There are certain major European football locations that feel like one-club towns, so dominant are the headline clubs based there. Paris St.Germain is an example for the French capital and so too is Ajax, the four-time European champions who utterly dominate Amsterdam club football. If there are rivals competing for the affections of the city’s football fans then few people are aware of their existence.
As it happens there is negligible local competition today to Ajax but it wasn’t always that way. In the days when the Dutch game was still amateur, or just starting to take its first steps into professionalism, the canal city boasted a vibrant and varied club scene and had events taken a different turn five decades ago then Amsterdam football might have looked rather different today.
Let’s rewind to the Eredivisie of 1962 which included no fewer than four clubs from the canal city. Ajax were there of course and finished the season in fourth place. Down in eleventh spot was De Volewijckers, newly promoted that season and former League champions back in 1944 when they were considered the biggest club in the city. One place and two points above Ajax was Blauw-Wit Amsterdam, another famous old club enjoying what would be their highest-ever placing in the Dutch game.
The lowest placed of the four Amsterdam finishers that year was AFC DWS – DWS Amsterdam for short – with the acronym translating into English as Strength Through Will. DWS finished in a lowly 15th place and in the relegation zone, but this disappointing season was merely a precursor for a wonderful, if brief, era when they briefly threatened to usurp Ajax as the city’s primary club.
The following season DWS won an immediate Eredivisie return and then in 1964 became the only club in Dutch history to become champions as a newly-promoted side. This was a miraculous success and the only title the club would win in its history. DWS led the table from start to finish and shrugged off accusations of negative football with some crushing victories, notably a 9-0 hammering of ADO Den Haag that featured a double hat-trick by outside-right Geurtsen.
DWS pipped PSV by a point, but of greater satisfaction still was Ajax limping over the line ten points further back. The fans were flooding in and home attendances came close to matching those of Ajax for the first time since pre-war days. The following season DWS overcame Fenerbahce and Lyn Oslo to reach the Quarter Finals of the European Cup where the provincial Hungarian side Vasas ETO Gyor would prove just a little too strong.
No matter; DWS battled hard to retain their domestic title and finished the 1964-65 season in a highly credible runners-up spot to Feyenoord, this while Ajax could do no better than 13th after a season-long battle against relegation.
DWS Amsterdam’s strong performances were no fluke. Under unassuming English manager Les Talbot the club had assembled a fine squad that featured Dutch internationals in goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed and central defender Rinus Israël (who would go on to enjoy great success at Feyenoord). There were emerging future stars too like reserve keeper Piet Schrijvers and winger Rob Rensenbrink.
At the very height of their ascendency over their bigger rivals in 1965, the tide would turn sharply and permanently against DWS. The main perpetrator of this reversal in fortunes would be Rinus Michels and his executioner-in-chief would be a certain Johan Cruyff.
Ironically Michels had worked with DWS during the 1964-65 season but returned to Ajax, the club where he had made his name as a player, as head coach in the summer of 1965. He effected a footballing, tactical and cultural revolution at the club and within the course of just 12 months Ajax rose from a relegation fight to become stylish, runaway champions.
Now the whole of Europe was paying homage to Cruyff and the emergence of the ethos of total football. The country’s other major club Feyenoord could just about compete as equals, but no other club could come close to matching Ajax for its newfound footballing brilliance or all round brio.
Still technically an amateur club battling against the professional giants, DWS ploughed on and spent the next half dozen years gamely recording a succession of solid mid-table finishes. There were several Fairs Cup campaigns too that included a win on a coin-toss over Chelsea, but the fairweather fans attracted to the club when they were champions had long deserted them and latched on to the Ajax bandwagon.
The end of DWS came in 1972 when they merged with Blauw-Wit and De Volewijckers to create FC Amsterdam, a new superclub that was intended to compete with mighty Ajax. Success never arrived as the club singularly failed to capture the imagination of the fans of the clubs it had subsumed in its creation. A first season mid-table finish was respectable, but attendances were lower than DWS had recorded alone in their final season.
By 1978 crowds had plummeted to the 3,800 mark and FC Amsterdam was the poorest supported club in the Eredivisie. This unloved creation limped on until 1982 and folded. The good news is that DWS Amsterdam isn’t completely lost to the game. Following the 1972 merger DWS carried on in its original form as an amateur club and still plays today. The difference is that while Ajax, the club they briefly threatened to overcome in the mid 60s, continue to rack up Dutch titles and reach European Finals, plucky DWS grind away in the obscurity of the ninth tier of the Dutch game.