By Shaun Payne.
Bouncing back has always been ingrained into the mentality of Manchester United and after falling short in this seasons Champions League, the strength of that mentality would duly need to be exercised if the Reds were to show we can still cut it with the best.
The hurt of crashing out of Europe’s premier competition in Switzerland was always going to dent the pride of the players and fans alike but in true Red fashion we have responded and responded with venom.
The taunts of opposing fans at Arsenal and Chelsea have proven to be short lived with Arsenal suffering a crushing defeat to AC Milan whilst Chelsea continue to struggle for identity under the stubborn Andre Villas-Boas.
First and foremost, reclaiming pride was essential and recouping our own chants that were hastily used against us displayed the character of our ever-witty fan base.
“Thursday nights, in Amsterdam” could be heard wherever our fans occupied ever since the Europa League draw and the excitement to visit such a cosmopolitan city really did not disappoint.
Despite only receiving an allocation of circa. 2,600 tickets for the game, it was estimated up to 5,500 fans travelled to sample the delights of Amsterdam. Some chose to stay for days whereas others (including myself) opted for the long day trip.
After the very early start and terrible plane food, Amsterdam Schiphol airport was laden with the United faithful who rapidly descended upon the city centre.
The city was noticeably very clean and well maintained with plenty of beautifully crafted buildings.
The locals were very accommodating (and luckily all spoke English) so filling the day in Europe’s playground was now ones prerogative.
Like many, I found a local bar which was full of character and was inhabited with plenty of travelling Reds. The obvious immediate differences in culture could be seen at tables with condiments consisting of Rizzla papers as opposed to salt and pepper.
Despite the pre-trip scaremongering our travelling group were delighted to find that the price of a pint of beer was considerably less than the touted €6.
Having spent the day around the infamous ‘Dam Square’ area, sinking more than ones fair share of alcohol, it was time to head towards the Amsterdam Arena, the home of ‘Total Football’.
The early kick-off time of 6pm (local time) was not something we’ve become accustomed to as United fans but the anticipation of visiting such a magnificent stadium to play such a historically prestigious team was rife.
The stadium is situated only 20 minutes away from the city centre (by coach) and can be reached by train from Amsterdam Central Station.
The convoy of coaches containing excited Reds arrived to the stadium where the structure itself is striking. The arena is very tall with a number of different staircases winding into it and its retractable roof a noticeable feature from the exterior.
The surrounding area housed a number of large retail shops including Ajax’s own megastore which looked awash with local fans snapping up club merchandise ready for the visit of the English champions.
Our travelling support was housed in the top corner of the stadium which required climbing a large number of stairs to reach. The climb was considerably worth the effort once inside as the view of this tremendous stadium from the away section was breathtaking.
Banners recognising the achievements of esteemed past Ajax sides draped from the roof around the stadium and fans were each given a white, plastic commemorative flag to wave during the game and remember the day.
Our section of the stadium was encased by glass barriers and netting presumably to prevent the throwing of missiles by the more hostile fans (none of which were visible from our supporters on the day).
The positive atmosphere was added to by the announcement of Tom Cleverley’s return to the side after a long injury lay-off and as hoped, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection suggested we are to take the Europa League very seriously with an attacking line-up.
The atmosphere before, during and after the game was exemplary for any football fan with the home fans creating a fantastic atmosphere throughout.
At half-time the airing of Bob Marley’s ‘three little birds’ on the public address system was very well received with fans of both sides joining in with the song to create a moment where the hairs would stand up on the back of your neck.
The first half of the match was a very cagey affair with no side particularly inserting themselves into the proceedings.
The home side were absent of much acclaimed young right-back Gregory Van Der Wiel whilst all eyes were on their mercurial young talent Christian Erikksen who has been touted as being on our clubs radar.
If the latter is true, his performance would have done his cause no harm as he remained composed throughout the game, pulling the strings for his side.
Fabio Da Silva’s performance at left-back for United was particularly promising with continued questions over Patrice Evra’s form. Like his twin Rafael who has also performed admirably of late, Fabio would have done no harm in his attempts to dislodge our French number three.
Ashley Young’s goal will hopefully give him the confidence to recapture some of his early season form which was interrupted by a number of niggling injuries.
The downside of the day was the injury sustained to Antonio Valencia in the build-up to Javier Hernandez’s goal. Ferguson has since claimed he could be missing for around a month, which is a blow considering his incredible recent form.
The result was fantastic in that on top of keeping a clean sheet, we have two vital away goals.
The body language of the home side after the final whistle indicated that whilst enjoying the adulation of the superb home support, they feel a result at Old Trafford could be out of their reach.
The stadium, the city and the hospitality of the locals is highly recommended to anyone who plans to visit the cultured Dutch city. The only advice would be to wrap up. Like Manchester, it isn’t very warm around this time of year (the rivers had still had lumps of ice from being previously frozen over).
If there’s any consolation in being knocked out of the Champions League, it is being apart of memorable European away days like Ajax.
“Thursday nights, in Amsterdam…”
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