Remembering football’s lost pre-season competition: Amsterdam tournament

Summer without football is often a despairing time. With a European Championship or World Cup to distract us, then it’s bearable at best. Any excitement, or hope that our team will do well, invariably ends in major disappointment. Maybe that’s just part and parcel of being an England fan.

But when there’s no international tournament to take our minds off the fact the league season has ended, then it’s a very long countdown. Our TV screens are awash with cricket and a seemingly never ending production line of reality shows. Even when the pre-season friendlies do start coming thick and fast, they don’t kick-off until the early hours due to the inevitable need clubs have to tour the four corners of the globe.

There did, however, used to be a pre-season spectacle that was worth watching, worth paying attention to. Spread over two or three days, it would see four teams battling it out in a mini tournament, playing matches against two of the three sides available. The premise was simple, the usual scoring system would apply (three points for a win, one for a draw) plus a point would be awarded for each goal scored. This, it was argued, would encourage more attacking play and be more enjoyable for the watching public. They were right. With the start of the football season still out of sight, it’s time to remember the enjoyable summers where we were treated to the Amsterdam Tournament.

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The inaugural tournament was held in ’75, but it was when it became an annual event in 1999 that the tournament really became something to genuinely look forward to.  It became a competition that was known for goals, with only six matches in the 11 years to its final edition in 2009, ending goalless.

High calibre teams such as Arsenal and Barcelona became regular entrants, with the equally impressive Amsterdam ArenA the venue for these high profile games. While goals would glow throughout the years, red cards and red mist would also be on offer.

Liverpool would finish with nine-men when competing against Galatasaray in the 2003 edition, while Manchester United would be denied the services of both Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney for three matches in 2006, for misdemeanours that occurred at that summer’s tournament. This would lead to Sir Alex Ferguson declaring,

“We will not be playing in the Amsterdam tournament again, you can bet your life on that.”

Sir Alex Ferguson

The managerial great was true to his word.

The summer of 2009 would see the last of the Amsterdam Tournament, with Ajax’s participation in Champions League qualifying meaning they wouldn’t be able to host, and sadly this became a regular necessity for one of Europe’s former greats.

Any lingering hopes of the competition being revived seemed to have been quashed by the recently created International Champions Cup, which sees Europe’s top clubs invited to take part across North America, Australia and China. The riches on offer to the invited clubs, plus the fierce competition among those clubs to ‘win’ new fans, suggests the ICC is not going anywhere anytime soon.

We have just a couple more weeks to endure, all the while pretending we like tennis and waiting to find out who wins Big Brother, until our clubs’ pre-seasons start. Whether you choose to stay up until the early hours, or just watch highlights at a sensible hour, of these matches is up to you. But while doing so, just remember there used to be a pre-season tournament that was worth watching, where goals and great players were in plentiful supply. Here’s to the Amsterdam tournament. Gone, but not forgotten.