*This article first appeared in 2011 and has been updated.

Very few eras in history have the privilege of using the tag the ‘golden age’.  There is perhaps the golden age of discovery of Columbus; or the golden age of renaissance art. The name Sir Walter Raleigh springs to mind.  

In football, use of the term is rare but not when it comes to Ajax Amsterdam. This is a club for whom the term might have been invented, such has been high incidence of repeated success and technical supremacy churned out over the decades.

Just about every term has been used to describe Ajax Amsterdam.  Even the biblical ‘twelve apostles’ was once used to describe the team involved in the European Cup wins of the early seventies.  From Jack Reynolds and Rinus Michels through to Johann Cruyff and Barry Hulshoff the list of famous names is endless.  Ajax have woven a template of excellence making them one of the most noted names anywhere in world football.

Today the club plays its football at the modern Johan Cruyff Arena and some fans have complained it’s a stadium for businessmen rather than the working class. Within the club arguments between Cryuff and Van Gaal over strategic direction is some indication that a new golden age of unity and direction has yet to emerge at Ajax.   Moreover, the seemingly constant drip of talent to foreign teams has ensured trophy success in UEFA competition has yet to happen again since the era of Van Gaal in the 90’s.

In the mid 1990’s Ajax waved goodbye to another part of its history when the De Meer stadium was bulldozed.  Even though the stadium structure has now gone the golden age of Ajax is never far away even today.

De Meer and Ajax Amsterdam

The movement to the Arena in Bijlmer saw attendances of Ajax increase to around 50,000 each week.

Satellite clubs affiliated to Ajax have emerged in South Africa, Belgium and China as the Ajax brand seeks firm marketing footholds in emerging markets and top level sponsorships.

Ajax has grown exponentially in the years since the stadium move.

However, with the domestic emergence of FC Twente and AZ Alkmaar – as well as the resurgence of Feyenoord – Ajax has not had everything there own way domestically.

PSV have emerged as the current dominant force in Dutch football.

It is acknowledged today that the true heartbeat of Ajax Amsterdam was felt at its former home of the De Meer Stadium located in the south-west reaches of the city. It was here that the likes of Cruyff, Van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp emerged.  

Created by Daan Roodenburg in the 1930’s the De Meer, like the Arena, was a product of a need to move due to ‘on field football progression’ and the pressures of spectator demand.  An older wooden ground had long outstayed its use and a new home for the decades ahead was required for both technical player skill development and increased supporter demands. 

The philosophy at the time was to create a ‘cosy Ajax home’ according to the President of the board Marious Koolhaas.

The building costs of the original De Meer were minimal coming in at 300,000 guilders – a fraction of the millions of Euros it cost to build the modern Amsterdam Arena. But the emphasis with the De Meer Stadium was on what occurred on the field of play rather than in the appearance of the stands.

It is said that players and coaches of the period even contributed to the creation of the De Meer and its shape. And it was the Ajax players themselves who were to make the De Meer famous with European success and domestic excellence. 

League trophies were displayed and fan groups were formed but great success on the field of play occurred overseas. At Wembley against Panathinaikos and in Belgrade against Juventus.  Even in 1992 when victory was attained in the UEFA cup against Torino, this modern era success of the club was fulfilled at the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium.  

Louis Van Gaal bounced up and down on the running track with his coaching staff at the Olympic Stadium celebrating success. The De Meer had been deemed far too small and unsafe to hold a UEFA final.

The De Meer was perfect for Dutch league fixtures where tactical perfection, Van Basten overhead kicks and slick passing football was the norm. But while the team could be perfect the de Meer Stadium lacked technical perfection in its structure.  

In the early years it had no floodlights and it was not until 1971 that these were erected. Larger European games were always played at the Olympic Stadium despite its uncharacteristic all-sports feel and high cycle velodrome appearance.

Fan wise the De Meer was a hotbed of football fan culture with the famous ‘F-Side’ groups emerging. This in itself saw Ajax become famous for its hooligan problem just as it was famous for its world class players.

With club management eager to avoid a reoccurrence of trouble in Europe and potential banning orders for the club internationally something had to be done. With the Dutch KNVB eager to introduce a national club card system for attending matches the De Meer was deemed to be outdated for football.

Coupled with the need for increased revenue streams a movement onwards to a bigger more modern ground was put into planning.

Just as the number 14 shirt was retired with the disappearance of Johann Cruyff so the De Meer was reaching its retirement date come the 1980’s.   As much as it was the heartbeat of the club the continuation of Ajax at the De Meer would have been like Manchester United playing its home games at Bury FC.

De Meer in 2009

Today, the De Meer is a housing estate with Ajax Amsterdam selling the land the ground once stood upon to the City Council for development.   As you step off the tram to the south west environs of the city there is very little at first glance left of the De Meer.

To the right of the tram stop on Brinkstraat lies a bar called Bar “Meerzicht” or ‘Lake View’ in English.   The bar is traditional and dark but a world away from the coffee shop culture that we know Amsterdam for.

Inside a few older men drink Heineken beer at the counter and a solitary Ajax fan complete with distinctive Ajax Red and White shirt plays the fruit machine. He asks if we need any help and when we ask if any former Ajax memorabilia is on display he shakes his head and says that it’s all ‘long gone’.

The bar is welcoming but far from an Ajax treasure trove.  Instead we are directed further down Brinkstraat to another bar Cafe’t Pratthuis or the ‘Talk House’ which we are told contains, as the name suggests, more Ajax chat and better memories of De Meer.

Outside an Ajax pennant hangs from the window and AFCA is inscribed in old English on the stained glass frontage.

We are instead directed 10 minutes up Brinkstraat and across the tram lines to where the De Meer Stadium once proudly stood where a more modern treasure trove of Ajax memories await.

It’s amazing that a stadium that once held so much memory can be demolished and no longer exist yet can somehow retain its own distinctive feel. The first street sign you see is ‘Esplanade De Meer’ and after crossing the Arie Haan Brug and a small lake you are bamboozled by a plethora of streets with football connotations.

There is Wembley Laan, Anfield Road, Bernabeu Hof and you can also walk across the Johan Neeskens Bridge.

But it’s not just street names as a variety of wall murals in distinctive ceramic tiles are dedicated to past European successes. Each is done in color and detail. The Wembley victory over the Greeks is immortalized by a large mural that shows the trophy; the old Wembley towers and some of the players who won the game.

Today the Amsterdam Arena’s excellent museum holds a wide range of memories dedicated to the likes of Pete Keizer, Cruyff and Neeskens. But the former home of the De Meer Stadium has won its rightful place in Ajax Amsterdam’s history and development.

In an age when many former grounds are destroyed and replaced by supermarkets and dull retail parks the De Meer retains its place on Amsterdam’s city map through an intricately woven maze of famous footballing street names; bridges and ceramic tile murals.  

In the once location of the ground itself there is still a real feeling and sense of what once was.   You cannot hear the fans voices or the chants of the fans anymore but you can imagine what it was once was like.

Just as the Arena today is a testament to construction and architectural excellence, so the De Meer is testament to Ajax.   The De Meer may be gone but it was and still is indicative of the greatest period in Dutch football and the technically perfect footballer.

Images dedicated to Ajax Amsterdam are here.