The decision to make this away trip was highly spontaneous. Just the week before, Dynamo had beaten Slavia to set up a tie with Ajax Amsterdam. It was relatively close and I had not yet been to the Netherlands so it seemed a perfect opportunity. After raising the idea of going to my friend Jon Spraggon,he was really up for joining up on this quick away trip. With Jon being a Middlesbrough fan, he hadn’t been able to experience a European night with his own club for a long number of years. So on the Monday morning, of the week of the game, we booked a last minute flight from Luton and a room at the Mozart Hotel.
Our flights were very early on Tuesday. The 7:55am take off meant a 3:00am wake up according to Jon. As he was driving to the airport, I was unable to complain. Arriving at Luton with over 3 hours until our flight, we made it to the departure lounge. Luckily, Jon had some kind of Priority card and we were able to spend the morning in the Business lounge. Free breakfast and a customary Heineken to start the trip off certainly sorted out our tiredness. After taking advantage of the plug sockets to charge our phones, use the toilets with no queues and obviously make sure people knew about it on Instagram, we headed to our gate and boarded our plane. Arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol was quick. We had hardly taken off before we were descending again. Luton Airport and Schiphol really are worlds apart. Riding the travelators to the exit, we hopped on a train and within 20 minutes were in Amsterdam Centraal. The Dutch really are quite an efficient bunch.
Coming up to almost midday, we had the option to get a tram which would take us directly to our hotel but Jon wanted to see the sights so we had to do the half an hour walk in order to check in and drop our bags off. In addition to walking past sights such as Dam Square, we also got to see the delights of globalisation when passing the likes of Primark and KFC. On top of the long walk combined with the reasonably uncomfortable carry on bag I decided to bring, it was very hot, well over 25 Celsius! Upon eventually arriving at our hotel, The Mozart, that overlooked a canal on Prinsengracht, we were shown to our room. You couldn’t complain with it for the price we paid. However, it was below ground floor level so our hotel window view was not the most picturesque, merely opening to a small concrete courtyard where other rooms also got their only source of ventilation and natural air conditioning.
Dropping our bags off, we went in search of our first Dutch meal. So where else could we have ended up, other than the Golden Arches. Highly impressed by the bilingualism of workers from all professions, we got our meal, I went for some kind of Dutch McDonalds special burger and Jon went for nuggets. The only positive I took away from that particular experience was the mayo dip they served with the chips. Otherwise the meal price of 9,50 was way too overpriced.
After this we headed to the Heineken experience, located inside the Heineken Brewery. 21 euros each later, we proceeded with the walk through self guided tour. We saw the brewing process, a bit of the history and then had some tasting opportunities. Three half pints in total of standard Heineken beer would have left us underwhelmed had it not been for the interactive Champions League room kitted out with a replica stadium dugout.
Next we headed for the Rijksmuseum as it was relatively close. As an iconic landmark of Amsterdam, it was understandably heaving with tourists. Luckily I was able to secure a vantage point on top of the ‘t’ in the Iamsterdam sign. Jon tried his best with trying to fit the entire sign in for the photos but unless he stood further back in some water it was always going to a struggle. Talk about lack of dedication from your personal photographer!
After this we made the short walk through Vondel Park, which is highly similar to Central Park in NYC or Hyde Park in London, but on a smaller scale. Cyclists were everywhere. Not just in the park but on the streets as well. It had initially been refreshing to see a city take to cycling like Amsterdam has, but after a while, their seeming God given rights to cycle as they pleased, with little regard for pedestrians, showed that this concept is best left in Holland. No signalling or slowing down from almost all cyclists was probably the biggest negative of the whole Amsterdam experience for me, which was surprising seeing as the Dutch are so efficient at the majority of things they do.
