Does premier league soccer end dédain about Almere? ‘Ally lives’
It is the fastest-growing big city in the Netherlands, it is the city with the most under-18s, and perhaps soon Almere will be a genuine premier league city. Even with a narrow defeat in Emmen today, Almere City FC promotes to the highest soccer level, thanks to Tuesday’s 2-0 victory at home. Will a premier league club finally change the image of the city about which some believe has been talked about disparagingly for decades?
Along with Zeeland, Flevoland has never delivered a soccer club in the premier league. Especially from the point of view of the latter province, this is not surprising. The first houses in Almere were completed in 1976. It then took almost two decades before a serious plan to bring high-level soccer to the city emerged.
Martin Ort, director of the business association in downtown Almere, knows both the city and club inside out. He moved to Almere in 1980, as a 12-year-old, “when there were mostly streets on a barren sandy plain.” From the very beginning he was involved with the soccer club Almere City.
For a long time there was hardly any connection between club and city, Ort explains. “The city was always Ajax. That’s not surprising, because the first 100,000 inhabitants came from Amsterdam. In addition, we were usually at the bottom of the table. People weren’t really proud of that. People laughed about it, and rightly so. The only goal at the club for a long time was to keep things afloat; we often crawled through the eye of the needle with last-minute averted bankruptcies and relegations.”
He says the big turnaround came with the acquisition of real estate billionaire Lesley Bamberger in 2010. “It was often said before then that the city was not involved in the club, but I always said at the time: was it the other way around? An awful lot of things were set up after the takeover, from social projects to get older people into the stadium, for example, to getting players into the city center or actions around matches.”
That had an effect, according to Ort. The club is now alive, he sees. There are many young people in the stands, says Ort, who are proud of their club and city. “Now people who were born in Almere are also starting to stir. That is new and really the Ally-society which is forming,” he says, referring to Almere’s nickname. ‘Ally’ also recurs regularly in the art of Camp Seedorf, the well-known soccer street-art collective with roots in Almere.
Ort sees parallels between the city’s identity and the club. “We are the eternal young city, we always will be. The same goes for the club. And we are not afraid to undertake anything and that things can fail. Take the Floriade. That wasn’t a success story, but we picked it up.”
Ort believes that any promotion of Almere to the premier league is “incredibly important.” “Especially for the image. There has been disparaging talk about Almere for forty years. A professional football club, and in particular a premier league club, then helps enormously to get a more positive image,” he says of his city, which is regularly dismissed as boring and unsociable.
‘Impulse for Almere’s status’
Ort’s words are underscored by sports marketer Ruud van der Knaap. “No city marketing can compete with that,” he says of the effect of a possible promotion. “For cities like Almere, that can mean a lot. It’s a boost for the city’s reputation and status.”
In the spirit of his city, Martin Ort has already organized a tribute. Singer René Schuurmans, interpreter of the club’s anthem, is already booked. It is the seventh time Ort has organized a tribute for Almere City. None actually went ahead. “It is the only metropolitan event that has been organized six times but has never taken place,” he says, laughing.
In the unlikely event that things do go wrong today, Ort is not minuscule. He says it is simply a matter of time before Almere has a premier league club. “So then we will organize it next year for the eighth time. It will work one time.”