Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ajax's Amsterdam: Amsterdam in the 90's

Ajax's Amsterdam

A story I wrote whilst living in Amsterdam back in 1994/5.

Amsterdam's typical 'brown pub' had taken on a decidedly orange hued air. Men and women alike, with orange sponge clog hats on head, cheerfully downed their genevers as a prelude to their beer. Bursting from the speaker all manner of stout and hearty singalong type songs. And singalong with gusto did this pub. Arm in arm and swaying to the beat they belted out these football songs.

A hapless Irishman, silly enough to enter the "bruin kroeg" after his team had been defeated by the mighty Dutch, was forced to down a green bowler hat's worth of the brown bar's brown nectar. Not however that he seemed to mind. As celebratory in loss as in victory this Irishman had no intention of turning down such a "punishment".

The Dutchman next to me, obviously appreciating the fact that I was enjoying the situation, endeavoured to teach me the intricacies of the Dutch football singalong. Suffice to say the only remnants that remain are a memory of some old voetbal schoen (football shoe) and something about k k k k Koeman, followed by a huge shout and then back into the chorus. It was whilst teaching me these rudimentary basics of being a supporter of Oranje (Orange, being the colour of the royal house, is the sporting colour of the Dutch) that my Dutch singalong partner let me in for some news.

"This is nothing", he would have me know, waving his arms at the joyous mayhem around us. Niets!" (sounding like Nix) he said in Dutch as if for emphasis. "Wait until you see Ajax play!", and with that he burst into an Ajax song. Within moments the rest of the bar had joined in singing the decidedly English lyrics of, "We love you Ajax, we do. We love you Ajax, we do. We love you Ajax, we do. Oh Ajax we love you!". Now to the rest of us this may just sound like some commercial jingle for household cleaning fluid but to the Dutch it was more well known than their national anthem. (Incidentally, while we're on the cleaning fluid discussion, Ajax is pronounced "I YUCKS").

That was the summer. Summer watching football, summer watching tourists in the town of Amsterdam. Town is an appropriate word for although Amsterdam is undoubtedly a city it has the feel and character of a quaint old town. Small enough to wander around in, yet cosmopolitan enough to satisfy any city lover.

Come summer the population grows. Tourists from near and far come to gawk and gape. The juxtaposition of old world culture and that of the new, youth dominated, culture ensure that all have reason to visit the city of canals. Queues of elderly and young line up outside the house of Anne Frank. A tall imposing building overlooking the canal, its heritage is all that saves it from becoming the new headquarters of some globally minded company. Some of those in the queue are here because their guidebooks tell them that this is "one of the sites you must see", others, aware of the history, come to pay homage. Few appreciate the drunken sounds of football songs that echo up from the passing canal boats. Holland has won another match but this city of Amsterdammers looks forward to the long cold winter.

The winter of few tourists. The winter of snow and iced over canals. The short dark days where little sun is seen. With luck the winter's cold enough and all can skate the canals. Better yet, winter's the time for cafe culture. Days spent inside warm and cosy pubs. Nights spent watching their team take on the world. All winter long they watch and they celebrate. Amsterdam once the mightiest of cities lives again through its team.

None stand before Ajax and the crown. Many cringe and cower. Come the final night where Europe's best clash for the honour of European best. The bars and pubs, always full, have known no day like this. In the Ajax colours, with Ajax scarves the Amsterdammers cheer "their" boys. With wild abandon the game is played and Ajax come up victors. Like a storm unleashed the city goes wild. Striking all corners of the city the parties do not abate 'til the early hours of dawn, only to re-awaken a few short hours later upon the triumphant return of "their boys". The settling of the storm reveals the carnage. Parties gone wild and property damaged but nothing daunts the spirit of the Amsterdammers. Days later the newly arrived tourist is still likely to come upon roving bands of Ajax'ers singing, "We are the champions!".

Amsterdam, the city of culture. Amsterdam, the city of sex and drugs. And Amsterdam the city of Ajax, the city of Champions.