Monday, May 30, 2011

The Greatest Game Ever

From the desk of...
Erik Bielderman, Alexis Menuge and Jaap de Groot (L'Equipe, France)
May 14, 2005
Translation: Bertrand Chardon

L'Equipe magazine asked this question: 'What was the best European game ever?' Many European journalists voted, and the winner was...

Ajax Amsterdam - Bayern München 4-0
(Arie Haan 53', 70' - Gerrie Mühren 67' - Johan Cruyff 89')
Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam
07 March, 1973
Referee: Rudolf Scheurer (Switzerland)

Ajax Amsterdam: Stuy; Suurbier, Blankenburg, Schilcher, Krol; Haan, Mühren, Neeskens; Rep, Cruyff, Keizer (coach: Stefan Kovacs).

Bayern München: Maier; Hansen, Beckenbauer, Schwarzenbeck, Breitner; Zobel, Roth, Hoeness; Durnberger, Muller, Hoffmann (coach: Udo Lattek).

The TV footage has gotten old. The black and the white now fade in a uniform grey. Michel Drucker is at the microphone, assisted by Michel Dhrey. They're on air. The game has been going on for 5 minutes. Roth, Johan Cruyff's guard dog, has already been booked by the referee and given a yellow card.

David Endt, a junior of the Ajax ranks, sticks to the right sideline where Wim Suurbier, the flying right back of Ajax is playing. "I had been told by my coach to thouroughly observe Wim's play, as I used to play as a right back too. I was over the moon".

Match ticket for 'The Greatest European Game Ever'.

A few minutes earlier, as he was sitting on a school bench in front of the pros' lockers, he at last had the chance to see his idol, Gerd Müller: "Bayern were in locker room 53, Ajax in 52 and we (the 'ball boys' on the side of the field) were in 51. It was like a final for us. The Germans, European champions in 1972, were challenging us, the Great Ajax."

The time machine can start spinning.

It is 8:20 PM on Wednesday March 7th, 1973. The doors of the Dutch locker room open. The Ajax players are coming out first. They stare arrogantly toward Bayern München who are still in their locker room. The stadium gods are all there.

Except for Barry Hulshoff, the bearded giant, who's injured. Gerd Müller, in spite of a serious crack in his fibula, is in the German starting eleven. There are fierce eye challenges in the corridors. Gerrie Mühren, the Ajax midfielder, doesn't play that little mind game. Shy as he is, he prefers looking down to his shoes. "Suurbier was a tough guy, he teased a lot. I was calm. There used to be some beef between both teams. A few months earlier we had beaten them 5-0 in a friendly in Munich, and they didn't exactly enjoy it. That was probably one of our best games. At 5-0 we decided to stop. 'It's enough'."

A few years later, in 1978 for Johan Cruyff's 'farewell game', Ajax would invite Bayern to Amsterdam for a not-so-friendly friendly. The Germans had their revenge, clinching a devastating 0-8 victory. "Let's atomize them," said Müller that night.

Bayern still weren't over that 5-0 of August 1972. Ruud Krol remembers how the game was over before it had even started: "As soon as we put on the Ajax jersey we grew ten centimeters in five seconds, and we were standing straighter."

"The stadium was like a volcano. Only against Independiente for the World Cup I'd experienced that feeling," says Heinz Stuy, Ajax's goalkeeper. "His nickname was Heinz Kroket because of his tendency to drop balls like hot kroketten [a kind of Dutch, deep-fried snack, ed.]," says Gerrie Mühren, illustrating his story by blowing his fingertips. Stuy doesn't like to talk about this nickname and quickly changes the subject: "Since the end of World War II it has not exactly been a love story between the Dutch and the Germans. I know what I'm talking about. I was born in Germany, lived there for seven years and I didn't speak a word of Dutch, so... My parents were 'half-and-half'. Besides: I was annoyed because before the game Udo Lattek, Bayern's coach, had said that I wasn't a good goalkeeper and that his team would net five! Pfff...."

