Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Ajax... Fifteen Years Ago: May 1992

Only two more official games are on the agenda for Ajax; namely the most important one of the season and the least important one. PSV are the Dutch champions of 1992, so Ajax can regard their last Eredivisie fixture (at SVV/Dordrecht '90) as a friendly kickabout and a test for the decisive leg of the UEFA Cup final, at home against Torino.

The encounter is equally unimportant to Dordrecht, who are 15th and 'safe'. For what it's worth: Ajax show some good football and put a score of 0-5 on the boards. Rob Aflen, John van Loen (2x) and Stefan Pettersson score for Ajax - and so does goalkeeper and former Feyenoord hero Joop Hiele, who scores a clumsy own goal, much to the enjoyment of the Ajax supporters. Meanwhile, champions PSV thrash De Graafschap 5-0, sending them to the First Division.

1.  PSV *             34-58 (82-24)
  2.  Ajax **           34-55 (83-24)
  3.  Feyenoord ***     34-49 (54-19)
  4.  Vitesse **        34-40 (47-33)
  5.  FC Groningen **   34-39 (44-37)
  6.  FC Twente         34-35 (53-49)
  7.  MVV               34-35 (42-44)
  8.  Sparta            34-35 (50-53) 
  9.  Roda JC           34-35 (41-45)
 10.  RKC               34-34 (50-49)
 11.  FC Urecht         34-33 (37-39)
 12.  Willem II         34-31 (44-45)
 13.  FC Volendam       34-28 (34-50)
 14.  Fortuna Sittard   34-25 (36-50)
 15.  SVV/Dordrecht '90 34-25 (38-64)
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
 16.  FC Den Haag [PO]  34-22 (35-63)
 17. De Graafschap **** 34-21 (29-59)
 18. VVV ****           34-12 (32-84) 
* = champions, European Champions Cup; ** = UEFA Cup;
*** = Cup Winners' Cup; **** = relegated to First Division; 
[PO] = Promotion/relagation play-offs.
Promoted from First Division: Cambuur Leeuwarden, FC Den Bosch

In the promotion/relegation play-offs, the curtain also drops for FC Den Haag, who lose to Go Ahead Eagles. Feyenoord, meanwhile, win the cup for the second straight season, beating Roda JC in the final (3-0). The Rotterdammers returned to the top of the Eredivisie this season, after a number of dismal seasons.

The 1991-1992 season is over for all Dutch football clubs - but not for Ajax. The Amsterdammers have ten days to kill until the big final at the Olympic Stadium. Public presale at De Meer ended in total chaos and fights between frustrated supporters and riot police. On Wednesday 13 May 'only' 48,000 people can attend the final, Ajax's first chance to win a European trophy in their own city.

Louis van Gaal decides not to plan any friendly fixtures, but to give the team a few days' off and then prepare for the final on the training pitch. Everybody's fit. No injuries. But on May 12 there suddenly is bad news: Dennis Bergkamp is ill. He's in bed and has high fever. Will he make it? The doctors are pessimistic and on the day of the great final there is no other option than to delete Bergkamp's name from the list of Ajax selectees for Ajax vs Torino.

Rob Alflen gets the nod from Louis van Gaal instead. He will play as a right midfielder and Aron Winter will move to the middle to play at Bergkamp's position.

Menzo; Silooy, Blind, Jonk, De Boer; Alflen, Winter, Kreek; Van 't Schip, Pettersson, Roy. Those are the eleven names. Around six o'clock the Olympic Stadium is already full - and the atmosphere is unforgettable.

Replacing poor Dennis Bergkamp in midfield: Rob Alflen, here duelling with Torino's Martin Vazquez.

Ajax look confident in the opening phase and come close to scoring a couple of times: Stefan Pettersson's header is cleared off the goal-line and a low Bryan Roy shot turned around the post by goalkeeper Marchegiani. It looks good!

But then... a turning point. After wonderful individual work from Lentini, striker Walter Casagrande towers high above the Ajax defenders. Stanley Menzo is nailed to the ground as the slamming header hits the post. Relief at the Olympic Stadium. Ajax make it to the half-time break with the precious 0-0 score on the boards, but Torino are getting stronger. They have Ajax in a hold and have started their hunt for a goal.

Around the hour mark the tension at the old Olympic of Amsterdam South has become almost unbearable. Pettersson, Van Loen and Alflen get small chances, but Ajax slowly grow rigid with fear as the minutes tick away. The pressure increases. Defender Mussi storms forward. Who's gonna stop him? He shoots - and the ball takes a deflection that is too much for Stanley Menzo. For a split-second it seems like there's no oxygen at the Olympic Stadium as the ball trickles... and hits the post!

