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MISTER AJAX

Nobody is as loyal to his club as Sjaak Swart. From the age of ten he has played continuously for the brave Meersche heroes. Nowadays he can be found at the training complex six days a week and at Sjaak's Table in the Champions Lounge during every home match. MASTERS visited him during his biweekly training on the AVV Zeeburgia field. “I am much more popular now than when I played football.” Text: Bart-Jan Brouwer
Image: John van Helvert I was six years old and lived on Reinwardtstraat, near the Dappermarkt. After school I was only busy with football until dark: holding up the ball, playing and playing hole football, with the sewage drains in the curbs serving as the goal. If a car ever came and wanted to park, we said: 'No sir, park it a little further away, because we are putting holes here.' We played with a tennis ball, I owe my good kicking technique to that. The only thing that sometimes got in my way: my parents had a fish stall on the Dappermarkt and I had to take it back to the garage in the evening. I hated that, because I wanted to keep playing football. If I didn't come fast enough, I got the carpet beater. We were not well off at home. I also helped my parents by taking buckets of fried bucking and herring to the barracks on Mauritskade and Zeeburg on my bicycle. Just like me, my father was crazy about football. He often went to De Meer by bike, with me on the back. A dime for a parking spot. We were on the Diemer side, the later F-side. When I was ten, I was accepted into the Ajax youth team. For my birthday I received a suitcase with Ajax stuff. "Don't open it," my mother said, "otherwise the pigeons will fly out." She was that sick. She died two days later. That of course cast a shadow over the joy that I was allowed to play football at Ajax. Fortunately, my father experienced everything, even though he also died too young. He did everything for my career. Once, when a match was canceled because there were puddles on the AFC field, he started to tidy up the field himself with a wheelbarrow of sand.”

BREAKDOWN

“When I was just eighteen, I was picked from the dressing room at half-time of a match in the A1 to sit on the bench for the first team. A week later, on September 16, 1956, I made my debut in Ajax's first team, in the cup match against Stormvogels. In total I would play 603 official matches for the first time. The last was on May 19, 1973, against AZ '67. In those seventeen years I scored 228 goals and won eight Dutch championships, five national cups, three European Cups, two European Super Cups, one Intertoto Cup and one World Cup. My personal highlights? There are so many... The deciding match in the Olympic Stadium, on May 26, 1960, for the championship against Feyenoord of Cor van der Gijp, Reinier Kreijermaat and Kees Rijvers. We were 1-0 down in the first half, but we won 5-1. I made the third – that was the decision, then it was over. Another highlight was the fog match against reigning European champion Liverpool on December 7, 1966. We had prepared in Zeist, after which everyone went to the Olympic Stadium in their own car. But mine, an old Citroën, had a breakdown. I couldn't get it to work, and everyone was already gone. We were pushing there in the parking lot! Made a lap five times before he did it. We arrived twenty minutes late. Not really the best preparation, but we completely defeated Liverpool: 5-1, with four assists from me. They are still talking about that in England. And you know what I played? Right back and right winger. Wim Suurbier was injured after ten minutes and that year no substitutes were allowed, we had to finish the match with the eleven players who started. Wimpie limped the entire match. That match marks the start of Ajax's rise in international football. My heading goal in the semi-final of the European Cup against Benfica in 1972, which gave us a 1-0 win, has always stayed with me. After the match the reporter said to me: 'That was a good ball!' 'Yes,' I replied, 'I just happened to have to go that way...' Haha. Finally, my farewell match against Tottenham Hotspur on August 8, 1973. The stadium was completely full! 60.000 people. The way I was put in the spotlight then! And then a party at the Hilton until six in the morning. All the artists there had performed for free: Wim Sonneveld, Willy and Willeke Alberti, all the big names were there.”

GOLDEN SHOE

“Football used to be no big deal, I had my own tobacco shop next to it, in Potanusstraat. Fans came from all over to buy their smokes from me, and immediately get an autograph and have a chat. In those days you didn't get a personal souvenir if you won a final or something like that. Only if you were top scorer in a weekend: then you got a golden shoe. I had a mess of that. But I gave them all away. Just like the shirts I had saved; I usually gave them away when there was a lottery at a school. Johan Neeskens still has everything. He used to sleep at my house every weekend for two years, and he was a lot of mess! A while ago I visited him in Switzerland. I didn't know what I saw: it looked like a museum. How he did that... There were 170 shirts on a hanger and he was just polishing his golden shoe. I had never seen him polish his shoes at Ajax, haha!”

AT THEIR LAZER

“Many football players take up golf after their career. Not me. Stop it, I hate golf. I'm not going to walk four hours to hit a ball! I don't like that, it takes too long for me. I watch it, I watch all sports - the only thing I don't like is korfball. Six days a week I am at De Toekomst – this is my 'office'. I speak to everyone, know everyone. What do people here think of Heitinga? I can see that myself! They may have comments, but I have my own opinion. And they can't change that. Every home game I sit in the Champions Lounge, at my own Sjaak table. Geert Kuperus offered me that spot when he started the lounge. There are always about thirty to thirty-five people coming. Beforehand I'll give a little word about the match, what I think of the line-up, I'll give some players a shout-out. People like that. The food is provided by star chefs and is fantastic. I hope that I can experience Ajax winning some European cups. But it's a lot harder now than it used to be. Every year you have to build a new team, because most of the good players are sold or want to leave. Just look at De Ligt, at Frenkie. Who will later become my successor as Mister Ajax? I don't think there is a single player who will play for the same club for another fifteen years. All in all, I have played about eight hundred matches for Ajax. No one comes close to that number anymore. There is only one Mister Ajax. And that is enough too.”

MASTERS #42

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MASTERS #42