Following our brief flirtation with Vondel Park, we carried on walking around the leafy streets, down the sides of countless canals, past the large, picturesque town houses and across the scenic bridges. Jon fancied a pizza, another well known Dutch speciality. So we looked up Pizza places on Tripadvisor and found one with over 1500 reviews. Probably too upmarket looking back in hindsight, and we were lucky to get a table as you usually had to book to get a spot. As we arrived for an early dinner, they were able to accommodate us. A pizza and a couple of bottles of Morreti later, we headed to the East side of Central Amsterdam.
It was still relatively early in the evening, when we settled at a bar and had a few glasses of Amstel. As the bar was located in the Red Light District, it started to get a lot busier as the night got darker. Neon lights, lingerie clad women and drug dealers were everywhere you looked. Jon and I had a walk around to see what all the fuss was about. There’s no point in denying it; there were a lot of good looking women about. We even stumbled upon a Favorite Chicken in-between the countless smoke filled coffee shops. As the early start to the day began to take its toll, we decided to call it a night and made our way back to the hotel. Having clocked in over 32,000 steps, it was fair to say that we had covered most of Amsterdam’s main sights in the space of half a day.
The next day we woke up early enough to make the most of the day before we had to head to the stadium to pick up the tickets and soak up the pre match atmosphere. Probably the biggest sight we had left to see was the Anne Frank House, so we made the short journey from our hotel there only to find it was fully booked up. Checking online whether we might be able to see it the day after, resulted in us finding out that it was all booked up until November!
As a result, we decided to carry on walking around Amsterdam. Having done some asking around on social media, I was able to find out which hotel the Dynamo team were staying at. So we made our way there, slightly outside of the city centre. Our route took us through a deserted Red Light District again, all very quiet bar the Thai Lady-boys who seemed to have taken up certain windows from the ladies who had been using them the previous night. In the middle of the quiet RLD, I was approached by a fellow Ukrainian wearing one of those vintage style WBO Boxing belt t-shirts. I myself was wearing a Tryzub t-shirt so it was not surprising that another Ukrainian asked who I was. Oleksiy, from Cherkassy who was there with his girlfriend, and some other friends, was friendly and we had a brief chat. I was surprised to find out that he was here merely on holiday, not specifically for the Dynamo game. When I mentioned it, he didn’t even know they were in town.
Anyway, we carried on walking to the Dynamo team hotel. Once we got there, we entered the lobby and found no Dynamo representatives nor any journalists. After milling about for another 10 minutes, we decided to leave and try and find some Dynamo fans in town. We were down on our luck. We popped in for some lunch at ‘ALL STAR STEAKS’ on the recommendation of Jon. However, the overall meal was closer to NO STARS. After the less than satisfactory food, we headed back to the hotel, got changed and made our way to the metro to get to the stadium. By now, the steps we had accumulated had started to take their toll on my feet. Definitely ended up with some nasty blisters but I had to bear the pain. Top Travel Tip: Don’t bring Nike Air Force One’s on holiday!
As we made our way underground, I was really impressed with the Amsterdam Metro. Whilst obviously a lot smaller in scale compared to the Tube or Kyiv’s metro system, it felt a lot more modern and state of the art. As we descended on the escalators, a giant projection of the metro lines and their service status was beamed on the slanted ceiling. It was like a sci-fi film. After a half hour journey on the train we arrived at the behemoth that is the Johan Cruijff ArenA. The infrastructure around the stadium, including shops, restaurants and walkways fitted seamlessly into the location. We headed to the away end sector to purchase our tickets.
As they went on sale at 17:00 we wanted to definitely make sure we got some after making the journey from the UK. As we arrived, there were already a good 40 plus Ukrainians in the queue. As we slowly made our way to the front, we could see certain people were being refused tickets for not having their passports and others for not being Ukrainian or true Dynamo fans. As the 60,000 seat stadium was sold out in the home end, certain tourists and chancers were trying to get in via the Dynamo sector. The Dynamo representative was not having it and turned those people away. Having a British passport myself, I approached the representative to make sure that I could secure a ticket for myself and Jon. Speaking to him in Ukrainian, I said that I reside and was born in London and then proceeded to show him my map of Ukraine tattoo. He was impressed by it and said that was better than any passport! It was a great laugh all round and a reasonably easy process to get tickets in the end. A shout out to Serhiy, the Dynamo Kyiv representative I spoke to, for overseeing the smooth running of ticket sales and vetting of supporters.
