You may be wondering why I’m writing a post about football (soccer) when I’m a travel writer and not a sports fanatic. When compared to the general Dutch public, I realize how little I actually know about it. Despite my lack of knowledge and childhood experience with the sport, some of my best memories as an expat living in The Netherlands have been football related.
There’s nothing like a date out to the Arena in Amsterdam cheering on team AJAX! Or being part of the orange madness during both 2010 and 2014 World Cup. This particular memory, that I’m about to tell you about, was too special to let slip past without sharing. To the huge dismay of football fans and players around the world, on March 24th, 2016 one of the world’s BEST football players in history, The Netherlands’ very own, Johan Cruijff, passed away from lung cancer at the young age of 68.
Sunday April 3rd, 2016 was the first match played in Amsterdam’s Arena after his death. Naturally, it was SOLD OUT. This particular match, was one that ONLY an accident could hold fans back from attending. During an excited, pre-game football match amongst our friends, one of the guys fell and hurt his head. Just hours before the game, I was invited to take his spot at the Arena!!!!!! I couldn’t believe my fortune! Never thought I’d be so happy to take advantage of a friend’s bad luck (nothing serious, he is well on his way to recovery).
Looking up the steps that lead into the open-air stadium, the sun shined down on thousands of fans. The roar within always gives me a buzz of excitement. Stepping foot in the Amsterdam Arena, being surrounded by an overwhelming number of people, all cheering and singing is like no other sensation.
I took the steps and entered the realm of Johan Cruijff’s fans, everyone sung and proudly held up papers strategically placed on each seat to create messages within the stadium. Though we each had one coloured paper, together we became one strong message.
We stood together in honour of a hero. “Thank you” signs, his jersey number “14”, his birth year and some of Johan’s best quotes were displayed around the stadium. Flares were lit during a moment of silence in his memory before the game began on the smoke-filled field. The crowd ROARED with the sheer delight when Ajax scored their first goal, almost instantly, within the first 2 MINUTES of the opening.
Throughout the game paper planes, folded up from the papers, floated down over the people from the bleacher seats above us. One of the most impressive moments was when the game STOPPED on the 14th minute (representing his jersey number) and his photo popped up on the screens. The entire stadium was on their feet within seconds, clapping for a solid minute, instantly halting the players in their steps. It doesn’t take a fanatic to feel the power behind a historic moment like I did amongst the mourning and celebrating Dutch crowd for their football hero and LEGEND, Johan Cruijff. Afterwards, Rene (Kees’ brother-in-law) who is a super fan, insisted on driving by the house where Johan Cruijff grew up. The sidewalk in front of his house was piled high with flowers, notes, jerseys and football memorabilia.
Amidst the flowers in front of his door was a sign of peace; Archenemy rivals, Ajax (Amsterdam) and Feynoord (Rotterdam), symbolically holding hands. Rene was amazed to see a Feynoord cloth laying their IN Amsterdam next to Ajax’s. In any other circumstance, apposing fans would have torn it to pieces or set it aflame. An incredible message that when everything else is stripped away and we focus on the things that unite us, the things that draw us apart are ultimately insignificant. On April 3rd, we were all united in that stadium, thanks to Johan Cruijff and will share the same memory forever.
PS. Days following the football match our brother-in-law, Rene, added the number 14 with three XXX that represent Amsterdam and Johan Cruijff next to his original AJAX tattoo. I tell you, football is a big deal in Europe!!!
Categories: Savannah Grace