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Ajax, the Dutch, the War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe's Darkest Hour [Paperback]

Simon Kuper
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

27 Sep 2012
When most people think about the Netherlands, images of tulips and peaceful pot smoking residents spring to mind. Bring up soccer, and most will think of Johan Cruyuff, the Dutch player thought to rival Pele in preternatural skill, and Ajax, one of the most influential soccer clubs in the world whose academy system for young athletes has been replicated around the globe (and most notably by Barcelona and the 2010 world champions, Spain). But as international bestselling author Simon Kuper writes in Ajax, The Dutch, The War: Soccer in Europe During the Second World War, the story of soccer in Holland cannot be understood without investigating what really occurred in this country during WWII. For decades, the Dutch have enjoyed the reputation of having a "good war." The myth is even resonant in Israel where Ajax is celebrated. The fact is, the Jews suffered shocking persecution at the hands of Dutch collaborators. Holland had the second largest Nazi movement in Europe outside Germany, and in no other country except Poland was so high a percentage of Jews deported. Kuper challenges Holland's historical amnesia and uses soccer--particularly the experience of Ajax, a club long supported by Amsterdam's Jews--as a window on wartime Holland and Europe. Through interviews with Resistance fighters, survivors, wartime soccer players and more, Kuper uncovers this history that has been ignored, and also finds out why the Holocaust had a profound effect on soccer in the country. Ajax produced Cruyuff but was also built by members of the Dutch resistance and Holocaust survivors. It became a surrogate family for many who survived the war and its method for producing unparalleled talent became the envy of clubs around the world. In this passionate, haunting and moving work of forensic reporting, Kuper tells the breathtaking story of how Dutch Jews survived the unspeakable and came to play a strong role in the rise of the most exciting and revolutionary style of soccer -- "Total Football" -- the world had ever seen.


Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group; First Trade Paper Edition edition (27 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568587236
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568587233
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 699,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Booklist(Published in the UK by Orion)"Kuper's journalism is always about more than just the game itself...It's a fascinating exploration by a journalist who holds no truths to be self-evident but wants the facts behind the national myths we so eagerly embrace. Likely to interest WWII and Holocaust scholars as much as--if not more than--soccer fans." The Classical"Ajax is an absorbing, thoughtful read, driven by a moral intelligence not typically found in sports books... The resulting book is not about 4-4-2 formations, transfers, or sporting glory--Kuper instead uses the game as a lever to open up a serious but engaging discussion of collective memory, group identity, the legacy of the Holocaust and the war, and what games can stand for beyond the pitch. Any intelligent sports fan not familiar with Kuper's work is missing out, and Ajax more than lives up to his high standard." Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1 Brooklyn"[W]orthy (and decidedly different) nonfiction... Simon Kuper's Ajax, The Dutch, The War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe's Darkest Hour is a smart, sometimes horrifying look at soccer in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in nations occupied by the Nazis. I've read a couple of Kuper's other books, and as with them, I was impressed with his ability to place compelling sports narratives into a larger geopolitical context." International Soccer Network"Another masterpiece from Simon Kuper...Kuper, one of the most prominent writers in the soccer business, tackles the difficult task of finding out the truth behind what the Dutch did and didn't do in WWII and the role soccer may have played in the grand scheme of things. Kuper becomes historian, investigative journalist, and storyteller all wrapped into one...Simply put this text is extremely powerful...It is impossible to truly understand Dutch soccer without first reading this book. If you liked David Winner's Brilliant Orange, you will absolutely fall in love with Kuper's Ajax, the Dutch, the War. It's that good." The Volunteer"[Kuper] is a tenacious digger...his work is indispensable today." Kirkus Reviews"Though Kuper's book promises to explore the history of Ajax and other soccer clubs, it goes much deeper...[Kuper] kicks topics around the way Maradona smacks a ball, sometimes with a great roundabout curve to it--but always hitting the goal...fascinating." Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World"This book is filled with reporting that will break your heart and analysis that will change the way you watch the game." Daily Telegraph"His fresh-eyed survey has a familiar theme but never palls, crowded with a gallery of unlikely figures...whose stories weave through the book." The Times"I have only bought one football book recently and it's an absolute belter...heartily recommended." Glasgow Herald"Gripping and brilliant." Financial Times"An intriguing social history, full of quirky anecdotes, written with a winning geniality and the dash of a Brazilian forward...a beguiling book." Spectator"A fascinating tale, which Kuper describes particularly well." GQ"Kuper's poignant and perceptive account again proves there can be more to football writing than fanzines and pale Hornby imitations." Telegraph"A fascinating history, full of startling facts and sobering detail." Time Out"Kuper has fashioned a work which brilliantly juxtaposes the everyday life of football clubs with the awful fate suffered by so many of their Jewish players, officials, and supporters." Independent "An intriguing work." The Forward"[Kuper] is the world expert on the intersection of soccer, culture and politics." World Football Commentaries"[A] provocative, well-researched and captivating book. The author takes you down a road less-traveled to unearth a rich trove of remembrances: Memories that were previously hidden from public view but never forgotten by their protagonists...The author's writing style is detailed, journalistic and captivating...Mr. Kuper told a story that needed to be shared with a larger audience...This seminal work is not only about soccer, a country and a people, but rather the good and bad qualities found in human nature." Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review "[A] poignant tribute." Jewish Book World "[A] bold and comprehensive book... [Kuper] deepens our understanding of Europe's darkest hour."

