When Ajax eschewed the three stripes
- As with all of our Dutch content, a debt of gratitude is owed to Dirk Maas
On July 5, 2000, Ajax announced a partnership with adidas, bringing to an end an 11-year association with Umbro.
To our eyes, the new kits looked to be quite smart, especially as the yellow and navy change kit utilised the famous Ajax style of a central stripe.
However, while there was no problem with the large stripe, it was the narrower three stripes of adidas that drew the ire of the Ajax fanbase, many of whom felt that the integrity of their design had been harmed – some fan-sites even went so far as to call for a boycott. Within the club, there were also some misgivings.
The adverts for the new shirt tried to draw a parallel with the adidas motif and the famous Ajax formation, asking: “Would you be a fan of a team that doesn’t use three attackers? Once an Ajax fan, always an Ajax fan.”
At this point, it’s worth remarking that Ajax originally wore traditional red and white stripes but when they sought to join the Dutch league, they were forced to change as Sparta Rotterdam did (and still do) have the same style and no club was allowed to have the same as another. PSV Eindhoven nowadays tend to favour red and white stripes too, but when they started off their shirts were predominantly red.
Eventually, things calmed but in December 2000, Nico van Offeren, the managing director of adidas Benelux, kind of acknowledged that the company had made a misstep:
As a world leader in football, Adidas knows, like no other, what tradition means for a club. For the 2000-2001 season, we designed an outfit that is fully in line with Ajax’s club tradition. To be honest, we underestimated the emotion, caused by this new shirt.
I have been a Ajax-fan myself for 32 years and in my environment I heard that the current shirt was not seen as an Ajax shirt. We have now taken this into account.
Arie van Eijden, then managing director of Ajax, responded enthuastically:
We are pleased that adidas has taken our tradition as a starting point this time. They have taken into account the club history that we value. For years, Ajax’s kit suppliers have left the essential forms of the home kit intact.
The design of the kit was always free to fill in, with the addition that Ajax always gave approval for the design first.
For the 2001-02 season, a compromise was reached in that the domestic shirt was devoid of the stripes but in European games the same design with stripes was used (although the stripeless kit was used against Apollon Limassol and FC København in the Uefa Cup that season). Once again, the change kit was in the Ajax style, though it had three stripes for all games.
This situation would pertain until the end of 2008-09, but for the following season the new shirt (but not the shorts or socks) had the adidas stripes, both domestically and in Europe.
Our best guess for the change was that the renewal of the kit deal came at the time of the global domestic downturn and adidas were probably in a stronger bargaining position. While there were some noises of discord, they weren’t as loud as they had been in 2000 – perhaps the use of the stripes in the European games had eroded the resistance to some degree.
Ajax won the Dutch league for the 30th time in 2010-11, meaning they could add a third star above their crest. The fans weren’t happy that the floppy collar on the 2011-12 shirt covered the stars, but any misgivings regarding the three stripes have been overcome.