The first half is really tough. Ajax play in a 7-3 formation, as usual. Suurbier, Blankenburg and Krol defend at the middle line. The other players chase the ball as deep as in the German penalty box. "We always played like that," explains Johnny Rep, who is now the coach of the local amateur team on the Dutch island of Texel. The handsome Ajax legend, who used to be a very young starter for Ajax, now cheerfully says: "Pressure, pressure. We had to get the ball back as deep as possible in the opposition's part of the field, before 'the flower of a German attack could even bloom'."

Sepp Maier, in his black suit, seems to be mourning the German hopes. The keeper is wobbly. A ball he drops is cleared off the line by Zobel in the 40th minute. Krol fires from 20 meters, but his shot ends up on the left post (43').

"We killed them physically," explains Krol, now an assistant-coach at Ajax. The few counter-attacks of Bayern München are lost in the history of football. The Ajax machine is now running full speed. Jacques Ferran, reporter for France Football, writes a few days later: "That amazing Ajax vs Bayern... Robert Budzyndski, one of the few French technical directors in attendance, confessed to me that in the car on his way back he constantly had flashbacks of that game he couldn't forget. The lesson Ajax teached, no doubt about it, will make it all over the world."

At half-time calm is restored. A bit too much calm perhaps in the German locker room. "At 0-0 we were way too confident. We thought that nothing could happen. We should have been more careful given the passion of the crowd and of the opposite team."

In locker room 52 Stefan Kovacs busy smoking a cigarette, was quiet. Stuy: "Anyway, he knew that this team didn't need any advice. Cruyff and Keizer just did the job. Kovacs was just surfing on Rinus Michels' legacy." Consequently the coach speaks only few words: "Pressure, pressure! Everything will be O.K."

"We weren't worried," says Mühren.

Cruyff confirms: "That game will remain one of the best ever by Ajax. We were at the top of our glory and we were transcended by the support of a whole nation, the whole European football community. Our style was admired by everybody. And even if that Bayern team had guts and talent we knew that we would keep up with them without a problem. Everybody wanted us to go through. That is why that victory was so important."

A few minutes after the beginning of the second half, Arie Haan pounces on a ball dropped by Maier, after a Schilcher shot: 1-0 to Ajax (53'). Maier is dismayed. Gerrie Mühren has a good feeling. "Sepp was nervous. The Germans were afraid. We could read that in their eyes."

The massacre could begin. At the microphone, Michel Drucker says: "67th minute. 7th corner from the right side of the German goal for Ajax. Maier drops the ball. Throw in on the opposite side. Rep throws the ball into the pack. Bad clearance from Breitner.... Ooohhh, Mühren! Amazing volley from 25 meters! I believe Maier has never been beaten by such a goal! Show this one at the world's football schools!"

In the production van the NOS director is apalled. He was sure that the throw in wasn't dangerous, so he decided to change the camera angle and missed the volley. You could only guess what the strike had looked like from the camera angle from behind Stuy's goal, 80 meters away. "That goal has become a cult thing because it remained invisible - or almost, anyway."

Mühren would have deserved a place in European football history: "I scored one of the most beautiful and important goals in the history of Ajax - and nobody saw it."

Mühren is one of the people that history has forgotten. Too shy. Always sacrificing himself in the game without the ball to open space for the stars, Cruyff and Neeskens. But Mühren, a monster of technique, likes to talk about himself differently: "During the grand opening of Stuy's restaurant, Le Provence, in December 1973 I had bet him that I could make the ball cross the street and pass through the open window of the entrance. A journalist who was skeptical was standing in the window. Bang, bull's eye! He had to be taken to the hospital for surgery."