About the Author

Simon Kuper is one of the world's leading writers on soccer. The winner of the William Hill prize for sports book of the year in England, Kuper writes a weekly column for the Financial Times.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By R. Newbold TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
For those like me, who associate Ajax with "Total Football" and their hat-trick of European Cup wins in the 1970s, and their later flowering with the stunning array of talent developed in the 1980s/90s, this narrative of the history of the club, its players, Dutch football and their tribulations under Nazi occupation in WWII comes as an amazing and scarcely believable tale.

The relationship of the club to Amsterdam's once-large Jewish community, and its destruction and later partial resurrection is a rivetting read, and Kuper emphasises the personal through interviews with surviving players, officials and fans of that era. The author also effectively draws the wider parallels to the Dutch and their not always glorious actions under occupation, their immense suffering, particularly in the last "Hunger Winter" of the war - setting the book as a testament to sport's survival under extreme conditions.

I understand this updated edition of the 2003 publication, expands and revises the upsurge of Dutch anti-immigration and anti-Muslim political parties, re-emerging anti-semitism and the efforts of the Ajax club to downplay their Jewish heritage and their fans appropriation of this identity. I read the book before the latest emergence of anti-Semitism in the sport, the issue of Tottenham's appropriation of Jewish identity and the Anelka affair, so it reminds us that many of the issues remain entangled in the game. Recommended for its football, WWII history and wider sociological strands..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read 20 Feb 2013
By Simone K. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I bought this book because it covered two topics that fascinate me: soccer and Holland in WWII (my late grandparents were teenagers in the Netherlands during Nazi Occupation). It did not disappoint. While it did focus more on Dutch Jewish history than I expected, the stories Kuper told in this book were riveting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting 15 Nov 2012
By Archie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A history of Dutch anti semitism from a very unexpected view point. I read this book in one sitting. Highly recommended
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A walk through history and sport 4 Mar 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
- A non-biased view of the pre-WW II and WW II football in Europe;
- Demythization of some sensible prejudices;
- A lot of useful information;
- Recommended to all football and history lovers.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ajax, soccer, and the war 5 Feb 2013
By Margaret Ann Simmons - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The war, any war, has its share of heroism and valor as well as betrayal, secrets, suffering and sin. Sport is too often framed in heroic metaphor but it contains all the parts of human nature seen in war (lacking only women, until Title 10.) This book tells the familiar story one more time and it is so worth it. Human Nature is what it is all about!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dutch Tears 10 Jun 2013
By Charlie Bartel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To say that Simon Kuper was meant to write this book is to ignore history. He wrote this book earlier in Dutch, and then decided (or was encouraged) to re-write (and add more) in English. And none of that matters.

More than any other Western European country Holland welcomed the Nazi if for no other reason than to make their occupation go smoothly. But when the war ended many in Dutch society tried to deny their past and act like they couldn't be blamed. It took a new generation, coming of age in the 60's to force the Dutch to live up to their past.

Kuper chooses Holland's most famous club, Ajax of Amsterdam. The Ajax stadium was located inside the Jewish section of the city. Many of the clubs directors and back room staff were Jews. No club suffered more at the hands of the Nazis and their compliant Dutch hosts. Kuper finds the survivors and gets their stories. I cried.

As Dutch society changed, driven by the post war generation, Ajax was reborn through a combination of English and Dutch coaches. They found and developed Europe's greatest ever player Johan Cruyff. Cruyff took his teammates to the heights of the European game with 3 consecutive European Cups and a runner up spot in the 1974 World Cup. He then left for Barcelona as a player and a manager. Spain has won the last two European Nation's Cup and the last World Cup, playing a system created and taught by Cruyff. Because of his time at Ajax it was assumed by many (especially Cruyff's many critics) that he came from a Jewish family. Cruyff denied that. Kuper suggests that those who made those claims were in fact the the the inheritors of the Nazi collaborators during the war, willing to trash the reputation of the country's greatest sporting hero to preserve anti-Semitic prejudices from the past. Cruyff escaped to Spain.

Kuper's book deals with painful memories. He doesn't hide from this. He faces Holland's past head on and makes the reader deeply feel for how the victims suffered. We live in an era of great football journalists like JIMMY BURNS, JOHN FOOT, and JONATHAN WILSON. SIMON KUPER with AJAX THE DUTCH, THE WAR takes his place at the head table. Read this book. Read all his books.
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