Chelsea leave it late to give Rafa a going away present


The Daggers Diary team have a nose for getting tickets for most big games so it is no surprise that they were heading off to the Europa League final for the fifth consecutive year.

Way back in August, both Benfica and Chelsea would have harboured hopes of progress in the Champions League. Benfica were drawn in a group containing Barcelona and Celtic, while Chelsea would have fancied their chances of progressing from a group containing Juventus, Nordsjaelland and Shaktar Donetsk, especially as they went into the competition as European Champions.

Benfica were undone by some very impressive Celtic performances, but the problems encountered by Chelsea during the first half of the season were many and were the subject of many column inches in the printed media. It cost the coach his job, and the replacement has been the subject of almost as many articles as the failure to get out of the group stage of the Champions League.

As the competition progressed, it became apparent that we were getting dangerously close to an all-English final. For a while, it seemed that Gareth Bale (or Spurs as they are more commonly known) would get to Amsterdam, and in doing so, provide their head coach with the chance to win this competition for a second time in three years.

However, quarter final defeats for both Spurs/Gareth Bale and Newcastle meant that the European Champions were still in with a chance of holding both major European trophies at the same time. So, with the European Champions getting past Basle in their semi final, and Benfica progressing at the expense of Fenerbache, we got a final that promises to be a really good game.

Of course, the idea of having teams that fail in one competition, only for them to turn up in the apparently lesser competition after Christmas is one that provokes much debate. Quite why the powers that be at UEFA felt the need to devalue a competition that already attracts less attention that it should do is open to question, but at the present time, they are the rules, however much they may seem abhorrent.

935686_10152820465140223_1281274735_nThere are certainly two sides to this. For the teams that started the season in the Europa League, it may seem a bit on the harsh side to have clubs that have essentially mucked up their other competition to be allowed to compete in this one. For the clubs who have “dropped down” into the Europa League, then it presents a chance to retrieve their continental season, although there are plenty out there who feel that having competed in the Champions League at the start of the season, that this is a come down from which there is no glory to be had at all.

For me though, as a bluff old traditionalist, I think its all wrong. The league champions of each country go into the Champions Cup, while the cup winners (and three or four teams via the league) go into the Europa League. None of this “fourth placed team playing in the Champions League” rubbish. And if you muck up in one competition, then that’s it. No second chance. Continue reading

The Champions League road ends for Ajax


Being a man of many talents, our regular reporter for The Ball is Oval, Michael Miles headed over the North Sea to Holland for the Champions League game between Ajax and Borussia Dortmund last week.  

The man in front of me in the queue at the ticket office was very, very upset. He had a ticket for the match but because it was not in the German section he and his friends had been refused entry by the stewards. In excellent English he was demanding of the harassed clerk that she not only refund the cost of his ticket but his airfare and his hotel.

I never did find out how things panned out with him as she waved her hand at me and I thrust my confirmation letter in front of her. She had regained her composure sufficiently to ask if I too were German. I reminded her that the e-mail in front of her had my London address on it. She pushed two tickets, our 10-euro Arena card and two game scarves in our direction and we were away to leave her to her new German friend.

Buying tickets through the Ajax web site had been easy enough. I had forked out 273 euros and that included a mysterious 15 euro handling fee. A year previously I had watched a league game at the same stadium and paid half that sum. Such is the inflationary value of the Champions League.

On the packed metro to the Amsterdam Arena were a group of West Ham fans. I am a Hammers supporter, so good to meet some like-minded souls among all the Ajax fans thought I. But they were already into a two-days drinking binge and weren’t interested in me. My Chelsea-supporting friend had just found the courage to put his Chelsea cap on, something which seemed to vastly amuse the West Ham gang who entertained themselves trying to snatch it from his head. They weren’t even going to the game, but to a Status Quo concert.

Such are the joys of foreign football travel.

The Champions League is the ideal place for Ajax’s youngsters to gain some much needed experience on the continental stage, although they would probably have wanted a slightly easier group. Nevertheless they had taken four points off Manchester City, and had only lost 0-1 in Madrid. The Dutch champions, with an average age of about 23, have the competition’s youngest squad.

Winners of the last two Bundesliga titles, Dortmund probably don’t need reminding that the last time they claimed two consecutive domestic crowns (1995 and 1996) they wet on to become European champions the following season. Last season they came bottom of their group with only one win, but this time around Jurgen Klopp’s young side have started impressively. Manchester City were very lucky to emerge with a point from the game at the Ethiad when the German side were the much superior side, and impressed many people with the fluency of their football.

Ajax 1 Borussia Dortmund 4 – Amsterdam ArenA – Wednesday 21st November 2012
On the pitch tonight, 20-year old Mario Gotze inspired Borussia Dottmund as they produced a ruthlessly efficient performance to win 4-1 in the Amsterdam Arena.3-0 up at half time they progressed to the last 16 as Group D winners, with one game to go-home to a foundering Manchester City.Gotze had a hand in each of his teams goals, scoring the second himself and setting up two for Robert Lewandowski, as Dortmund looked capable of scoring every time they broke.

Substitute Daniel Hoesen’s late goal for Ajax was little consolation for the home team and did little to dampen the spirits of the jubilant away support, proud to have witnessed such a superb display from their side. I only hope the fan in front of me at the ticket office got in to see it.