Sepp Maier, recalls being alone in his hotel room in the center of Amsterdam, just after an eerie dinner "where everyone swore revenge in the return leg." His room has a view of a dark canal, the silence of the night and the sleep that never comes. "It was a nightmare. Never in my life had I lost in such in dreadful way. I felt so sick about it, I ended up getting out of bed, gathering all my football stuff and throwing it into the canal."

That story never made it to the Dutch players at the time. Ruud Krol is astounded when he hears about it. "It's incredible, but that's a good one! It's one of the best I ever heard, actually. Imagine that: Sepp throwing his stuff into a canal at night. Football is unique and wonderful sometimes... The guy who found his belongings in the water must have been pleased."

Game programme of Ajax vs Bayern München, 1973.

The game, after Mühren's goal, is like a capital execution: two clinical headers by Haan and Cruyff - and the head of Bayern München rolls on the floor. Stuy could appreciate it at the other end: "They were looking down. Desperate. That day, even a classy player like Beckenbauer started kicking opponents out of frustration."

It's over. Swiss referee Rudolf Scheurer brings Bayern's tragedy to an end. David Endt rushes to the locker room. "I heard an explosion of joy in the Ajax room. I was behind the door and I heard the guys laughing. Suurbier with his big voice. And with my other eye I was looking at Gerd Müller."

Der Bomber has not forgotten: "We were down after that spanking. But to me it was even worse when Cruyff decided to skip the return leg two weeks later, because the job was already done. I was really shocked by that arrogance."

Another Bayern player, Franz Roth, was disillioned: "Never since have I lost like that. It is the worst defeat of my career. I had to mark Johan Cruyff, so can you imagine how down I was after the game?"

The night is definitely black. On the way back to Germany the bus of the German team cuts through the night and the Dutch fog. David Endt goes back home. By bike. Heinz Stuy is as usual one the last players to leave the locker room: "The youngsters were going on a pub crawl in the city, but Paula, my wife, was waiting for me. So I went back home. With a headful of dreams."

Just like David Endt.

* * * * *

Epilogue... Bayern won 2-1 in Munich, but Ajax went through. They then eliminated Real Madrid (2-1 and 1-0) in the semis, and then Juventus in the final (1-0). It was their third European Cup triumph in a row. Bayern München would the win the following three.

Belgrade, 30 May 1973: Johan Cruyff lifts Ajax's third European Cup in a
row, after having swapped jerseys with a player of losers Juventus.

Source: L'Equipe / Translated for Ajax USA by Bertrand Chardon

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Obituary for a fansite: AJAX USA (1995-2008)

We almost can’t believe we’re announcing this, but we are.

We’re calling it quits. Ajax USA is saying farewell.

You will have noticed that something changed in recent months. We were slower to the trigger than we used to be. We skipped a few match reports. We ignored some important news facts. We were not as good, not as relentlessly devoted as we once were.

The reason? It’s a combination of a few different things.

Firstly, our lives and careers have changed. Jim McGough, Ajax USA’s publisher, had no kids when he founded Ajax USA back in 1995. Now, he has two boys and a much busier job. Menno Pot, Ajax USA’s editor, was just starting out as a freelance journalist when he started writing match and news reports for Ajax USA, back in 1999. He, too, is much, much busier now. Finding the time to keep Ajax USA up-to-date has become an uphill battle, a struggle – and that’s not what we want Ajax USA to be.

But there’s something else, and we have to be honest about it. We don’t enjoy it as much anymore as we once did. We’re running out of steam and no: it’s got nothing to do with Ajax’s string of disappointing seasons. Some of Ajax’s worst seasons were great seasons for Ajax USA, so that’s not it. Our passion for Ajax is still there, and will always be, but our passion to write reports about every Ajax match, every news fact and – as frequently as possible – about the great history of our club... It died a death.

Finally, perhaps the most significant thing: our content has become a commodity. We’re just not necessary any longer, and that has taken the wind out of our sails.

