All doors are open for the Dutch national champion. That was the case on Saturday at the White House gates in Washington DC. Ajax was invited for a special VIP tour of the White House, home of the Obama first family. “Impressive”, said Jan Vertonghen, in the White House.
Just how exclusive such a tour is can be seen by taking a look at previous guests. This year, only pop star Kylie Minogue and the University of Connecticut basketball champions have enjoyed the honour of a White House visit. Without an invitation, all access is denied, and a tour is definitely out of the question. The home of the 44th president of the United States is normally only accessible for heads of state and guests of honour. Security is very tight at those times. Two passport controls, and walk through a metal detector weren’t sufficient: every visitor was extensively screened beforehand, and four Ajax players were subjected to additional security checks at the heavily guarded gate.
When the security go-ahead was given, Ajax entered the hub of international politics at 2.30p.m. Peter en Blaes took care of the unique tour through the ground floor facilities. “Please don’t touch anything, and please don’t sit on anything”, came the warning. With heavily armed military guards watching every move at every turn in the White House, this is no laughing matter. Roughly 3.000 employees serve the White House every day, and the President. “Only about 188 of those people actually work in the White House”, says Blaes at the beginning of the tour. That’s roughly the same number of employees as Ajax has.
The Ajax party walks along the East Wing, and passes a series of presidential portraits of Obama’s predecesssors, as well as many photo collages. For example, a collage showing the bond between the President and his dog. George Bush jr. and Barney. The Obamas let Bo out in the White House garden.
“The President sometimes reads here in the library, has the occasional whisky, and poker was also played here in the past”, tells Blaes at the entrance to the library, which counts no fewer than 2.700 books in its collection. “Interviews are also conducted here.” President Obama prefers golf to playing cards, as is the case today. “Barack is golfing.” Unfortunately, he’ll miss seeing the newly minted national champion, is said jokingly. The Ajax players are continuously taking pictures and filming – this is, after all, a once of a lifetime opportunity.
The Green Room leads to the Red Room. “We have really original names for our rooms”, jokes Blaes as the group goes from the green room (with walls painted in that colour) to the red one. On the way, the guide passes the painted state portrait of Frederic Taft. Taft was the first president to attend a baseball game, in the early nineteenth century. With the imposing Taft in the stands, the spectators were at a loss as to how to behave. Especially for him, a pause was taken in the seventh inning to allow him to stretch his legs. Until today, baseball still has a ‘seventh inning stretch’, reflecting the President’s influence.
Ninety minutes after their entrance (which resulted in forty five actual minutes in the White House with the guide, once security was cleared), the Ajax players are gently ushered out towards the exit. “I’ve never been upstairs, the President and his family live there”, Blaes says, pointing upstairs. A short walk through the beautifully kept garden is the closing part of the tour.
“It’s very special to be here”, says Vertonghen, as he returns down to the real world. Hundreds of tourists, and a group of demonstrating Americans, make up the scenery on Pennsylvania Avenue. “Before, I had expected the White House to be different . Some of it is familiar from TV. It’s really impressive. I follow politics, but don’t ask me what the various US ministers names are. But this tour was unique.”