World Rivalries: The passion and intensity of ‘De Klassieker’


The Netherlands – a place where you can relax and enjoy the beauty of low-land Europe. Take an unforgettable trip along the many canals, or go and visit the numerous windmills that litter the beautiful countryside. If it’s the culture you are looking for then a spot of wine and cheese tasting may be perfect for you.

But, if that doesn’t tickle your fancy you can always attend one of the world’s most fiercely contested football matches.  In this country, children are born to adore the colour orange first and most likely red and white later. For most football fans here, their loyalty lies with one of two Dutch powerhouses. De Trots van Zuid (The Pride of the South) of Feyenoord or De Godenzonen (Sons of the Gods) of Ajax.

When these two titans come to town, this little peaceful nation is flipped on its head as thousands of football-mad fans get ready for the game of the season. I’m talking about the Classic – De Klassieker.

The Origins

Unlike most football rivalries, this fixture tells the tale of a rivalry between cities long before the arrival of Ajax and Feyenoord.

The rivalry was born in the 13th century after both the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam were granted city status. Amsterdam was seen as the city of artists, actors and luxury due to its tendency to produce such talent. The Dutch capital was and still is renowned for its culture, something that the people of Rotterdam envied. Undeniably the most successful club in Dutch football, Ajax was founded on 18th March 1900 in Amsterdam. The club was named after the Greek mythological hero who fought in the Trojan War, reflecting the upper-class stature of the city.

Resentful of Amsterdam’s popularity, the city of Rotterdam was known for the work ethic of its people. Rotterdam was bombed heavily during World War II and was forced to work soon after, something they took pride in. Unsurprisingly, Feyenoord was originally founded as Wilhelmina on 19th July 1908 in De Vereeniging pub. After a series of changes, SC Feijinoord was birthed in 1912.

Pouring their passion and pride into the clubs, it wasn’t long before the first De Klassieker kicked off.

9th October 1921 would turn out to be the day to set the ball rolling. Not only would this be the first fixture between the two sides, but it would also go down in history for the wrong reasons. Initially, the game ended 3-2 to de Godenzonen of Ajax in Feyenoord’s back garden of Rotterdam. However, protests from Feyenoord complained about a questionable Ajax goal, officially changing the result to 2-2.

Thus, the fire was lit. De Klassieker was born.

The Players

Seemingly a goldmine for football talent, The Netherlands continues to produce world-class players every year. Ajax and Feyenoord are no exception.

Known for their ‘wonderkid’ producing academy, Ajax has produced and housed many a recognisable face. From the whirlwind of Wesley Sneijder and the God-like Zlatan Ibrahimović, to FC Barcelona’s newest signing, Frenkie de Jong. The list of those to have graced the pitch in an Ajax shirt is endless. Feyenoord has also had their fair share of poster boys in the likes of former Liverpool maestro, Dirk Kuyt, and academy graduate Robin van Persie.

However, one name stands out amongst the rest.

Hendrik Johannes Cruijff – or Johan Cruyff as he is more commonly known – is without a doubt one of the greatest minds to set foot on the pitch. Cruyff’s technical ability to both read and play the game at such a high-level was unrivalled. His time at the club saw de Joden win eight league titles, five Dutch Cups and three of their four European Cups. Tallying just over 200 goals in more than 270 appearances, it is no wonder why Ajax named their 54,000-seater stadium after him.

Yet, one thing that people may not know is that Nummer 14 finished his career donning the Feyenoord shirt. To Ajax’s ‘pleasure’ however, Cruyff only spent a year with De Stadionclub netting 11 times in his 33 appearances. Not many players have transferred to their rival club and lived to tell the tale. But, Johan Cruyff’s legacy in the world of football is one thing fans of Ajax and Feyenoord can share.

The Fans

Passion, passion and more passion. That is exactly what you expect to see at every game whether it be at the enormous Johan Cruijff ArenA or at Feyenoord’s De Kuip – the Tub.

However, to see the best of what these titans have to offer, you have to witness it on the biggest stage – De Klassieker. Ajax and Feyenoord are known for their loyal and proactive fanbases, but when derby day comes along everything becomes amplified. Flares, tifos, choreography, everything. Think of the flair of Latin America mixed with the culture of mainland Europe. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t just all the good aspects of football that get amplified.

As with many rivalries, proceedings can often turn violent very quickly. De Klassieker is no exception. Reports of violence and aggression have been seen as recently as this year. Thankfully, this kind of behaviour seems to be simmering down. However, one incident turned out to be fatal in what is known as ‘The Battle of Beverwijk’.

The Battle of Beverwijk

On 23rd March 1997 Ajax and Feyenoord hooligan supporter groups, F-Side and S.C.F. Hooligans, arranged to meet for a fight. Although the police were aware of the meeting, they did not know when it would occur due to both teams playing away on the day. It was in a meadow along the A9 motorway in which the groups came together armed with an array of; knives, bats, iron bars, electroshock weapons and claw hammers. As fighting ensued, the Ajax hooligans were overwhelmed by their oppositions numbers causing them to flee for their lives. Having arrived too late at the scene, the police made no arrests and were left to clean up the aftermath.

During the violence, Ajax hooligan Carlo Picornie was murdered. The cause of death was due to the impact of a claw hammer on Picornie’s brain, leaving him dead at the scene. Dutch authorities had witnessed arranged meet-ups like this in the past, but never on this scale. As a result, De Klassieker‘s of the 1997/98 season had to be played without away fans.

The Bragging Rights

Statistics – the number one way to win an argument when used correctly. Rightly so, fans of Ajax have used stats to taunt their Rotterdam counterparts for the most part of their history. Not only did Ajax ‘unofficially’ win the first ever meeting, but they are also the most successful club in The Netherlands.

De Godenzonen have won more than double the amount of Eredivisie titles than their rivals with a whopping 33 championships. Unfortunately for De Trots van Zuid, the dominance doesn’t stop there. Feyenoord fans can boast about their single European Cup win with pride, but once Ajax comes into question, it gets thrown straight out the window. After winning three consecutive European Cups during the Cruyff era, Ajax went on to win the newly named UEFA Champions League against AC Milan in 1995. And honestly, three gold stars above the badge are better than one.

In terms of De Klassieker wins, the results are as follows; Ajax – 85, Draw – 47, Feyenoord – 59.

The Verdict

Despite the scales constantly seeming to top Ajax’s way, the tables are turning ever so slightly. Feyenoord beat their rivals to the Eredivisie to the title in 2017 for the first time in 18 years. If that isn’t enough, the Rotterdammers also thumped their counterparts in a 6-2 win at De Kuip last month depicting that ever-lasting strong work ethic. With the next meeting scheduled to take place in Rotterdam once more, both sides have everything to play for in the KNVB Beker semi-final.

Whatever the result may be, somethings will stay the same. There will be chants from the terraces, drama on the pitch, and a cup finalist waiting to grab the sweet, sweet silverware. Most importantly though, there will be thousands across Europe and the world watching, as two titans battle it out once more.