Monday, September 1, 2008

1966 - 1970: The Road to Glory

A History of Ajax
by Menno Pot

The 'Fog Game'

The 'fog game.' Mention those words to older Ajax fans and you'll be on speaking terms. The 'fog game' is the first time Ajax knew what it felt like to be better than Europe's best. For the first time it actually seemed possible for this young, self built Ajax team to become one of the best in the world. The 'fog game' is legendary.

7 December, 1966... Ajax was playing Liverpool in the second round of the European Champions Cup and 55,722 people in the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium could not see a thing. A thick fog was hanging over the Dutch capital. Italian referee Sbardella claimed he could see both goals. None of the players could, but the Italian wanted the game to be played.

A young Ajax team, almost relegated the year before, disappeared into the fog. The team that emerged after 90 minutes was different. And only the people standing right behind the Liverpool goal in the first half had been able to witness the transformation.

Ajax had been brilliant. After having scored four in the first half, the final result was 5-1. Amsterdam knew their team was ready for the big time.

At least, that's what the legend says. The facts? Well okay, Dukla Prague eliminated Ajax in the next round. But forget about that. Just remember the 'fog game of 1966' as an early prelude of the Golden Ajax. Everybody does.

Not quite ready yet

Johan Cruijff, left winger Piet Keizer, defenders Barry Hulshoff, Ruud Krol and Wim Suurbier, midfielder Gerrie Mühren - they all made their debut in the latter half of the 1960s. Rinus Michels' first whole season as a coach ended at the top of the table, the first of three consecutive championships. The next step had to be the winning of a European Cup, the first time for a Dutch club to achieve such a feat.

May of 1969 saw Ajax reach its first European Champions Cup final. FC Nürnberg, Fenerbahce, 1960s big timers Benfica and Spartak Trnava had been swept aside. AC Milan, however, proved to be of a different caliber. Thousands of Amsterdammers travelled to Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium. They saw Ajax naively walk straight into the Italian trap called catenaccio. Piereno Prati scored three. Ajax was a piece of cake for the Italians - and lost 4-1.

The European campaign, especially the heroic three game battle against Benfica, cost Ajax the league title of that season. Feyenoord grabbed it, qualified for the European Champions Cup and won Europe's most prestigious trophy a year later, in 1970, beating Celtic Glasgow in the final. But the bitter taste of having lost the running-match would be gloriously washed away soon enough.

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