Going Dutch again

Ajax, in Amsterdam. Who’d have thought it?

It’s only when you stop and look around that you realise how far you’ve travelled. Five years ago we were eleventh in the Championship, we’d won one in a row and were looking forward to our next match, against Small Heath who were three places above us. On Thursday night we’re playing Ajax in a European tie.

This is the sort of game that dreaming of keeps you going in the bad times. Two of the most famous names in European football, between them they’ve won five European Cups, three Super Cups, 43 league titles and 32 domestic cups. And we’re favourites to go through. All cynicism aside, that’s something to be proud of. Forget injuries and losses and all that stuff about the ground redevelopment and the new badge; we’ve been aiming at this since our owners first walked through the door. You can forget how important or otherwise the trophy is as well. It doesn’t matter. Venues like the Johan Cruyff Arena are where we belong.

Ajax haven’t been all that good this season. In fact, this is on course to be their worst-ever, and if that’s not tempting fate I don’t know what is. Their youth policy has let them down for once and instead of the emerging talents of Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Patrick Kluivert they’ve got Jordan Henderson. We’ve got, as always, a one-in one-out policy when it comes to injuries. They’re also got a load of notorious hooligans and probably a load of flags and smoke to welcome the English. We’ll probably have a good few thousand over there and some of them will have tickets.

As always on these occasions there’s no idea what team Unai will put out, although the options are still short. They can’t be as awful as they have been all season but it’ll be good if they are, we win about five-nil and we can enjoy next week’s return instead of enduring ninety minutes of drama. That’s what Europe’s about as well.