Frank de Boer, the Ajax coach, commented “We got a lesion in efficiency from Dortmund but I am also very angry about the way we defended.”  He had every right to be.

Cruyff’s turn again?


Michael Miles brings us an update on events from Amsterdam where a new dynasty is starting to develop, although not the one everyone wants.

Johan Cruyff made his debut for Ajax as a 17-year old in November 1964. He scored the only goal in a 3-1 defeat. Now, almost half a century later he is still making waves at the club where his mother used to do the laundry. In the few days I was in Amsterdam to see Ajax play NAC Breda the main story in the local paper was not concerning the team, but Cruyff’s on-going dispute with the club’s Supervisory Board. The gist of the dispute appears to be that they want to Bring back Louis van Gaal , but there is continuing bad blood between the two men , and Cruyff is set against him.

Of course Ajax already has a manager, and a successful one to boot. Frank De Boer was himself a mainstay for Ajax and Barcelona for many years, as well as winning 112 caps for Holland. Last season he took Ajax to their first Eredivisie title since 2004, a period of Arsenal-like proportions for a club of this magnitude, after succeeding Martin Jol.

I’d been to the ArenA once before, for a Euro 2000 semi-final against Italy, so I knew what to expect. Aesthetically it’s alright, but doesn’t take your breath away. Located south-east of the city, the ArenA stands alone, rather like Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. There’s a road and car park beneath the pitch, so climbing to the second tier involves a bit of a hike. I enter the concourse and there the ArenA experience begins. Everything is sold in “ArenAs”, so before buying anything you must buy a minimum 10 euro Arena card. Mine came as part of the package that Ajax sell to foreign fans. I also got given a very nice scarf. I guess the idea is that you get served quicker, but that you also waste money by either not spending your Arenas , or buying stuff you don’t want, to finish your card. Continue reading

PSV and Ajax on a flying visit


Our regular roving reporter Paul Whitaker has been on his travels again.  This time a bit closer to home as he pops over the North Sea for a visit to Eindhoven and Amsterdam…Over to Paul for the rest.  More details can be found at our sister site here.

PHOTO1Due to those oh so lovely television fixtures, matches in the Dutch Eredivisie are split this season over Friday/Saturday/Sunday. So it is possible to watch PSV and Ajax or Feyenoord matches over a long weekend if you so desire. For example on this particular weekend we had PSV v Vitesse Arnhem on Saturday evenong, Ajax v Feyenoord on Sunday lunchtime.  

I chose Amsterdam as base mainly as I know folk living there. Without upsetting Eindhoven Tourist Board, there appears frankly not much to tempt me to Eindhoven any earlier than arriving for match itself . Day return from Amsterdam central to Eindhoven is 32 euros. Trains take 1hr 20 mins approximately and departs hourly.

Still the case that at PSV as with Ajax and Feyenoord, locals can only watch matches with ID cards. Unless you borrow someone’s ID card to get voucher/ticket, you can take advantage of a scheme operated by the clubs where tourists can purchase tickets. PSV operate a Gold and Silver Package for tourists. Being from Yorkshire I opted for cheaper Silver Package. For this you pay 50 Euro and you get:

PHOTO2A 21 Euro for ticket in West Tribune. Better for atmosphere. Not so good if you want to see the choreography they undertook before match.
A 20 Euro voucher for fanshop if you want to surprise the Missus with a PSV duvet/lampshade,
And 10 Euro for food/munchie vouchers

Prices rise to 70 Euro for matches against Ajax , Feyenoord and AZ. Possible to pay euros on day of the match, but expect to pay an extra 15 Euro for privilige. Packages can be paid and collected on day of the match at our ticket office, entrance 27 of the stadium. Ticket office open 2.5 hours before kick off until 15 minutes after kick off. Bring a copy of email and ID. For more details contact http://www.psv.nl/Ticketing.htm

 Amsterdam Arena Tour/ Ajax Museum
If you are bored of visiting the Sex/Hemp/Torture/Anne Frank museums on the Amsterdam tourist trail, may I suggest a visit to the Amsterdam Arena, home of Ajax.  As ever check the
Ajax website but normally vary between 5-7 tours daily.  Adults 10.50 Euro, kids 9.50 Euro. Lasting an hour, the enthusiastic guide will show you the: 

PHOTO3- The poor quality pitch and efforts made to maintain it under roof;
- Press room with a fantastic photograph of Ajax players in classic 60s pose;

Two tips to improve the tour. First, let the punters into the dressing room and allow them to walk onto the pitch. Secondly, why can’t the guide do the pitch visit/talk at the ‘home end’, with its opportunities to photograph the artistic graffiti of the F – Side fans. A talk at this point about supporters input into Ajax club would enhance the tour.

Tour ends with free entry to Ajax museum. As well as an impressive collection of European Cups, the museum was memorable for the great artifacts and momentos on display. Highlights for me included a photograph of a teenage Marco Van Basten, It was reasuring to see that if I did share Van Basten’s prodigous footballing talent, at least we both had bad skin and 80s casual haircut

 Paul Whitaker
Maracana Manor