Now we had our tickets, we just had the small matter of three and a half hours to kill before KO. We went back to the station and got some beers from a supermarket. Heineken again. As we took a seat on some steps, outside the stadium and soaked up the pre match atmosphere, the Ajax fans and ultras began to arrive in their numbers. The flare, smoke and firework show, curated by the Ultras, was quite something. Finishing off our beers, we decided to get amongst it. Walking past burning used flares, we soon realised that Ajax fans certainly take their football seriously. They really do know how to get you in the mood for a football match. As the chanting and large crowds subsided as people began to make their way to their seats, we had a few chats with Dynamo Kyiv fans outside the stadium. We got a few photos with the banner outside the stadium, and as usual it was quite the conversation starter.
Inside the ArenA, the away sector was sealed off from the rest of the venue, with a glass fence around it. As we were there quite early, we proceeded to stick up our banner with special thanks to the stewards who provided us with some sellotape. After talking to some friendly Amsterdam based Ukrainians, we made our way to the concourse for another beer and chips. We were surprised that beer was allowed on a UEFA night, but we weren’t going to complain! However, concerning the chips, we had forgotten that in Europe that’s what they call Crisps. We settled for the Bolognese flavour Lays rip offs, and to be honest they weren’t that bad.
Re-emerging from the concourse, I was met with the sight of my banner being in the hands of a Dynamo Kyiv Ultra, who had taken it down. They must have arrived whilst we were queuing for a drink. Speaking to who I presume was the WBC Kyiv spokesperson, he explained to me in detail as to why they took the banner down and why I wouldn’t be allowed to hang it up elsewhere in the stand. Their reasoning began by explaining that they didn’t know what this banner was and who it belonged to. Furthermore, the Ultras have a special right to decide who is allowed and who isn’t allowed to hang banners in the away end due to the fact that they regularly attend Dynamo games. In order to be allowed to hang my banner in the same vicinity as the Ultras, I would have to qualify for this right after spending a year getting to know them by attending Dynamo games on a regular basis myself. This was in order for them to know that I was the real deal.
In addition, he mentioned that Dynamo Kyiv and Ajax Ultras don’t have the best of relationships or history and as a result were anticipating a noisy welcome in Kyiv next week. As a result, they didn’t want to risk my banner being stolen and then have it seen as being associated with them. Whilst most of this was to some extent understandable, as I was an outsider to the Ultra scene to them along with the rest of the Dynamo supporters in the stand; saying that you shouldn’t be having a banner if you’re a group of under 10 people was pretty unfair. However, there was obviously no point in arguing or defying them as it would just end negatively for me and give me a bad reputation amongst travelling Dynamo supporters.
Moving away from minor disputes, the actual football was far from great. Dynamo went 1-0 down inside 3 minutes and that immediately dampened the mood in the sector. However, a Kedziora equaliser did briefly reignite the away end atmosphere. The Ajax fans themselves were in great spirits and certainly know how to create a loud and entertaining football environment. Although some of them were less than well behaved, regularly throwing over half full beers over the enclosure into our stand. The score went 2-1 before half time and then 3-1 to the hosts shortly after the restart. Boyko would be coming out of this game with a weakened reputation after a less than convincing performance in goal. The forward play was not much better either!
As the game finished, there was a subdued aura amongst the leaving Ukrainian supporters. Before leaving, we decided to stay behind to get some photos with the banner as we couldn’t let such an opportunity go a miss. We got back on the metro and headed to our hotel for a quick change before visiting a few more overpriced bars. I wasn’t overly in the mood after that poor result and we shut up shop at around 2am. We had a lie in the next morning before check out, walked around Amsterdam one last time and then set off back to the airport. Another away trip and another match where I have failed to see a win! Will it ever come? Let’s hope so! Czech Republic is coming up next time!