Ajax USA has been there, in one form or another, since 1995. We’re older than or any other still-published Ajax website. Ajax USA started, believe it or not, as a fax service, in 1995; Jim would collect Eredivisie news and results from Internet Bulletin Board Systems, or BBS sites (there was no Ajax news in English on the web; none) and then fax it to friends. Then, he briefly switched over to email distribution.

And then, in January of 1996, Jim launched the first version of Ajax USA, the website. He maintained it mostly alone, with a few contributions from guest writers. In the early days, Jim had technical help from some nerdy friends. (You know who you are.) But it was mostly a one-man show.

Then, in 1999, Menno Pot began writing news and match reports, and his totally original historical content. Ajax USA was transformed, and really took off. We became the most popular, up-to-date and reliable source for Ajax news in English on the Internet. We were far better than the English version of Hell, let’s just say it, for once: for a long time we were the best out there, period. We were always 100% free of advertising and 100% independent. Thousands of ‘Ajax starved’ supporters from across the globe relied on us: they couldn’t watch Ajax games, and it was tremendously difficult for them to stay informed. In those days we provided a service that was badly needed. At our height, we could occasionally have more than ten thousand unique site visitors in a single day.

But times have changed. Almost every Ajax match is available online these days. Sometimes you pay a few bucks for it (and you’ll get a perfect feed with English commentary); sometimes you don’t pay a penny and you’ll be watching a grainy, semi-legal feed with some dude doing the play-by-play in Chinese. But it’s available. All of it. Ajax news in English has become a commodity. Every Ajax news fact can be read in English. Everywhere and almost immediately.

In other words: We’re just not needed any longer. We were there before the internet became a big thing, and we were way ahead of our time. Today we’re almost old-fashioned.

The combination of the above factors made us decide to pull the plug. We always promised ourselves to do so as soon as our passion began to evaporate, as soon as got the feeling that Ajax USA, our beloved little baby, was dying on us. We’ve reached that point. It’s time to go.

Jim and Menno will remain friends. We will continue to ‘talk Ajax’ on Ajax Talk and we will continue to moderate the English zones over there. Hopefully the Ajax USA community we created will stay more or less intact. It’s nice to know you. But Ajax USA, the website itself, is saying goodbye.

However, we’re not going to flush more than ten years of Ajax writing down the toilet: we’ll leave all of our legacy content online. The match reports, the news reports, the Eredivisie club profiles, the Ajax club history, 15 Years Ago... all of that will remain available. But there will be no more updates.

We did this for Ajax. We did it ‘cos it was fun. We did it because we thought we were pretty damn’ good at what we did. And last but not least: we did it for you. If we ever gave you the feeling that you were part of something, an Ajax ‘family’ of some sort, we achieved our goal.

Thank you for your support. In the words of Neil Young and Kurt Cobain: “My my, hey hey, it’s better to burn out than to fade away”. And don’t forget... always Ajax.

Jim McGough, Publisher
Menno Pot, Editor
Ajax USA

NOTE: Ajax USA is not for sale. Our content, our staff, or domain names, our mascot. None of it. So don't ask. :-P

Monday, December 1, 2008

1900 - 1915: The Ancient Ajax

A History of Ajax
by Menno Pot

"An entirely new Football Club"

Walking along Kalverstraat you can hardly imagine what the street looked like in 1900. The original 17th century gable-roofs are hidden from view by the neon signs and sign-boards of what is now Amsterdam's busiest shopping street. Just off Dam Square, at #2, is Fame Music Megastore. Most of the people purchasing a CD, Playstation game or DVD over there are totally unaware that football history was created on that very spot just over a century ago.

The man who founded Ajax: Floris Stempel.

On 14 March 1900 a young student named Floris Stempel sent a letter to a group of his friends, saying: "Hereby the undersigned invites you politely to grace us with your presence in one of the upper rooms of Café-Bar 'Oost-Indië', at number 2, Kalverstraat, on Sunday morning at 9 hours and 3 quarters, to discuss the establishment of an entirely new Football Club."

