'A piece of Ajax': How Eredivisie champions melted down their trophy to share it with fans

Usually, when Ajax win the Eredivisie title, they would parade the trophy in Amsterdam's Museumplein for thousands of fans, adorned in red and white, to hail their heroes for becoming Dutch league champions once again.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic locking the Ajacied out of the Johan Cruyff Arena and a ban on mass gatherings preventing public celebrations for the club's 35th title, Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar wondered: "Why can't we share this trophy with the supporters?"

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Ajax have found a unique way to do exactly that after winning the 2020-21 title, to reward their fanatical fans in a unique way: by giving them a piece of the actual trophy. Or, as they are calling it, "a piece of Ajax."

Each year the winner of the Eredivisie is given a bespoke shield made by De Tingieterij, a company based in Alphen aan de Maas, 90 kilometres (56 miles) from the Dutch capital. The previous trophies are in the club's museum, but this season Ajax asked the Dutch FA (KNVB) for two versions of the trophy -- the original one, and a replica version.

De Tingieterij have made the Eredivisie trophy since 1985, and crafted the 2020-21 shield for Ajax. But then the club sent it back, asking the maker to instead use it to create a memento for their fans. The shield, which weighs in at 2.575 kilograms (5½ lbs.), was melted down by and turned into 42,390 individual stars -- one for every person with an Ajax season ticket.

The process of crafting the stars started with the shield being melted down, and then adding tin. The mixture was put through casting machines and then into star-shaped moulds. The stars were then polished up, with each one weighing 3.45 grams (0.12oz), containing 0.06g (0.002oz) of the original trophy.

"This season, we have largely had to play without our fans. Well, without them sitting in the stands, at least," Van der Sar, who won four Eredivisie titles and the Champions League as the club's goalkeeper in the 1990s, said. "Despite this, we have felt their support every week. On the way to the stadium, on social media and in our personal contacts.

"Previously, when we said 'this title is for you,' we were expressing how we were doing it for the fans. However, sharing the trophy is the ultimate proof that we really are. After a turbulent year, we are ensuring our fans feel part of our championship."

The club produced a video detailing the story behind the stars with players Ryan Gravenberch, Dusan Tadic and Lisandro Martinez -- complete with blowtorch -- and director of football Marc Overmars taking the shield to the furnace to get it melted down, with the accompanying message: "Amsterdam, the city where everything is possible."

Many of the club's fans have already received their star, which has been sent to each of them with a message on behalf of everyone at the club:

"For the 35th time in our history we became champions of the Netherlands. The shield is ours. And above all we would have celebrated like you are used to, together with our fans on a full square in the beautiful Amsterdam. But that is not possible. We must miss each other like we have done almost all season.

"Nonetheless this hasn't withheld you from being there for us. To show commitment, even from a distance. Something we are extremely grateful for. This trophy is as much yours as it is from the club. Even stronger, this one for you all. Therefore we have decided to give every season ticket holder a piece of history as a gift.

"Everyone gets a unique part of the shield and this one is for you. You are part of our victories. You are the club. XXXV is yours."

Ajax played 30 of their 34 Eredivisie matches in front of empty stands. They also won the KNVB Cup this season, completing a domestic double. The team reached the quarterfinals of the Europa League, and have recently awarded manager Erik Ten Hag a new deal, taking him through to 2023, amid reported interest from Tottenham Hotspur. But he was delighted by the club's decision to award the trophy to the fans.

"It shows we've missed the fans and the fans missed us," Ten Hag told ESPN. "We want to be connected with them.

"It is a very good gesture that we did it together. Ajax is the players, the staff, all employees but most certainly also the fans. And I think we show it in a very fashionable way."