Soccer Rivalries: Ajax vs Feyenoord

The biggest rivalry in Holland is the Ajax vs Feyenoord clash – the artists of Amsterdam against the workers of Rotterdam.

Amsterdam is the capital of Holland, and Ajax play their soccer at the Amsterdam ArenA, located in the south-east of the city.

The city is renowned for its culture, having produced several artists and actors. Ajax’s style of play has long been a source of pride for the supporters, and one of irritation for the Feyenoord fans. The Rotterdammers feel that those hailing from Amsterdam possess delusions of grandeur, and there is a saying to reflect these sentiments: “While Amsterdam dreams, Rotterdam works”.

Rotterdam was forced to work after being bombed heavily in the Second World War by the Nazis. A harbor town, its people are proud of their work ethic, and resentful of Amsterdam’s showiness.

Matches between the two sides are called the Klassieker (The Classic) and generally a sell-out weeks in advance.

One of Ajax’s most memorable victories in this match came in 1960 when they trailed Feyenoord 1-0 at half-time only to score five without reply in the second half.

The rivalry between the two clubs really took off in the 1970s when Ajax and Feyenoord were arguably the two best teams in the world.

Inspired by the outstanding Johan Cruyff, Ajax won three consecutive European Cups in 1971, 72 and 73. Feyenoord, meanwhile, won their sole European Cup in 1970, and claimed the Eredivisie title in 71. Ajax won the title in 1970, 72 and 73 as their domestic dominance of the 60s carried on into the 70s.

Few personified Ajax’s graceful style more than Cruyff, one of the world’s best ever players and a controversial figure off the pitch.

In 1983 he made a dramatic move from Ajax to Feyenoord after the Amsterdam club decided not to offer him a new contract. His move was motivated by revenge against the Ajax board and he duly delivered by winning the league and cup double in his only season at the club.

Cruyff and Feyenoord were, though, on the end of an 8-2 defeat at the hands of Ajax in the league that season, but fans of the Rotterdam club – known as ‘The Legion’ – will claim to care little as they eased to the title.

Feyenoord got their own back in the 1983-84 campaign as they defeated Ajax 4-1 in a season in which they won the Eridivisie and stopped their rivals’ run of title wins.

The right-sided forward Johnny Rep was another player to cross the divide. He is more fondly remembered by Ajax with whom he helped win the European Cup and Eredivisie double in the 1972-73 season. Feyenoord supporters always considered him an Ajax man.

Sjaak Swart most certainly comes into that category. The forward is Ajax’s record appearance holder, playing more than 600 times for the club, scoring 228 goals in the process. He also had a superb record against Feyenoord, scoring 19 goals in 36 appearances against the enemy.

Ajax claimed a repeat of that famous 5-1 victory in 2009 at the Amsterdam ArenA, with Urby Emanuelson scoring a goal to remember.

Both clubs have fallen from grace over the years, while fan violence has increased, and there is always a heavy police presence at the derby. The most serious incident occurred in the Beverwijk clash in 1997 when Ajax fan Carlo Picornie was killed and several others injured. The riots of 2005 were also a depressing chapter in the history of the two clubs.

They may be less than 100 kilometers apart, but these two cities possess extreme differences in attitude and culture and this has undoubtedly been reflected on the pitch.

Share the knowledge