What Stempel wrote was, in fact, not completely true: the football club he wanted to establish was not "entirely new". Stempel had been chairman of a low-key football club some six years earlier, in early 1894, or possibly late 1893. The players at the time referred to themselves as a 'club' because one of them, Han Dade, possessed his own leather football. Moreover, they officially rented a lawn in Willemspark, Amsterdam-South, to play their games. The name of the club: Ajax, after the ancient Greek warrior.

Co-founders and brothers Han and Johan Dade wearing the jersey of the 'prehistoric Ajax'.

The oldest proof of Ajax's existence is a letter by Floris Stempel, sent to his friend Carel Reeser on 15 May 1894, in which the chairman dictates the official club colours: red and white. The oldest exisiting membership card of the 'Footh Ball Club "Ajax"' (including the beautiful English spelling error) is dated 3 June 1894.

In the 1890s one football club after the other was founded in The Netherlands in general, and in Amsterdam in particular. The proliferation of clubs forced the newly founded Amsterdam Football Association (AVB) to put a list of strict requirements for football clubs together, in order to create a league structure and avoid chaos in the city's football landscape. The requirements were too strict for the Ajax of Stempel and his friends: the 'prhistoric' Ajax died on the verge and had silently vanished by 1896.

Four years later, however, Stempel decided to give it another try. On 18 March 1900 he became the first official chairman of the re-born 'Football-Club Ajax' (now spelled correctly, although he still possedded a stash of old, unused membership cards with the spelling error, which the club continued to use for a few years). His friends and fellow founders Han Dade and Carel Reeser joined him in the club's first board. How would they have reacted if someone had told them that their club would celebrate its centenary in a futuristic stadium with a capacity of 51,500, built at the bottom of Bijlmermeer (a lake, miles away from the city in 1900; a reclaimed suburb in 2000)? And that their Ajax would be voted the world's fifth greatest football club of the 20th century?

A lucrative first season...

Ajax did not return to the lawn in Willemspark. The first home ground of the new Ajax was 'across het IJ', the water that separates Amsterdam from the rest of the Noord-Holland province. In the undeveloped Buiksloterham polder to be precise, now a suburb of Amsterdam-North. New members paid a registration fee of 50 cents, followed by a member's fee of 25 cents a year. These fees were remarkably high, so that Ajax was one of the more exclusive football clubs in Amsterdam. Most of the playing members, like the founders, were students and boys from middle and upper class families.

The board took the club seriously from the outset, which is illustrated by the fact that the membership's presence for matches was compulsory: the penalty for not showing up was a fine of 10 cents, and this wasn't the only fine defined in the club's official regulations. Some of other fines: 25 cents for walking away during a game, 5 cents for refusing to carry club equipment, 10 cents for swearing or fighting during a game and 5 cents for not paying attention during a game.

The oldest ever Ajax team photograph from 1900 shows the team lined up in formation. Goalkeeper Cor Kist wears a woollen hat and holds the ball. The oldest Ajax line-up we know today is completed by defenders Harbord and Dijkstra, midfielders Brockman, Holst and Hertel and forwards Pasteuning, Stallmann, Geissler, Martaré and Van der Laan.

The photograph also shows that the Ajax of 1900 abandoned red and white as its club colours. The team wore the colours of the Amsterdam crest -- black and red -- presumably to underscore Ajax's metropolitan origins. An extra advantage of those colours was the fact that most men wore black clothing and black trousers anyway, so that a special club jersey wasn't required. The first, simple Ajax uniform was all-black, with a red sash tied around the waists of the players. This uniform lasted less than a year. The '1st Anniversary' team photograph from March 1901 shows that it was soon replaced by the the first official Ajax kit: a jersey with vertical red and white stripes and 'dark' shorts (black, brown, grey - whatever the men had in their wardrobe). This kit was also used by the 'prehistoric' Ajax of the mid-1890s.

