There is no mistaking the fact that the final stage of the season has begun. The weekly press day was busier than usual, last Friday. As far as the number of press requests goes, Ajax is having a record season. Never before were there more interviews with Ajax players than during this football season. Everybody wants to speak to an Ajax player.
A few hours before the Friday afternoon rush hour, Ajax experiences its own rush hour. The weekly press day always attracts a lot of visitors around noon. Camera crews and photographers are lined up to get their shots of the practice. ,,This press day was just about the busiest one of the year, as far as press requests are concerned”, says Eefje Schep, press officer to Ajax’ first team. ,,Many media want to put together their championship specials now, ‘just in case’. And of course they want their interviews to be as up to date as possible.” The number of requests for the press day leading up to sc Heerenveen - Ajax was so great in fact, that the press department divided many requests between this one and the last press day of the season (FC Twente). ,,Because there is no press day in Amsterdam next week, before the cup final, (Frank de Boer and Jan Vertonghen will be in Zeist for that, ed.), the journalists are only left with two more chances to speak to the Ajax players. So they are seizing the opportunity now. The weekly press conference with Frank de Boer is also a good source of information for journalists during this period.”
The record amount of interview requests is fitting with the season in which Ajax has broken all records regarding the press. ,,In previous years there were a little over 2,000 supervised interviews with Ajax’ first team players and members of its technical staff. This year we exceeded that number in April already. Due to Ajax reaching the UEFA Champions League we received many extra media requests surrounding those matches. The increase of the amount of media, also means an increase in the amount of requests, although we do try to be selective.’’ By supervised interviews, Schep means the number of interviews set up through the press department, both on a press day and in the mixed zone after matches. ,,And that’s not even counting the interviews with the members of the board of directors, coaches at the Ajax Academy, players from the Ajax Reserves and the director of the Ajax Academy. We also receive many interview requests for them.”
The diversity of the media approaching Ajax with interview requests is enormous, it appears. The requests vary from the glossies to an organisation like the FIFA. ,,We get all sorts. From the Cosmopolitan to Japanese football magazines. We try to oblige in many cases, but in the end we chose not to, or cannot oblige in around one third of all cases. Particularly during the final stage of the league, it is important to make choices. We always give priority to the sports related media and to the regular Ajax followers. Per player it averages out to a little over two interviews per occasion, allowing for three, when necessary. On match days we exceed that number, but then the interviews are shorter."
Schep continues: ,,We sometimes make an exception, like now, with Siem de Jong, in the run up to the matches against FC Twente. Many journalists want to speak to him about the matches against his brother, Luuk. And then of course, we have the requests for which a player or manager has to go to a television studio. We try to ensure that some one from Ajax can take part in programmes like Studio Football at least once a season. On Sunday that will be Frank de Boer, André Ooijer already took part earlier on this year. We are also cooperating extensively with Henk Spaan’s new programme, Holy Grass. He is portraying Frank de Boer. That takes up a lot of time, so we need to coordinate that with all concerned.”
Around fifteen percent of all interviews are given to foreign media. The Turkish station TRT recently visited Ajax for a special on Aras Özbiliz. The BBC, Al Jazeera, the Belgian VRT and the Danish TV3 (with correspondent Kenneth Perez) are regular visitors to the press days. They come for reports on Ajax and the world famous Ajax Academy. ,,It is always important to have a tight schedule. For that reason journalists have to let us know a few days in advance, which manager or player they want to speak to. It is good to do everything in one day, so everybody knows what they are in for, hence the press day. Besides, on other days, the players often have obligations to their sponsors, or they participate in the Ajax Foundation’s social responsibility projects, or they attend gatherings with supporters or whatever other requests they receive. Friday is a good day, allowing the media to put together an up to date preview for the weekend.”
Ajax’ press department, which consists not only of Schep but also of Miel Brinkhuis (manager press & communication), Arjan Duijnker (press officer to the Ajax Reserves and the Ajax Academy), Claudia Hendriksen and Christa Overtoom (back office), is inspired from time to time by their colleagues at other clubs abroad. Two years ago an Ajax employee spent a press day and a match day with Arsenal. And likewise, Ajax is often visited by other press officers. During the AEGON Future Cup, Mark Myers (press officer Ajax Cape Town) tagged along with his colleagues in Amsterdam.
And when Adrie Koster made the move from Ajax to Club Brugge a number of years ago, he immediately introduced the press officer to Miel Brinkhuis in order to introduce a similar way of working there. Schep: ,,And a couple of weeks ago we had the press officer from BATE Borisov with us for a few days. We met him during Ajax’ training camp in Turkey. He turned out to be a big Ajax fan, which meant he even spoke Dutch reasonably well. The other day he let us know that the press day at BATE is now organised in exactly the same way as at Ajax. Although, they only have one once a month.” And then, smiling: ,,So, if ever a player from BATE transfers to Ajax, we won’t have to explain to him how the press day works.”
Photographs: Ajax.nl/Louis van de Vuurst