How many minutes? Seven, maybe eight. Ajax are still alive. Don't panic now! You're going to win the UEFA Cup! Torino attack desperately. Another long ball forward. Fusi heads it back into the goalmouth and there is substitute Sordo, Torino's extra striker. He turns... volleys... and hits the cross-bar! The underside of the bloody cross-bar! Someone in heaven wants Ajax to win that cup!

The players of Torino are now foaming with frustration. Their manager, Emiliano Mondonico, lifts his seat high above his head and throws it down in anger. Ajax whack the ball forward. It rolls toward the corner flag and Stefan Pettersson wants to keep it there as long as possible. The Swede is pushed over by an onstorming Torino defender and falls down, taking the corner flag down with him. The Swede immediately grabs his shoulder and screams in agony. Broken collarbone - no doubt about it. Ajax can't replace Pettersson anymore, as Marciano Vink and John van Loen have already been brought on. They will have to survive the last seconds with ten men.

Stefan Pettersson, stretchered off just before the liberating final whistle...

And there it is! The final whistle of referee Zoran Petrovic! Don't ask how, but Ajax have won the UEFA Cup of 1992! The trilogy has been completed - and look at Louis van Gaal: he storms onto the pitch, his arms wide open. Madness. The man's been in charge of Ajax-1 for only six months and there you have it: a European trophy!

The official ceremony at the stadium: Ajax, proud winners of the UEFA Cup of 1992!

Captain Danny Blind lifts the cup inside the Olympic Stadium and then it's time to go: Leidseplein, here we come! 48,000 supporters sing at the top of their lungs as they walk down Amstelveenseweg, then turn right, all the way down Overtoom towards the City Theatre at Leidseplein. People are standing on their balconies, dancing, the speakers of their stereo sets blasting Ajax tunes into the night.

In the dressing room: Bryan Roy, Louis van Gaal and the UEFA Cup.

The players, meanwhile, have boarded their coach and are on their way to the City Theatre. But not immediately! They take a detour via the hospital, where they pick up Stefan Pettersson. The striker joins the team with his arm in a sling. Does it hurt? Hell, no! And on they go: not to Leidseplein, but to Amsterdam West, where Dennis Bergkamp's parents live. The team want to show the poor chap the cup before they show it to the fans. Bergkamp looks like a zombie and is too ill to join the team to Leidseplein, but he can smile when a photographer shoots a picture of him and Danny Blind, with the cup, sitting at the bed of his old boys' room.

It's well after eleven o'clock when Ajax arrive at Leidseplein. Danny Blind steps onto the balcony of the City Theatre. How many people are going mental down there? 80,000? 100,000? You can't even see where the crowd ends: they're shoulder to shoulder, all the way down to the Paradiso, towards Rijksmuseum. Hundreds of flares are lit as Blind steps forward on the balcony and lifts the UEFA Cup. What a party. And what makes it even better: there are no incidents, no riots, hardly any damage.

Louis van Gaal shows the trophy to the fans at Leidseplein, while everybody wants to be on that balcony...

Allow us to say it one last time: Ajax are the UEFA Cup winners of 1992!

From the hospital to Leidseplein: Stefan Pettersson.

No Ajacied even thought about it yet, but the football season ain't over. In fact, the biggest event is yet to come. Europe is preparing for Euro '92 in Sweden, where Oranje will defend their European title. No less than seven Ajax players are in the squad called up by Rinus Michels for the preparation campaign: Wim Jonk, Aron Winter, Bryan Roy, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank de Boer, John van 't Schip and Stanley Menzo. They get Michels' permission to take a week off before joining the squad, but there isn't much time to prepare: Holland play their first group game against Scotland on June 12.

Three serious friendly testcases are on the agenda before departure to Sweden: against Austria (27 May), Wales (30 May) and France (05 June). After a good week of training and a few friendly kickabouts against Dutch amateur clubs, Austria is beaten by the score of 3-2. Rijkaard, Bergkamp and Gullit score for Holland. Not bad, but definitely not great either. The second friendly, against Wales, in Utrecht on May 30, is a whole lot better: 4-0, courtesy of Roy, Van Basten, Jonk and Winter.

The last friendly, against France in early June, will tell the Dutch where they really stand. After that it's time for the real thing. (MP)

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