Dutch Football and a Cultural Rebellion

By | February 28, 2019

This week’s reading left me fascinated at the intersection of sports and politics. David Winner brilliantly captures the zeitgeist of 1960s Amsterdam — a turbulent postwar cultural revolution that enveloped all aspects of life in Holland, especially soccer. Perhaps most interestingly, Winner’s interpretation of Amsterdam’s radiant transformation suggests that the game of soccer and the cultural revolution were intertwined; that is, in the same way that the youth rebellion of 1960s Amsterdam impacted the game of soccer, the game of soccer was equally as impactful on the younger generation’s attitude.

According to Winner’s description, the concept of Dutch total football appears to share some characteristics that were integral to the counterculture rebellion. Winner states that this version of Dutch football was “being alive, kicking, and moving” — the version of Amsterdam that was comparable to the Provos, who frequently found themselves storming the streets in protest against the police, and the antithesis of the dull, dreary Amsterdam that was experienced by nihilist Albert Camus. Moreover, the “ultra-aggressive” style of play — one that rains “attacks from all angles” — reinforces this sentiment, mirroring the sheer anarchy incited by the culture shift.

I was particularly struck by how John Cruyff and the Ajax team impacted youth culture. Winner highlighted Cruyff’s impact on Holland as being analogous to John Lennon’s on England; while, this is a simple statement, the gravity of it is truly overwhelming. In Amsterdam, Winner pinpoints the footballer as being “far and away the most important rebel, icon, and symbol of the 1960s.” Clearly, Dutch football inspired significant change, paving the way for the city’s culture today. Finally, Ajax’s unlikely victory over Liverpool (and rise to international stardom) was in itself symbolic of the anti-establishment movement sweeping the country, for it provoked and upset the status quo — this time on the international stage.

2 thoughts on “Dutch Football and a Cultural Rebellion

  1. Mark Birmingham

    While on the topic of Dutch football, I found an interesting piece from the chapter “Whose in charge?”. Because I am a member of the American football team here at Duke, I was attracted to the power struggle and cultural conflicts that came about with Cruyff. In short, after Cruyff became a internationally known superstar, he began taking more of a leadership role on the team. However, Cruyff’s emergence as an authority figure on the team did not sit well with the rest of the players. According to Winter, Dutch culture says teamwork is based on the equality of the team. He states, “the team has to be the star, not the players”. Winter further contrasts the Dutch style of teamwork with that of Italy, where teams are built around key figures. The power struggle with Cruyff ultimately lead to him leaving the team. However, at the end of the chapter, Winter points out that its better to have one man on the outside controlling everything. Winter is pointing to the role of a manager to fulfill a leadership position so that there is not power struggle amongst players. I disagree with this solution. From my experience, I believe it’s crucial to have player in an authoritative position to check and keep the responsibilities of the players. It’s better to have players policing players rather than manager, this way the team will grow together as a unit and more organically.


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