On Saturday, at 6pm GMT, the Hoops will take on “de Godenzonen”, which translates as “The Sons of the Gods”. This is, of course, a nickname for the famous AFC Ajax of Amsterdam. This will be the first of three high profile glamour ties for the Parkhead club, as the once European champions will face Ajax, and two other great European champions (Internazionale and Real Madrid) over the space of only a few weeks.
It is an encouraging sign that clubs of such a stature are still interested in taking on Celtic, and these matches will only add to the anticipation surrounding the celebrations of the Football Club’s 125th birthday.
Ajax themselves have been in impressive form of late, winning the Eredivisie title by six points from bitter rivals Feyenoord, scoring ninety-three goals and only losing four matches in the process. By their very nature, the Dutch tend to expect football to be played in a particular manner, with flamboyant skill and attacking prowess. This was reflected in the highest scoring match of last season’s Eredivisie, one of Ajax’s few losses, as they were defeated by Utrecht by no less than six goals to four.
Formed in 1900, Ajax can undoubtedly count themselves as one of the most successful sides ever to grace the world of football. In their one hundred and twelve years in existence, they have won their national league on thirty-one occasions, and their national cup eighteen times. Perhaps most impressively, Ajax are one of only five teams that have ever been allowed to keep the European Cup/Champions League trophy. Only themselves and Bayern Munich have won the trophy in three consecutive seasons, and this incredible feat was rewarded by UEFA in the manner described above. Ajax went on to become European Champions for a fourth time in 1995. For all you trivia buffs out there, the other three sides who kept their respective trophies were Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool, each of whom have won the competition five or more times.
At present, AFC Ajax are managed by one Frank de Boer, and his assistant manager is none other than Dennis Bergkamp. Some of you may remember that Dennis has a fear of flying, so for his sake, it is perhaps fortunate that the match with Celtic will be held in the Amsterdam Arena, a stadium with fond memories for Celtic, as Celtic famously ran out 3-1 victors there in 2001.
The stadium itself is the largest stadium in the Netherlands and, with a capacity of approximately 52,000, it will prove a fitting venue for this season’s Europa League Final. I suppose we can all dream of a return there in May 2013, but dreaming is likely as close as we will get on this occasion.
Ajax’s nickname, the previously mentioned “de Godezonen” (“The Sons of the Gods”), refers to the Greek hero, Ajax. Whilst the badge has changed several times over the years, it was altered in 1990 so the image of Ajax was drawn using eleven lines, one for each player in any Ajax team. The number fourteen shirt was also retired fairly recently by the club as a tribute to the great Johann Cruyff.
In summary, I am sure Saturday’s match will be a great occasion enjoyed by supporters on both sides, and those watching around the world. I would imagine the Celtic supporters will travel in great numbers and, despite the fact this match is only a friendly, we can hope to see both managers put out strong sides onto the field to provide a spectacle fitting the stature and history of each club in European Football.
Let’s see how “the Bhoys” fare against “the Sons of the Gods”…