Holland's most hate-filled fight club: Ajax vs Feyenoord

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Fight too far

Though safety fears can usually be allayed by bumping up security, a decade ago in Beverwijk, the mutual loathing became lethal. In a field by a motorway between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the two firms clashed in a pre-arranged meet. The precise numbers are disputed but, like a scene from Braveheart, hundreds moved towards each other carrying bats, knives and poles. There were few police and it became known as the Battle of Beverwijk.
Feyenoord outnumbered their rivals and as Ajax retreated, a heavy-set asthma 
sufferer called Carlo Picornie was stranded. Picornie, 35, had once been a prominent hooligan, but by 1997 wasn’t usually active; however, he had come out of his hooligan ‘retirement’ that day, telling his partner that he was going to get something to eat. Picornie was beaten to death in a muddy field. Another Ajax follower who saw what was happening and went back to help him, was stabbed twice in the lungs. 

The security fences do their job at De Kuip in 2006

The death stunned Holland. Some Feyenoord fans paid for an advert in 
a national newspaper offering sympathy and stating that it was never meant to happen; others celebrated the death. At the first Feyenoord-Ajax game afterwards, the majority of Feyenoord fans bellowed “You left your friend on his own” and held up inflatable sledgehammers. 

All Dutch fans felt the repercussions with a nationwide campaign – ‘Football: don’t mess it up’. Now, if you want to travel away with Ajax or Feyenoord, you have to go through more identification checks than an MI5 job candidate. You can only travel on supervised trains, which are often delayed by the police. Flouting the alcohol bans can mean an immediate €450 fine, while police infiltrate ultra groups and have powers to phone-tap suspects. And when the visiting fans finally reach the opponents’ ground, they are accompanied and met by enough security to satisfy a third-world dictator. 

Warm welcome

The first of the yellow trains appears on one of several elevated rail lines that surround Ajax’s gleaming home ground. An angry roar goes up, firecrackers explode and bottles are thrown towards the police. The crowd surges towards the formidable line of security in the vain hope of reaching the Feyenoord contingent, before police horses charge straight into the group, scattering people everywhere. Eleven fans are arrested and three officers wounded.
The train doors open and the Feyenoord fans spill onto the platform. The 43-mile journey should take an hour, but football trains deliberately travel more slowly with the heat turned on full and the windows closed to make the occupants drowsy.

A huge police presence separates Ajax fans from the trains carrying their rivals

Undeterred, and invigorated as the fresh air hits them, they immediately hurl abuse at the Ajax supporters 80 yards away. For decades they have traded insults via the media and websites, but only twice a year do they see the face of the enemy. One Feyenoord fan unfurls a Palestinian flag. “Hamas, Hamas – Jews to the gas,” chant some Feyenoord fans. “We are Super Jews,” retort Ajax, brandishing a Star of David. 

They’re just kids. The real lads aren’t there, because if they did anything they’d get nicked straight away and their photos would be on television tomorrow

- Ajax fan 'Longy'

“They’re just kids,” says Longy, an Ajax hooligan observing the scenes. “The real lads aren’t there, because if they did anything they’d get nicked straight away and their photos would be on television tomorrow.”

Instead the hardcore Ajax hooligans are drinking in a bar at the opposite end of the Arena, close to the glass skyscrapers that house international blue-chip companies. As with the stadium, they were built to 
gentrify Bijlmer, a poor area of blighted '70s housing projects south of Amsterdam.
“It’s like Kinshasa over there,” says one lad, pointing to the housing on the other side of the rail tracks. “But it produces good footballers.” As with many new developments it’s a cold, sterile environment – but there’s a buzz today because Feyenoord are in town. 

Firm approach

Longy’s peers, ranging from 17-year-old lads to granddads with gnarled faces 
peeking out from between their Stone Island jackets and Aquascutum caps, sip beer from small plastic glasses. The smell of cannabis is omnipresent. They know that, since Beverwijk, the police operation is so tight that they won’t get close to Feyenoord.
Ajax’s main firm is the F-Side, founded in 1976 and named after the section where their hardcore used to stand at Stadion de Meer, their home between 1934 and 1996, where Johan Cruyff’s mother washed the shirts. With a capacity of 22,000, it was less than half the size of Feyenoord’s De Kuip [literally, ‘the tub’] and hardly a suitable home for the 1995 European champions.
“De Meer stank of lager, p**s and burgers, and was an unsafe dump – but it was home,” recalls Longy. The move to the Arena was difficult, with fans who’d stood together for years spread around the stadium and bemoaning a new type of middle-class Ajax fan. The suspicion was that Ajax had deliberately diluted their most problematic support.
“After seven games we told the club the F-Side had to sit together again or there’d be problems,” claims one fan. “Nonsense,” counters a source who was a director at the club. “It’s dangerous to be influenced by fear and we weren’t.” Whatever the truth, the F-Side soon regrouped.

Expect fireworks... Ajax vs Feyenoord, 2007

“F**k Rotterdam!” shouts a lad in English by the turnstiles. A family walk by, dad clutching a plasma screen bought from a shop close to the ground. They couldn’t look more incongruous if they tried.

What’s striking about the Amsterdam Arena is its height. Whereas some of the greatest venues in the world like the Nou Camp and Old Trafford have pitches below ground level, lessening their visual impact outside the stadium, the 51,000-capacity Arena’s pitch is 10 metres above ground level, on top of two floors of parking. 

Today FourFourTwo is sitting with the F-Side, using a season ticket from another fan. His photo’s on the credit card-style season ticket and, frankly, he looks as scary as anyone we’ve seen so far, but when you go through the electronic turnstiles the operator checks your passport, not your season ticket, against a list of banned fans. The list is eight pages long.
It costs €15 (£10) to sit behind the goal – less than at many Conference North/South games – and for that you get an uninterrupted view from the lower tier, which is today bedecked in a 50-metre-long banner reading ‘Amsterdam – No Bullshit’.
Neither side objects to getting stuck in

“There’s f**k all in Rotterdam,” sing the 6,000-strong F-Side from behind the moat which separates them from the pitch, in reference to Feyenoord’s chances of success this season. Feyenoord have been thrown out of the UEFA Cup for crowd trouble at an away game in France. Had they stayed, they would have played Tottenham, who recorded the first-ever incident of hooliganism by an English club in Europe in 1974, in a match against Feyenoord.  

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