De Klassieker: Why this weekend’s Ajax vs Feyenoord won’t be like the good ol’ days…

Ajax and Feyenoord. Feyenoord and Ajax. The two biggest rivals in Dutch football. Since the first game in 1921, it has always been a grudge match. Ajax won that game with 3-2 but after protests of Feyenoord, the full time score was officially set at 2-2. It’s also a game between the two biggest cities of Holland: Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In Spain it’s El Clasico, in Scotland it’s the Old Firm derby, in Argentina it’s Superclásico, and in Holland it’s De Klassieker, the biggest game of the season. The main football rivalry of the Netherlands, the most important game of the year, that’s Ajax vs Feyenoord. But is it still like it has been before? No, unfortunately not.

Ajax and Feyenoord have had many clashes on the football pitch since 1921, but not just the teams, the supporters too. ‘The Battle of Beverwijk’ in 1997 was infamous. To cut a long story a short one: One Ajax fan, Carlo Picornie, was beaten to death by rival supporters. It wasn’t on match day. It was a meeting of supporters with the only goal to fight. As a result of the incident, the two Klassiekers in 1997/98 were played without away fans. In April 2004, Ajax supporters attacked players of Feyenoord during the Reserves game, kicking and hitting them, and Ajax players and their coach had to jump and protect their opponents. A year later, in April 2005, riots took place around Feyenoord’s ground De Kuip. Travelling Ajax fans had demolished the trains transporting them to Rotterdam, and were forced to wait outside the stadium until the match was over. Meanwhile, Feyenoord supporters who had just seen their team lose, were determined to clash with the rivals from Amsterdam. Because of this, the mayors of both Amsterdam and Rotterdam made an agreement with the KNVB to ban visiting fans from the away games for the next five seasons in an effort to curb the violence. In February 2009, Feyenoord supporters sung offensive chants towards Ajax and their players during a Reserves game, so now, even the Reserves fixtures are played without away fans. Only last season people of both clubs, supporter groups and cities started to talk about letting away fans in at each other’s ground again.

De Klassieker without away fans isn’t a real game any more. They still sing songs to humiliate the other team, they still abuse the other team, they still make funny banners, but something is missing, and supporters of both clubs agree on that one. Banners with ‘De Klassieker is dead’ are shown from both sets of fans. You need two sides to make a great atmosphere. Even though they hate each other with a passion, Ajax supporters need the Feyenoord supporters and the other way around to make it a real football match.

It’s not only the fact that supporters aren’t allowed in each other’s grounds any more though, it’s also the difference in the league table. Feyenoord aren’t the top club they used to be and haven’t won a league title since 1999. Feyenoord had years of struggling and finishing outside the top 3. Last season was the first season that showed signs of recovery and the club got rewarded with a second place finish behind Ajax.

Ajax vs. Feyenoord was supposed to be a top game, a game that could maybe decide who would win the league, a game with high expectations. Ajax have won 80-90% of the games in the last 10 years. The tension is gone. It’s more like a normal game these days. Like Jan Vertonghen said two seasons ago: “It’s still De Klassieker but in my opinion it’s not a top game any more like the games against PSV and Twente are.” That doesn’t mean it’s not an important game, it’s still Ajax vs Feyenoord, and both sets of supporters are desperate to win it. For the fans, for the players and for everybody that’s involved with one of the clubs it’s still a special game, it’s just that it’s not the same as it was.

Ajax vs Feyenoord is like a pie without whipped cream nowadays: it’s nice but not irresistible.