In this installment of Travel Goals, the search for sport comes from my brother, Sam, who’s working in Amsterdam for the year. Sam and I travelled together in South East Asia, and our attempts to find sport were fairly unsuccessful, but this story of his recent visit to watch Young Ajax vs Telstar is a cracker:
By Sam Bray (@samxavbray)
Before the weekend started, we had already failed in our mission to watch Ajax. After living in Amsterdam for 5 months without catching an Eredivisie game, I used the visit of my old uni housemate James (@j_fairclough1) as an excuse to visit the Amsterdam Arena, playing the relatively competitive Twente FC. However, a clampdown by the Dutch FA on second-hand tickets sold to opposition fans voided our tickets, so we had to make new plans. We’d take the train to IJMuiden, a small port town west of Amsterdam, to see 2nd division Telstar play the Ajax youth development team, Young Ajax, on the Friday night.
This is like booking tickets to Manchester City to see De Bruyne, Sterling, and Aguero, only to be stuck on a sweaty tram to Bury, to see a League One relegation scrap in the rain.
Watching lower league football is mainly boring. My local team Oldham Athletic’s motto is ‘Keep the Faith’ so the hipster excitement of going to a small game was needed to balance out how mundane the evening could’ve been. Unfortunately, our frenetic conversations on the train about how unique of a night this would be went on for too long. We talked shit past Driehuis, the train stop next to Telstar 1963’s Rabobank IJmond Stadion, then two more stops to Heemskerk before finally realising our error and getting off. We quickly discovered that Heemskerk only has council housing towers and a LIDL.
Outside the Supermarket, James struck up conversation with a bored looking man, who suggested that we call an Uber to get back to IJMuiden, cutting out the expensive taxis. Two cancelled Ubers and two cans of 60-cent lager later and I was considering missing the first half and getting the next train back.
Luckily, James is more of an optimist, and Joachin, the Spanish man we had spoken to about the taxis, had finished his shop and was feeling generous. He offered to drive us through the snow to the next town in the direction of the match (kickoff was in 5 minutes). It turned out he lived in Manchester, where I’m from, and had seen Oasis in the tiny bar in the early 90s, although he didn’t have his ticket stub to validate this. It was a genuinely nice gesture and as he dropped us off at the next bitterly-cold North-Holland commuter town, we got a taxi to the ground, arriving 15 minutes into the match. This was a victory.
Unfortunately it wasn’t. It turns out that due to the recent promotion-chasing form of Telstar and the star-power of Ajax, this game was a big fixture, and the stadium was sold out for the first time in 30 years. We could hear the drums, but the stewards outside could only shrug and suggest we go to a local bar.
But we climbed up a verge to the edge of the ground, to at least peek at the game. Watching through the metal fence behind the Telstar goal, we had a great view, and could see a series of slide tackles by the Telstar centre backs, who were skidding across the snow to shut down the technical quick-passing of Young Ajax. Apart from the cold winds and vague illegality, this was a great place to watch the first half. Five minutes later, Telstar took the lead – a 30 yard central free kick hit hard and low, that the keeper fumbled underneath himself. 1-0.
Even from just outside the ground, the atmosphere was great. The proceeding 20 minutes was back-and-forth, and we were gradually we joined by a crowd huddled behind the gates, including some local teenagers, a dog and a 65-year-old German man called Klaus. Like us, Klaus had travelled to the Netherlands to watch Ajax on the Sunday, and failed to buy Telstar tickets.
At half time, we walked to the main stand (there’s only 2.5 stands) , and James tried to bribe the steward into letting him, Klaus and I inside. Unfortunately this method did not work, because as Klaus commented ‘The Dutch know how to make money’. But James was undeterred and asked another steward to see if we could buy tickets. The long wait for a response from someone higher-up was welcome, if only because we could warm up inside the stand building. An older man draped in Telstar scarves walked down, and although he wasn’t the chairman, he had 3 golden tickets we could buy. This was another victory.
We could now join the mixed Telstar-Ajax stand. We bought a couple of beers and stood by the halfway line, with Klaus opting to sit in the stand above us. Telstar’s lone forward was running onto errant forward balls, but then was able to get through in the 56th minute to sending Telstar 2-0 up, and the stadium into song. After the game, we learned he was an American on loan from Reading who rightly got the MotM: Remember the name, Andrija Novakovich.
Unfortunately , the second goal spurred the Ajax academy talents into talent-mode, which is understandable considering their impressive list of former players (co-incidentally this game marked 8 years after Christian Eriksen’s JA debut). Three successive goals reflected their patient, attacking play. It was suddenly 2-3.
Ajax’s reputation for youth development seemed deserved, much to the frustration of the older Telstar fan behind us screaming at the pitch. One surprise, though, was that Jong Ajax seemed to be a club where the Dads of Amsterdam took their kids to watch proper football with their schoolmates, away from the hostility of Feyenoord away. This meant that after each JA goal, a group of ten 10-year-olds would start chanting behind us, surrounded by subdued adult locals. After telling these rampant kids to settle down a few times, the steward girl next to us gave up and started smoking a cigarette. It was a surreal Bugsy-Malone-version of Green Street that you don’t really see in many English league games.
The next 15 minutes were tense – Telstar were pushing to claw a point back and left it until the 88th minute. A header from a corner hit the bar, and a scrappy volley hit the equaliser in from 4 yards out. 3-3. The Amsterdam 10-year-olds looked dejected, but most of the stand went mental, hitting the hoardings and cheering on for a winning goal in the remaining few minutes. Although a miracle winner didn’t happen, 3-3 felt like a victory, and these tourists from Manchester felt like Telstar fans.
Thanks to Joachim for the lift, thanks to Klaus for giving us an air of credibility when buying the tickets, and thanks to Telstar for an unexpectedly great football experience.