The Amsterdam ArenA

Ground No. 213
Visited - Friday 23rd July 2010
Result - Ajax 3-1 Chelsea
Competition - Pre-Season Friendly
Attendance - 21,666

When Steve McClaren won the Dutch title with FC Twente recently, not only did it help lift a tarnished reputation following his spell in charge of England, but it bought into focus the lack of English players or managers going abroad to test their skills. Bobby Robson is probably the most notable example prior to McClaren, another manager desperate to rebuild his reputation post-England, yet contrary to what it might seem, the path from here to the Netherlands has been a long trod one, dating back well over a century.

Edgar Chadwick, born in Blackburn, and who made his name playing for Everton, became manager of the national side in 1908, leading them to Bronze medals in the Olympics of that year and again in 1912 (the leading international tournament of the time). He went on to win the Dutch Championship as manager of Sparta in 1915 before returning to England after the war. Post-Chadwick, the Netherlands won a third Bronze medal at the next Olympics in 1920 under Englishman Fred Warburton. Harry Waites took over from him having spent the end of the war interned at Groningen, before going on to win the title with Be Quick and Feyenoord. Like Chadwick, Denis Neville, managed both the national side and Sparta, leading them to the title in 1959 in what was deemed to be their second ‘great age’, which was in stark contrast to the pinnacle of his achievements in England…being in charge of Canvey Island.

Vic Buckingham, the famous Albion manager of the 1950’s who led them to a near double in 1954 with an FA Cup win and second place league finish behind their mighty neighbours from Molineux had the notable accolade of giving Johann Cruyff his debut for Ajax in 1964. He had two spells at the club, winning the title in 1959-60 before leaving a season later to be succeeded by Keith Spurgeon, who won the first Intertoto Cup in 1961 (the forerunner of the UEFA Cup). Another Englishman associated with the Black Country, Jack Rowley from Wolverhampton, (brother of the more famous Arthur) who had starred for Manchester United under Matt Busby, briefly managed the club before Buckingham returned, however none of them were as successful as the great Jack Reynolds.

Manager of Ajax over three periods spanning 32 years he turned the club from second division also-rans into the most successful Dutch side of all time. His playing career in England had been unremarkable, staying longest at Gillingham. He started his coaching career with Swiss side St Gallen in 1912, before in 1914 accepting the role as German national coach, only for the war to put a stop to that before it had even begun! Germany’s loss though was Amsterdam’s gain, and under Reynolds they would go on to win 8 league titles and the first ever Dutch cup, however he was perhaps just as well known for being the pioneer of ‘Total Football’ and setting up the youth system that would go on to serve the club so well. He was so revered that a stand at their old De Meer ground was named after him following his death in 1962.

All of the above are just a few examples of men who made the journey from England across the North Sea, and in the summer of 2010 it would finally be my turn! Having been in nearby Heerhugowaard for work then I couldn’t leave Holland without visiting the famous Amsterdam ArenA, so was looking to go on a tour of the ground only to find that my stay coincided with Chelsea being there for a pre-season friendly, giving a perfect opportunity to tick the ground for an actual match.

Opened in 1996, it’s fair to say that the move from De Meer wasn’t popular with the fans, with the out of town location and size of the ground not helping. De Meer however, as with grounds all over Europe had seen its capacity increasingly reduced due to safety laws until the final figure of 19,000 was deemed insufficient. Now it’s the site of a housing estate, with an unusual feature of the street names being that of famous stadiums, Wembleylaan and Anfieldroad being two notable ones. Back to the Arena though, and despite the negative opinions, it was a ground I’d been looking forward to visiting for years. 

With a capacity of just over 51,000 and having cost €140m to build, after arriving it’s true to say that from the outside it looks like no stadium in England, far from the quaint tree lined stands of De Meer it looks more like something out of Futurama, with flyovers going in and through the stadium itself, a busy six lane road passing right beneath the centre circle!

When the club first moved here, the area was just fields, with nothing around it, something still visible on older aerial views. Nowadays though a huge retail area has built up around it, and was a hive of activity before the game. Arena Boulevard, which leads from the newly built, and quite impressive Bijlmer ArenA train station features cinemas, a music hall and several bars as well as shops, with the stadium itself now almost hidden away at this end. It’s hard not to be impressed, as this ‘retail park setting’ is a far cry from the likes of the Madejski Stadium where fans have a choice between B&Q or Carpet World to walk around for their pre-match rituals!