Soon after the foundation of the club, Ajax signed up for its first official AVB league participation. The club started at the lowest level: the AVB Second Class. The times of unofficial kickabouts were over. Ajax played its first official AVB league game on 29 September 1900, away at DOSB, and won by the score of 1-2. Ajax finished second in its four-team league. The first season also yielded commercial success: Ajax's first ever treasurers (and players of the team), Hertel and Geissler, proudly announced a profit of no less than four guilders and 31½ cents at season's end. Which was enough to pay for the team's first ever 'road trip': on 8 April 1901 Ajax played its first game outside of Amsterdam: in Haarlem. It was the first time for many of the players to travel by train. The opponent was a club named Oranje. Ajax won: 2-4.

The first silverware

Ajax soon became known as a well-organized club and attracted increasing numbers of spectators. The club impressed its opposition with its excellent facilities: Ajax had its own, wooden dressing room with coat-hangers and cans of fresh water. Unfortunately it was quite a journey to get to the Ajax ground from the city: after having crossed the IJ using the Central Station ferry, it was a pretty long walk to the Buiksloterham polder. Ajax's first move to a new ground took place as early as in 1901: it was situated on Laanweg. Still 'over the IJ', but considerably closer to the ferry's landing stage.

In 1902 Ajax first entered a western division of the Third Class of the national Dutch football league, supervised by the Dutch Football Association (NVB). The club decided not to leave the AVB league, so that Ajax briefly played in two leagues at the same time. The step from the Third to the Second Class was made after only one season. The most prestigious piece if silverware in those years, however, was the Gouden Kruis ('Golden Cross') of the city of Amsterdam, a 'knock out' competition structured like modern cup competitions. After having lost the finals of 1903 and 1904 the edition of 1906 was won, beating AFC in the final (4-3). Ajax had received its first medal in 1902 (for best goal-difference in its league...), yet the Golden Cross of 1906 can be regarded as the first prestigious prize Ajax ever won.

The Golden Cross, first won in 1906. [Photo:]

1907-1911: years of ambition

The winning of the Golden Cross stirred up the club's ambition and marks the end of Ajax's 'freewheeling years'. A goal was set: promotion to the First Class of the NVB, sooner rather than later. Ajax started promoting its home games in the city, in order to attract larger crowds - and soon decided that a second move, to the 'city side' of the IJ, was a must. Ajax crossed the water in 1907 to its third ground, situated at #86 Middenweg in the newly built eastern suburb of Watergraafsmeer. From now on it was a piece of cake to travel to the Ajax ground from the city - by steam tram.

July 1908 saw a merger with a club named Holland, a club that (like Ajax) was getting increasingly frustrated by its own inability to jump to the First Class. Holland was effectively 'swallowed' by Ajax and ceased to exist, while Ajax only slightly changed its name: from 'Football-Club Ajax' into 'Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax', usually abbreviated as 'AFC Ajax' - the name that has remained unchanged ever since.

A modest milestone was reached on 26 December 1908, as Ajax played foreign opposition for the first time. The guests: Daring Brussels, a club that (after a string of mergers) is now part of Belgium's RWD Molenbeek. The Amsterdammers beat their first international opposition in convincing style: 3-0.

A second Golden Cross was won in May 1909 (beating Blauw Wit in the final), but by that time the medal felt like a consolation prize. Ajax wanted only one thing: the First Class! In order to achieve promotion the club decided to hire what some of Holland's best clubs (Sparta, HVV, DFC) already had: a coach! The first ever man to train was recruited from the country where football was of almost superhuman quality for Dutch standards: England! The Ajax board received several recommendations and ended up hiring a man who had played for Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Clyde and the Irish national team: John Kirwan. He became the first ever coach of Ajax in the summer of 1910.

A coach, a stadium and... promotion!

