer resounds on all football pitches, for our beloved red and white/ Our squad of valiant De Meer heroes, our joy, our possession and pride/ Feared all across the nation, glory of our Amstel city…' etcetera. Quite honestly, the average F-Side fan does not know the words to the verses and eagerly waits to join in for the chorus, with its beautifully militant lyrics, like they were only written before the Second World War:

'Hup Ajax, hup - red and white brigade
Brave fighters, proud and bold,
No club can equal us,
red and white, our champions!'

[Photo: Ajax Foto Side]

Talking about the Second World War: the orignal words were 'Heil Ajax!' (= 'hail'), a word that was later besmeared by the Nazi's standard salute to Adolf Hitler. After the war, it was therefore replaced by the perfectly innocent, slightly archaic 'hup', which means as much as 'go!' or 'come on!'.

Luckily for you, non-Dutch Ajax fans, quite a few F-Side standard chants on the F-Side repertoire are in English: You'll Never Walk Alone, for example, originally the club anthem of Liverpool FC. Or, when there's reason for it, Queen's We Are The Champions. You know the words, I'm sure.

F-Side's impressive observance of silence after September 11, 2001. [Photo: Ajax Foto Side]

The equally legendary Land Of Hope And Glory is slightly adjusted ('Ajax is my glory, Ajax is my club'). So are You Are My Sunshine ('We love you Ajax, we love you Ajax/ you make me happy when skies are grey…' ectetera) and Que Sera: 'Que sera sera, whatever will be will be/ we're coming from Amsterdam/ que sera sera'. Also in English, is the only chant in which the F-Side explicitly refers to itself: 'Can you hear the F-Side sing?/ The boys go all the way/ And we will fight for every one/ The boys go marching in.'

A true classic is the chorus of a 1980s single by Drukwerk, a Dutch language pop band, singing with a stiff Amsterdam accent:

'Hey Amsterdam, they say you've changed,
Hey Amsterdam, there's nothing you can do right.
But whoever says that, is no real Amsterdammer,
'cos Amsterdam, you are still like you were'

[Photo: Ajax Foto Side]

The F-Side's best known chant is the one known as De Herdertjes ('The shepherds'), an F-Side arrangement of a traditional, sweet Dutch Christmas song, which literally every Dutchman learned at elementary school. Whoever was there in the late 1980s, when the F-Side version was spontaneously drafted, still can't oppress a smile when thinking back of that hilarious Sunday afternoon just before Christmas. Someone in the F-Side section started singing the song's opening lines:

'The shepherds lay at night,
at night they lay in the fields.
They heard the angels sing…'

The original continues with similarly sweet lyrics. In De Meer, however, the performer was brutally interrupted by a fellow F-Sider who started yelling: 'Ajax! Ajax! Ajax!' Football was a side-issue for the rest of the game, as the F-Side had an excellent time rehearsing its creative discovery until everyone was master of it. 'They heard the angels sing: Ajax! Ajax! Ajax!' - the chant became such a classic that filmmaker Roel van Dalen even named Ajax' centennial documentary after it, almost fifteen years later, in 2000.

Many F-Side yells, no matter whether the Ajax board is happy about it or not, refer to Ajax' much discussed reputation of being a Jewish club. F-Siders tend to refer to themselves as joden (= Jews, pronounced as 'yo-dun') in several chants. If you see the F-Side or Vak 410 bounce up and down in their section, for example, the accompanying words are: 'If you don't jump…/ If you don't jump you're not a Jew'. The repeating 'Ajax joden, super joden - hey! hey!' is common as well, just like the simple 'Let's go, joden, let's go!'

[Photo: De Ajacied]

Yells of European football fans often have an intimidating tone, and the Amsterdam F-Side is no exception. Luckily, they (or 'we', as I may proudly say) also have the irony and wit and the ability to mock at ourselves. During the first years at the massive Amsterdam ArenA, the atmosphere was often below zero, which gave the Ajax crowd the reputation of being silent. During away games, however, the Ajax section was - and still is - vocally dominant. When Ajax has secured the victory and the disappointed home crowd has turned silent, they are often called 'Ajax crowd, Ajax crowd!' from the section of travelling Ajacieden. Sometimes followed by the triumpant:

'Oooooh, they're so quiet,
Oooooh, they're so quiet,
They haven't been so quiet for many, many years,
so quiet, so quiet.'

The fans of a team losing at the ArenA are usually wished a safe trip home, with the one-liner 'You can go home on your tractors'.

Ajax fans, admittedly, feel that Ajax should be superior to all other teams. If they are, it's condidered normal. If they aren't, there's something wrong. The tremendously high expectations explain why the Ajax crowd, more than any other crowd in Holland, can turn against its own team in bad times. If Ajax plays poorly, an agitated Voetballen! Voetballen! is likely to roll from the stands: 'play football, play football!' Alternatives are the spiteful 'Play for your cash!', 'They're not worthy of the Ajax shirt' or 'We want to see Ajax!'.

[Photo: Ajax Foto Side]

In good and bad times, a general rule for visitors lucky enough to see a game from the always sold-out F-Side: if you return home with your voice still intact, you've done something wrong…

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