Ajax Chess: Musings about Space in Dutch Society

By: Jackie Gase

David Winner and Simon Kuper really develop an understanding of how Dutch soccer interacts with the history and culture of the Netherlands. While Kuper’s book researches club and member history during World War II, Winner analyzes how the play of the sport evolved simultaneously with its environment. These two readings may seem disconnected from the previous readings of this week, however, they add to the discussion of Dutch identity.

Soccer is a culture in the Netherlands. People identify with certain teams and the symbols/characteristics of that team. For example, Feyenoord is identifiable by their anti-Semitic chants, and Ajax, as Winner illustrated, has taken on a Jewish identity using the Star of David and Israeli flag to emphasize the club’s Jewish climate even though majority of the fans and players are not Jewish. Furthermore, Dutch soccer, particularly Ajax, represents a completely Dutch identity because of the way they play: total soccer. So, we can see identity through more than just clothing and behavior, but through the way people play sports. This to me was extremely interesting. Previously, I’ve researched how sport can interact and connect with culture, but Winner takes this a step further linking soccer with every major element that defines Dutch identity, stating that soccer is a reflection of the entire Dutch environment.

Winner’s book allowed me to connect all previous readings about the art, architecture, people, politics, and history of the Netherlands into one central theme that defines the Dutch environment: space. I think that the way the Dutch handle space, the way they evolve it, create it, transform it, and interact with it is seen in everything that is Dutch. From the creation of the Dutch landscape, to the perspectival planes seen in Dutch art, to the way the Netherlands recreated its city’s architecture to correspond with past and present space, and finally to the way soccer is played, the key element of Dutch identity is this mindful attention to space.

I thought Winner’s continual comparison of the Dutch landscape and soccer to a chess board is fantastic. And if you think about it the way the Dutch evolve is this slow moving detailed thought process. Sometimes they falter, as with colonialism and prejudice, and their pieces are claimed. And other times, they thrive, as with the original construction of the landscape into dikes and dams and the redefinition of architecture, in which they claim space on the chess board and take the opposing players piece. And much like the way Dutch soccer is played, the community and the landscape all connect together to create this ‘total’ interactive system where all elements of the community and landscape come together to create a feeling and sense of Dutch identity.

Finally, I think that this idea of space is what makes Amsterdam and the other cities of the Netherlands museums. As we’ve seen by Hansen-Glucklich museums are more than just placing items in a room. There is a lot that goes into creating and defining a space that will reflect a narrative. Exhibition design is crucial to the overall experience of an exhibit or a museum. The landscape and environment of the Netherlands creates and defines Dutch identity. Elements of the landscape and culture all come together to reflect a Dutch narrative, much like the objects in a museum all come together.


Left: iamrobin2. “Aerial photo of Amsterdam.” imgur.com, 14 October 2014, http://imgur.com/gallery/LtJAL0x.

Right: Van der Meer, Hans. “Moment of Tension.” Photograph taken from The Guardian, 18 May 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/football/in-bed-with-maradona/2017/may/18/football-replays-camera-angles-reflect-society-politics-photographs.


One thought on “Ajax Chess: Musings about Space in Dutch Society

  1. I like that you’ve excavated “space” from Winner and started to reflect on how it plays out in those other media–architecture and urban planning, museum curation, painting. How does that new framework–thinking of the Dutch as masters of space–reshape your earlier thinking about those other media? Does it amplify ideas, say, from Brusati? Or does it shift your prior thinking or contrast with earlier readings? Does this work as a new unifying framework? (or do we need one single one?)


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