After walking around and soaking up a bit of the atmosphere, then I went in, choosing to sit with the Chelsea fans who were located in the corner of the North Stand upper tier. The ground is two tiered all the way round, with the front rows raised from pitch level and set a fair way back with a moat in between that and the players. At 20 feet wide and 15 feet deep, the dry moat is one of the main complaints from fans, and whilst not especially a negative factor from the lofty heights of the away section, thankfully not something that has been included in British stadia design like it has here. The roof is retractable, the first of its kind in Europe, albeit it would remain open for the game (I’m still to see a game under a closed roof…) It’s notable that the supports for it on the outside are designed in the shape of the Olympic Torch, four on either side as a tip of the hat to the Olympic Stadium where the club used to play big European games at instead of De Meer.
The hike up the stairs to the away section is comparable to that at Newcastle, so once there then it was time for a couple of pints to recover before the game got started. Crowned champions of England last season, Chelsea’s fortunes have changed dramatically over the course of the last two decades, and with the success, the club has become a popular fashion brand for the ‘floating’ supporter. It was interesting standing in the concourse beforehand and noting the juxtaposition of the changing face of their support. The middle class families walking around dressed head to toe in replica kit, Mum, Dad and children every bit a walking advertisement of the latest catalogue range, and those who older fans might associate with the club more, with CFC tattooed on their forehead, drinking heavily and eyeing everyone up for a fight!

Whilst waiting for kick-off it was a bit disappointing to see how empty the ground was, particularly with the chance of seeing some of the stars having disappeared as well when Ancelotti named the youth side to play. I hadn’t been expecting a sell out attendance for a friendly game, but Chelsea fans were the only ones left in the top tier, with the home fans spread around below, far away, leaving the protective barrier that cuts off the section from the rest of the upper tier somewhat pointless, it also made for a bit of a poor atmosphere as the game went on.

From kick-off, the home side controlled the tempo of the game, going ahead in just the fifth minute. Christian Eriksen put a somewhat hopeful cross into the box to test the Chelsea defence, only for Jeffrey Bruma to head into his own net past Ross Turnbull for a needless own-goal. They were back on level terms in the 24th minute though when Franco Di Santo was played through by Mikel, only for Toby Alderweireld to poke the ball away. Unfortunately for the Belgian centre back the ball ran right to the feet of Daniel Sturridge who sweetly swept it home from just outside the area with a clinical finish. If the visitors thought they were back in it at that, then they soon had their heads in the hands only a minute later thanks to an awful mistake from Ross Turnbull. A long punt up field from Maarten Stekelenburg went well over everyones heads to him at the side of the area, where under no real pressure, he slipped, the ball squirming out of his reach which allowed in the alert Siem De Jong who had been following it in to quickly pounce and poke it home into an empty net as the groans from the away end were as audible as the cheers in the home sections.

The rest of the game turned into a typical pre-season bore fest, with the visiting supporters keeping up a good atmosphere throughout, to allay some of the boredom, in fact watching them was more entertaining than events on the pitch as the two sides went through the motions. In the 89th minute Ajax finished the game thanks to Hyun Jun Suk who slid in at the far post to meet Daley Blind’s cross and make it 3-1. 

Afterwards I made my way back to the city centre with no problems to spend the next few days in Amsterdam before coming home, glad to have took the chance to visit the ground.

As a one off visitor, it’s a fantastic ground, but you can understand why the fans don’t like it. The design is interesting enough, but the players do seem a long way away, which is never a help in making a ground feel cosy. The next day I went back to the museum, which is a walkthrough of the clubs history, with a model of the original De Meer stadium of particular note for groundhoppers out there! Seeing a stadium full is of course always a different experience to one half empty, so one of the days I’ll hopefully end up back at the ArenA, and perhaps might finally get to see a game under a roof!

Walk to the Ground

Rear of the Main Stand 

Rear of the North Stand

The Club Shop and Museum

Rear of the Main Stand

Rear of the South Stand

Rear of the South Stand

Rear of the East Stand

The North Stand

The Main Stand

The South Stand

The East Stand

The East Stand

The South Stand

The Main Stand

The Amsterdam ArenA Panoramic 1
(click here for full size picture)

The Amsterdam ArenA Panoramic 2
(click here for full size picture)



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