Meanwhile, the Ajax home ground at 86, Middenweg was turned into a real football stadium. By 1911 wooden stands and dressing rooms had sprung up. The ground was known as The Stadium in Amsterdam and is now usually referred to as the 'wooden stadium'. It held some 10,000 spectators. There is a not-so-beautiful shopping mall on its location today. With a real coach and a real stadium Ajax finally finished tops in its Second Class division. Noteworthy detail: Ajax had to miss out on one of its best players, Gé Fortgens, in the last game. He was invited to become the first Ajacied to play for the Dutch national team. He made his Holland début on 19 March 1911 in the away game against Belgium in Antwerp - and, for the record, received a 5-1 hammering.

The famous Ajax jersey as we know it was first introduced in 1911.
Apparently, not all of the players were aware of this at first...

21 May 1911 was the most glorious day in Ajax history: the day that Ajax grabbed its fifth and decisive point in the promotion/relegation play-offs. Promotion to the First Class, the highest level of Dutch football, was a fact!

Sadly it wasn't given to the club's founder, the honourable Floris Stempel, to witness the triumph. He resigned as Ajax's first chairman in January 1910, after having accepted a job in the West Indies. Many members of the Ajax family waved him goodbye, but tragic news followed two days later. His ship had gone down with all hands. Stempel never made it to the West Indies. He didn't get any further than the coast of France.

The real Ajax jersey

The most important effect of that promotion was (understandably) not rated at its true value at the time: Ajax had to change its uniform, for the simple reason that another First Class side (Sparta from Rotterdam) had exactly the same strip. According to NVB regulations the newcomer to the league had to design a new kit. In the summer of 1911 Ajax chose for a white jersey with a red vertical bar running over chest and back - and white shorts. Indeed: the Ajax shirt that is now one of the most recognized football jerseys in the world.

1911-1914: First Class

Ajax's début season on the highest level of Dutch football isn't the only thing noteworthy about the 1911-1912 season. As a reward for 'staying in' (Ajax finished 8th out of 10 and only the bottom team got relegated) the board offered the team a surprise that was no less than magical: a trip to the Austrian-Hungarian 'twin monarchy'! Most of the Ajax players had never set foot across the border as they departed from Amsterdam Central Station on 23 May 1912. Ajax played its first ever game on foreign soil in Budapest, against the mighty MTK Budapest, twofold national champions and playing with internationals. MTK proved far too strong for the Amsterdammers (5-1) - but who cared? The players surely didn't. They'd seen Budapest - and Vienna, too (where they lost again, this time to Wiener SC: 2-0). Very, very few Dutchmen could say that in 1912.

At home Ajax continued to have a hard time remaining upright in the First Class. While Sparta (Rotterdam) and DFC (Dordrecht) were the dominant factors at the top of the table, Ajax finished last-but-one in 1913 and (finally and inevitably) bottom in 1914. The happiest day in club history (the 1911 promotion) was, sooner than planned, followed by the saddest: 17 May 1914 was the day of Ajax's first ever relegation - and it still is the club's only relegation today. Back to the Second Class. The ambitious AFC Ajax had to start all over again.

January 1913: playing the reigning Dutch champions, Sparta Rotterdam.

The relegation marked the birth of a tradition that still typifies Ajax today: Ajacieden expect their club to win and whenever the results are bad the atmosphere within the club turns grim. The emotions during the General Members' Meeting of 18 June 1914 ran so high that the first club crisis soon was a fact: the entire board, except chairman Egeman, resigned on 20 June.

In 1914, too, football sometimes seemed larger than life itself for those who loved the game. Eight days later, however, it became clear that there are more important things in life. On 28 June, during a visit to the city of Sarajevo, archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was shot dead by a Serbian nationalist named Gabrilo Prinzip. A chain reaction of war declarations followed and a historic carnage commenced in the trenches of Flanders and northern France. German troops briefly marched over Dutch soil and the Dutch army remained mobilized for a considerable time, but The Netherlands ultimately managed to stay out of The Great War, the bloodiest war the world had ever seen.