Football Features

Ajax’s club badge, name & Dutch football’s obsession with Ancient Greece explained

By Mohamed Moallim

The Ajax club badge explained

Published: 13:49, 3 May 2019

The current crest of Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax is very unique.

Firstly, it’s a modern version of the record 33-time Dutch champions badge. Commissioned in the early 1990s, as they embarked on another golden period under Louis van Gaal, the figure of Greek hero Ajax the Great — in full battle armour — is drawn with 11 lines each symbolising the number of players that make up a football team.

Despite its presence, it’s not universally popular, as many supporters yearn for the club’s traditional crest to return. In recent years a campaign dubbed ‘Geef Ajax z’n Gezicht Terug!‘ (Give Ajax its face back!) has captured the imagination. However, it’s unlikely the powers that be will make that switch.

Ajax's old club badge

This banner displays the old Ajax badge (inverted).

Instead, they’ve made a sort of compromise by prominently displaying it around their home stadium (Johan Cruijff ArenA) and on Ajax’s official jersey.

So why the name Ajax? Founded on March 18, 1900 by Floris Stempel, Carel Reeser and Han Dade they decided to name their new club after the mythological hero Ajax, who fought in the Trojan War.

And as morbid as this may sound, what drew them to him was the manner of his death: by committing suicide, Ajax died unconquered.

As for the three ‘X’ symbols closely associated with Ajax, those are actually Saint Andrew’s Crosses and they are a reference to the flag of Amsterdam.

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But Ajax are not alone in adopting their moniker from a mythological figure.

Back when a number of these Dutch clubs were being founded, the Ancient heroes were equivalent to their comic book counterparts today. The stories from Greek myth, in particular, were most read. And when you look around there are a number of other sides who, like the Netherlands’ most successful club, are named after Greek (demi-)gods, heroes and places…

Achilles ’29

Founded in June 1929, the Groesbeek-based club were named after Ajax’s cousin Achilles, widely considered to be the greatest warrior in Greek mythology, and wonderfully depicted by Brad Pitt in the 2004 movie Troy…

Unlike the Amsterdammers, they’re not found in the Dutch top division, but rather in the fourth tier. Known as a cup specialist, they’ve toppled a number of professional clubs down the years, including RKC Waalwijk, Telstar and the next team on our list Heracles Almelo.

Heracles Almelo

OK, this one is easy, but most will be more familiar with the Roman variant of this mythological hero’s name, Hercules. Founded in 1903, the club from Almelo, located in the middle of Twente, derive their name from Heracles (note the correct spelling), the divine son of Zeus who completed 12 arduous labours before landing his own Disney franchise.

Since 2005, they’ve been Eredivisie mainstays and have flirted with competing in European football. Their last major piece of silverware, though, came in 1941, when they became Dutch champions (for the second time overall). However, this was more than a decade before the Eredivisie was established.

Sparta Rotterdam

The city of Rotterdam currently possesses three professional clubs: Feyenoord, SBV Excelsior and Sparta Rotterdam. The latter two have roots in antiquity when it comes to their names, though only Sparta can trace theirs back to Greece (as ‘Excelsior’, the favourite expression of Marvel comics founder Stan Lee, is the Latin word for “high”).

Sparta, named after the legendary Greek city-state, holds the distinction of being the oldest Dutch football club and they’re proud of that feat. Founded in April 1888, they’ve become somewhat of a yo-yo club in recent years and currently find themselves back in the second tier. A six-time Dutch champion, their last major success came hoisting a third Dutch Cup in 1966.