‘As a little girl, I dreamed of this’
Jonna ter Veer
editor of NOS Sports
Jonna ter Veer
editor of NOS Sports
“I can’t wait for the game. I feel jitters in my belly, like when I saw my girlfriend for the first time,” said Ajax defender Kay-Lee de Sanders.
The 25-year-old soccer star is lightning fast, rock hard and in blood form. And now feels like an adolescent in love. The Ajax women will play the Klassieker against ‘archrival’ Feyenoord in the premier league for the very first time today in the Johan Cruijff Arena (at 4:30 p.m.).
31,000 spectators are expected, which is an instant record in the women’s premier league. The record currently stands at 14,618 spectators. That was at last year’s Klassieker, which was at De Kuip for the first time.
Screaming throats to pieces
“From my bedroom in Reigersbos, I could just see the roof of the Arena,” says De Sanders, who grew up in Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer neighborhood. “If the wind was right and a goal was scored, I could hear the cheering.”
She then imagined herself standing there, the crowd screaming their throats out for her. “I always assumed that the Ajax women were also playing there,” she says. “Until I wanted to play soccer at Ajax myself and heard that they had no women’s teams. How then!”
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In 2014, the Ajax women were in the Arena for the first time, against FC Twente. But the current team has never played there. The women usually play home matches at Sportpark de Toekomst, Ajax’s training complex.
To this day, there is still a world to be won for players in terms of equality. Ajax, ranked second in the league, takes an important pioneering role in this regard.
Playing in the Arena is an important signal, says head coach Suzanne Bakker. “This is recognition, an important step in women’s soccer. If you suggested this before, you were called crazy.”
She says playing in the Arena is a dream of the Ajacans and some feel extra excitement.
For that reason, she took a tour of the stadium with the players last Wednesday. Past the dressing room where their shirts will soon be hanging ready, through the catacombs, onto the field, surrounded by stands where they themselves have sat so often and where today some 30,000 people will be watching.
“I told them to embrace the excitement,” says Bakker.
One who can handle those feelings well is captain Sherida Spitse. The Dutch national has already played an EC final and a World Cup final. She now knows that you have to learn to manage your emotions.
“When we arrived at the stadium in 2017 for the European Championship final with all those fans, I sat in the bus with watery eyes. I hadn’t seen this coming for a while. I had to shift gears mentally to then perform on the field.”
That’s why that tour was so important, she says, so everyone is already a bit prepared.
The midfielder is famous for her free kicks. Cutting hard and barely stoppable. “The Arena has a top grass pitch. That’s definitely going to help,” she sounds confident.
She has been an Ajax fan all her life. Her great examples were Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder. Now that she is a professional soccer star herself, she has good contact with both of them. “Wesley appended me that he might come to watch today,” she said.
Open bedroom window
Breed-Amsterdam man De Sanders also looks forward to the audience. “As many as seventy people are coming especially for me!”
She also expects to see many girls’ teams and many parents. Women’s league games often feel like a family outing, convivial and accessible. And if that Arena is then sufficiently full, De Sanders has one last dream.
“Let there be a girl in Reigersbos who hears through her window how people cheer when we score. That she then not only thinks: I want to be there too. But that she then also knows that this is possible.”