In the heart of Amsterdam, two men decided they’d have a go at setting up a football club as an alternative to Ajax and running it exactly how they want. GLENN BILLINGHAM went to an old Dutch Navy base to find out more.
Amsterdam is full of secrets. Despite being densely populated, and home to constant swathes of tourists engaged in Google-sponsored exploration, surprise and discovery are never far away. In addition to flavour-of-the-month restaurants and bars; tranquil courtyard gardens, disguised churches, and even football pitches hide, often in plain sight. Considering the city’s footballing future, one such secret awaits discovery behind the imposing and impressive Scheepvaart museum.
Nestled amongst tightly secured Naval buildings, office and studio space, gardens, a hotel, a cafe, and a pop-up brewery, is a seemingly abandoned football pitch. Owned by the Royal Dutch Navy, the thirteen-acre chunk of land simultaneously tips a hat toward a proud maritime history, Amsterdam’s eclectic and innovative existence, and its relentless march towards the future. With their focus on the football pitch, Martijn Wuite and Lucien Burm have grand plans for Amsterdam’s newest football club, Torpedo Kattenburg.
“We’re the newest football club in the city, but with the oldest history!”, beams Martijn from his studio which is, for now, the makeshift home of a conceptual football club with ambition, ingenuity and momentum in abundance.
July 2018 will see the Royal Navy depart after nearly three hundred years of tenancy, and with Amsterdam’s city council confirming part of the land use redesignation will include sports facilities, ideas and possibilities for what Torpedo Kattenburg could be, entail caveats of uncertainty, but limitless potential.
“At first it was a case of looking out the window and seeing the pitch, and thinking, hey, let’s make a match and kick the ass of some marines”, explains Lucien only half-jokingly. “That actually never happened, though, instead we played the fire department after organising our 7-a-side tournament instead”. Summing up a modest formation, Lucien explains, “I think we hit a sweet spot of just having an idea, giving it a name, a logo, and a good-looking website, and we just launched it”.
In affirming both the need for a sports club in central Amsterdam, and the popularity of a new football club in the area, Torpedo Kattenburg already boast nearly 500 subscribed members. Whilst subscriptions flowed fast, growth from concept to reality is slower.
“It took us about a year and a half to set up the tournament. It was incredibly difficult to organise because the area here is still owned by the Dutch Defence department. With a lot of help from the Marine Agency, who are also responsible for the management of this terrain here, we were able to do it eventually, and we had local media and TV here. It was a lot of fun”.
Indeed, July 2017’s Bijltjesdag tournament is, to date, the only football played by the club. With a second edition being planned for July 14th, 2018, it is hoped that ‘regular football’ can be played from the 2018/19 season. Exactly at which standard, in which league and format, played by whom, and watched by whom, remains unknown.
What is certain is that July 1st, 2018 will see the land free from Navy ownership and bureaucracy, and open for public development. “What we’re most likely to be, or what we’d hope for, is like a sports platform”, explains Lucien, “a kind of sports club making use of not only the football pitch here, but also the tennis courts, basketball court, astroturf, swimming, and sauna. Depending on what the city decides there will be some football in there for sure”.
Shortly after those decisions are made, though, structures around the football pitch will almost certainly be demolished and/or redeveloped, which represents another hurdle of uncertainty. For Lucien, Martijn, the club’s nearly 500-strong group of members, and several other interested parties, the answers to exactly what Torpedo Kattenburg will be, are coming soon.
With its lonely football pitch, centuries old converted stables, retrofit collection of Naval offices and facilities, and as the banner picture on the club’s Twitter feed depicts, the terrain is as unique as its potential. A short distance from Centraal Station, the prospective catchment area not only includes central Amsterdam, but also stretches into the rapidly developing north and eclectic east. Further re-development of the city will also see Kattenburgerstraat, currently the area’s sole access point, become a main thoroughfare between the centre and north and east.
Despite the cautions of uncertainty, Lucien and Martijn have thought deeply regarding the culture, identity, and values of Torpedo Kattenburg. “When you really build up an idea conceptually, what happens is that if people are interested, then their thoughts also go the same direction, but the end goal here is just that everyone can have a lot of fun here doing sports”, explains Lucien.
“But with that end goal are many things, it's a big thing and the big thing is always made up of thousands of little things”, he continues, “overall, we use the word ‘raw’, in that whatever it all becomes the feeling should always be in it. The kit design, how little things look, details, quality, it should feel a little bit raw and organic, so it’s a little bit like that cult feeling, and really quality instead of quantity”.
