Amsterdam Olympic Stadium

/1/ A stadium has multiple lives: it’s an architectural structure that can serve grand political interests and ideologies, as well as those more local. In de Certeau’s terms, a stadium is a kind strategy, and within it, and around it, users make it a site of their tactics. A stadium can both serve as a herald, as well as evoke, or maintain, a grand heritage. I visited the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium after going to a nearby exhibition by students from the School of Missing Studies. Fortuitously, I was able to visit the Stadium and take a quick walk around the outside of it, as well as have a coffee at the luxurious restaurant (The Oyster Club) that has made a home for itself inside one of the stands. The weather was mild, a gentle breeze was blowing. Although it was cloudy, the sun still shone brightly at times. This smallish Olympic stadium, with its open grandstands (tribune, in Dutch) was not intimidating: its thin, neatly packed bricks clearly consistent with the Dutch architecture evident on the streets of the intimate and narrow streets of cities such as Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden. Its capacity at the time of the Olympics was 33,000, it grew to 65,000 to host major football games of Ajax, but has now shrunk back to 22,000, to revert to the look of the original stadium. The stadium was a far cry from the over-powering and intimidating dimensions of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.


/2/ And Holland took the lead, after a penalty against Berti Vogts was awarded to Johann Cruyff. Johan Neeskens took the penalty and Holland were in front within a minute. But there was no happy ending for the masters and innovators of Total Football. The start of the game had been delayed after the referee, Jack Taylor, realised that there were no corner or central flags. An unlucky official was tasked with running from one corner to the next planting the flags in the turf before an impatient crowd of 75,000 in Munich. The statue used to be in front of Marathon Gate, but has been moved to near the entrance of the Johann Cruyff Foundation: a not for profit organisation that aims to encourage sport amongst young people. Jonathan Wilson, in his extensive book on the development of football tactics, writes of how it is great teams that  live on in the memories of lovers of particular sports, rather than necessarily the winning teams. He cites Cruyff’s 1974 World Cup losing Dutch team as well as the great Hungarian team (featuring players such as Puskas and Hidegkuti) of 1954 that also lost to West Germany, after being the favourites to win. Perhaps it is ironic that it is a foul that has been represented by the sculptor, Ek van Zanten: it is not the swinging leg of a striker in action at the moment of scoring a goal, but instead, it is the moment at which Cruyff has fooled his marker, Vogts, in to fouling him.

/3/ The Amsterdam Olympic Stadium is evocative of three tendencies. As with many stadiums, it served as a means to centralise sporting activities in the city of Amsterdam, and became the most emblematic structure for the proposal to host the 1928 Olympics. The Stadium became an iconic structure in symbolising modern Dutch sporting ambitions, while at the same time, heralding a return of a glorious Dutch era, with The Netherlands once again become an important focal point in European civilization. Secondly, the stadium became a home for Ajax’s European footballing achievements during the 1990s – a time when the legendary Dutch team received adulation for following in the tradition of Dutch footballing innovation and tactical expertise. Rather than playing in the spirit of the (ostensibly) amateur and amicable Olympic games, the stadium became a site where intense intra-European local rivalries were played out. Finally, the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium has became a site for boutique, small and non-elite amateur sporting competitions. This has been complemented by a broadening of its function – to accommodate concerts – and a range of other public facilities, such as a restaurant, museum and public gym. The Amsterdam Olympic Stadium has shifted from being a stadium heralding a Dutch sporting future, to a heritage stadium that evokes a great Olympic games that was carried out in a particular Dutch style. While the future of contemporary stadiums is clearly realised in stadiums such as Amsterdam ArenA and the Kyocera Stadium in The Hague, the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium remains a continual social and cultural function.


/4/ The Amsterdam marathon begins and finishes at the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium. Each year, around 30,000 runners – of a great range of abilities – gather outside the stadium, fill in forms and get changed at a nearby indoor sports facility before heading into this historic and open stadium. The Stadium is in the city’s south, quite a distance from many of Amsterdam’s charms, but, throughout the race, runners run through a part of the Rijskmuseum and also, nearing the finish, the Vondel Park. In 1928, the winner of the Olympic marathon was Boughera El Ouafi of France, in a time of 2hours 32minutes and 57 seconds. Five out of the top 15 finishers were Finish.  The 2014 marathon was won by Bernard Kipyego of Kenya, in a time of 2hours 6minutes and 22 seconds. The Olympic marathon of 1928 started at 3:15pm, these days, marathons are start in the morning to avoid the possible heat. El Ouafi’s shoes, from a picture on Getty Images, look thin, hard and rough. His singlet is soaked with sweat, his shorts appear big and heavy. I ran my first half and full marathons here; both with only improvised training schedules. On both occasions, I paid little attention to the stadium, it was overcome with us ‘personal-best’ obsessed runners, decked out in technical running gear; clothes that can hardly do the running for the runner him or herself. Medals are dished out to all finishers, no matter the mediocrity of their performance. Outside of the stadium, in 2013, as I was finishing, medics were rushing to a runner who had collapsed. The race is popular in part for its flatness and of course for its location in a great and popular city that attracts tourists for both cerebral and intoxicating pleasures. The Berlin marathon, also in the European spring, sells out quickly, making Amsterdam a viable alternative. The stadium’s function diversifies; heritage is retained.

Olympic Stadium 1

/5/ Oh, Amsterdam: a unique city and atmosphere in The Netherlands. Pleasure-seeking, hedonistic, drunken and disorderly. Three bicycles per-person. Temporary bike shelters turned into permanent parking places for bikes of unknown provenance. Other bicycles, slung over bridge-railings. Others, lying covered in mud on the banks of canals. Burly men, smoked-up others stroll pass the Window Ladies and consider their dimensions. Oh, Amsterdam: home of the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602 – “the world’s first consolidated company” (Westerbeek, 2009, p.778). Their office has become a part of Amsterdam University and in their offices Masters students and PhD candidates from Indonesia do their work. It was the foundation of this Company that heralded the arrival of the Dutch Golden Age (1585-1672). Thanks. The memories, longings and artefacts of Indonesia persist in the city’s everyday life. The Tropenmuseum abounds with Indonesiana, the easy take away is some kind of nasi, through un-curtained windows one can see batik table clothes, or Batak statues placed on shelves. A grand statue of Dutch writer and colonial critic, Multatuli, stands proudly atop one of the city’s bridges. Oh, Amsterdam: gay pride parades flooding the canals and streets with singing and kitsch. Good times and jazz. Not long after the 1928 Olympics had finished, the Sumpah Pemuda (Youth Pledge) was declared in Indonesia. This was a defining moment in the articulation of the Indonesian nation. The pledge declared ‘one nation, one motherland, and one language’.

Olympic Stadium Cafe

/6/ On the wall of The Oyster Club a series of of black-and-white movies and football games are on repeat. Visitors can look out easily onto the inside of the stadium. From the lower level, the grandstands, indeed, appear grand. It is from outside the stadium, that the stadium appears quaint and restrained. It must have felt grand and imperious back in 1928. Now, though, with every passing stadium that is built upwards of 60,000 and with the  features that enhance ‘crowd safety’, ‘security’ and ‘surveillance’, this stadium becomes increasingly boutique, of the past and an embodiment of sporting and footballing nostalgia.

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