AFC Amsterdam The overall champion of Dutch non-League football is decided by a two-legged final between the winners of two separate weekend competitions. The Saturday clubs have a background in Protestant communities who didn’t want to play sport on the Sabbath, while Sunday clubs are Catholic or non-religious. On June 6, 2014, Sunday champions AFC Amsterdam were preparing for the return home leg against Spakenburg. However, their manager Willem Leushuis could barely set up a decent team, missing six of his squad who had already booked their summer holidays. Among them were four of his most important players, who appeared in 80 per cent of all the league games. With an additional three left out injured, Leushuis had only 13 players at his disposal for what could have been the biggest match in the history of AFC.
“This is the spirit of our club in a nutshell,” says board member Bobby Gehring. “We are a competitive club with good facilities and we aim for the best, but not at all costs. Our staff allow players to have their summer break in June, even when this means not being able to play in the finals at the end of the season.” AFC suggested a single final match, so both clubs would be able to play with their best squads. “This is probably even more typical of AFC,” adds Gehring: “We try to change the rules if we don’t like them.” The plan didn’t work because opponents Spakenburg protested and the Dutch FA stuck to their original format. AFC surprisingly ended up winning the game 3-2, but had already lost the first game 4-1 so Spakenburg were overall champions for 2013-14. The playoff winners can be promoted into the second division, but they are not obliged to go up. This will change in 2016-17 with the introduction of a new professional third tier. Promotion will be no longer voluntary.
Founded in 1895, AFC are the oldest club in Amsterdam, their red, sponsorless shirt with the black “V” being recognised all over the country. Despite their long history the club do not have many titles, a reflection of the fact that they are not so focused on winning. AFC are not among the biggest payers when it comes to expenses, so they attract players for other reasons. They aim to find apartments for their players and sometimes jobs too, through their broad network of business connections.
All of this contributes to the positive, relaxed atmosphere at the club. Visitors to Sportpark Goed Genoeg will see several giant signs advising them to “keep smiling”. This is not just a slogan: there’s an optimistic vibe around the club that’s not undermined by poor results or even a relegation battle (having been divisional champions in 2014, AFC dropped to tenth in the season just finished). There isn’t much to complain about either. Since AFC are a wealthy club with high membership fees, they have tended to attract people from welloff backgrounds in the south of the city, giving them a rather elitist image. Playing against more working-class clubs such as DWV, from the north of Amsterdam, and DWS or DCG in the west, always meant a real battle. “As a player, I enjoyed playing these matches a lot,” Gehring says. “Clubs like DWV really wanted to beat us, so it often got pretty intense.”
Times have changed now, with many of the city’s struggling semi-professional clubs dropping down the leagues or merging, as recently happened with DWV & De Volewijckers. Meanwhile, AFC have become a more diverse club. Gehring is now able to say that “our members come from all social backgrounds in Amsterdam”, something that is especially true for the youth department, where many families are spending a little extra for their children’s football education at AFC. This has proved well worth the money, since the club hold a national record for supplying the largest number of youth players for the professional sides. Although this is obviously something to be proud of, Gehring also sees a downside. “Young players seem to aim to play at professional clubs instead of really seeing AFC as ‘their’ club.” This problem is reflected by attendances at home matches – an average crowd of 404 last season made AFC the fourthlowest supported of the 16 teams in their division. AFC followers have other things going on than supporting their first team on a regular basis, either watching Ajax, or other games on satellite TV, or even just the general opportunities of city life. AFC Amsterdam are an unusual club but still a highly successful one, whose good reputation and respect for tradition could serve as an example for others.