For instance, the pop-up brewery who are also current co-tenants on the land, have already been commissioned to supply beer to a future clubhouse or canteen. “You know, the canteen at most Dutch sports clubs is terrible – awful broodje bal, frikandel etc. – but we’ve thought about that and want to make use of local start-ups and companies. The brewery is a good example, they made some beer for us called Kattenpis (which probably doesn’t need translation). Like everything, we want to make it local, with a lot of quality, and in a way, kind of organic”, alludes Lucien.
An offshoot of their innovative attention to detail has already yielded a partnership with Copa Football. “They approached us!” asserts Lucien, “we started something, designed something with a logo and the website, and probably made it a little bit bigger than it is, but in the meantime, we’ve sold quite a few, even around the world. Which amateur club in the Netherlands can say that?”
It is a fact, then, that Torpedo Kattenburg already has an international following. In evidencing the power of good ideas snowballing and gaining momentum, London-based designer, Angelo Trofa, designed a kit which depicts the unique maritime association. His ideas, along with the concept of Torpedo Kattenburg, were picked up by Copa Football who turned the strip into a reality.
“Angelo did it, I think, because he likes our story”, describes, Lucien, “so what I think we have here is a good story. Now actually stuff starts to happen, and it becomes bigger because everyone, also the city, realises that there’s no facility in the immediate area where a lot of people live and work, so opportunity is here”.
For now, the club mirrors the background and thinking of both its founders. It is essentially a start-up, one which is centred around serving an obvious public need, but doing so with a healthy dose of flair and ambition. Torpedo Kattenburg aren’t typical ‘cult football’, but, perhaps, they are the thinking man's cult football, designed by entrepreneurs.
Similarities undoubtedly exist with other cult football movements and clubs, such as Le Ballon and Guerilla FC. However, a resemblance perhaps lays with Milan’s AS Velasca, with the identities of both clubs centring around a largely conceptual off-field existence. In the way off-the-field actuality currently outweighs anything on the pitch, and their open interpretation to what league structure may look like, there are shared traits with Hashtag United, too.
Amsterdam, it could be argued with some fervour, is the footballing city. Tactical trends instilled by traveling Brits, were obsessed over and remodelled by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, and then despatched around the world via Barcelona. Pep Guardiola and Manchester City could be considered current torch-bearers. The bloodline of what we’ve come to recognise as ‘good football’ can be traced directly back to the little province of Noord-Holland. There is, however, one thing missing; a second club in the city.
Footballing cities the world over are identified, at least partly, via a rivalry. Liverpool has Everton, City have United, London has a plethora, and even Rotterdam has three clubs in this year’s Eredivisie. AFC Ajax Amsterdam, who rule the roost in their brash and iconic city, have no local rival. This, however, wasn’t always the case.
In the sixties and seventies, a highlight of Amsterdam’s sporting calendar would be De Stadsderby. At the city’s Olympic Stadium, Sunday afternoons would hold a double header where all four of Amsterdam’s professional clubs would meet. Ajax’s history is well-documented, yet a series of ill-fated mergers saw Blauw-Wit Amsterdam, AFC DWS, AVV De Volewijkers, and fleetingly, FC Amsterdam, compete professionally before slipping off the radar and reforming as amateur clubs.
Creating a club from scratch to rival the stature of Ajax might be a bit of a stretch, but Martijn and Lucien have forged a unique opportunity in the centre of Amsterdam. When asked what the set-up would ideally look like in ten years’ time, both men are in agreement, “a stadium!”
“And why not? Why can Rotterdam have three professional clubs and Amsterdam not?”, poses Martijn in response, “We joke about it, but we even thought about a Kickstarter campaign, or advertising for a Russian billionaire, but considering the development in this city, and the financial value of this land, stranger things have happened!” Following their bright-eyed and dreamy enthusiasm, though, a steely and pragmatic logic engulfs the conversation once more.
“For now, we’re silent, still, but the first quarter of 2018 will be decisive for us, that’s for sure. That’s when we’ll know exactly how we can fit in with the local government plans”, reaffirms Martijn, “after then we know our path and we can define all of the other things – our strategy, organisation, budgets, but we need to be ready, when it moves, it moves really fast”.
What is undoubtedly clear is that whilst no facet of the club’s existence is certain, by the same token, absolutely nothing is impossible. Taking into consideration the growth and creativity of the city, and the likeable sincerity of Lucien and Martijn, expect anything from a professional club with a 10,000-seater stadium sitting on top of an apartment complex, to a state-of-the-art amateur sports club as a hub for sports-themed start-ups.
Whatever decision is reached by the city council, in Martijn Wuite and Lucien Burm, Torpedo Kattenburg have owners and entrepreneurs with the wind in their sails.
Club website: http://www.torpedokattenburg.com/
GLENN BILLINGHAM - @glennbills