Albion fans will be greeted by an extraordinary sight as they get off the metro late on Thursday afternoon.

The Johan Cruyff Arena towers over the adjoining training pitches as you approach from Strandvliet station, which is the designated stop for away fans.

Signs point the way to Johan Cruyff Boulevard and the Johan Cruyff Arena.

The stadium looks a bit like something which has landed from space.

Albion fans will be housed in the corner closest to them as they approach from the station.


The stands rise steeply. There is a theory the Dutch are obsessed with vertical challenges because their landscape is so horizontal.

Before tackling the ascent, one can imagine many supporters will stop to take a photo of the huge picture of Cruyff on the stadium exterior.

A statue of the legendary No.14 is positioned outside the club shop, which is away to the right and might be out of bounds for away fans at game time.

I took a stadium tour to have a look behind the scenes at the now almost 30-year-old venue.

I wasn’t the only one. A group of Albion fans were going around just before me.

Like the Amex, the away team’s changing room is rather more basic than that enjoyed by their hosts.

For stadium tours, shirts from illustrious opponents are displayed in the away changing room – such as Leo Messi, Francesco Totti and, of course, Dennis Bergkamp.

Roberto De Zerbi and his coaching team will have their own room next door in which to discuss their gameplan away from the team if they so wish.

The changing rooms are below pitch level.

Albion will walk along a short corridor, turn right and, when the moment comes, head up about ten steps towards the pitch as the stands come into view in front of them.

While still impressive and compact, the stadium does not seem as big inside as it looks on that approach from the stadium.

There is actually a car park at ground level with the pitch and stands perched above that.

But it is easy to see why it could feel like an intimidating environment for a player or team having a bad time,

“The trophy room is down there, but there’s nothing in it,” one guide joked.

In reality, of course, it is packed with mementoes of four European titles, 36 Dutch leagues and various other honours at home and abroad, as well as items which recall magical matches.

The aura of Cruyff is inescapable.

The pass you wear around your neck on a red and white lanyard bears a photo of him as a young Ajax player.

The card you are asked to fill in with feedback and suggestions bears a photo of him as a manager, clad in a raincoat and giving out instructions.

You are guided around the stadium by cut-outs of the great man pointing left or right.

A new range of Cruyff 14 merchandise has just been released.

Ajax have safe-standing behind the goal where the Ultras congregate but it cannot be used for UEFA matches.

The retractable roof, the first of its kind in Europe, was closed and the pitch was under sunlamps yesterday afternoon.

In some ways, from both inside and out, the arena looks more like an NFL venue than a football ground.

Many fans struggled for some time with the move from the traditional home at nearby De Meer.

Quoted in David Winner’s book Brilliant Orange, landscape architect Dirk Sijmons said: “It’s like one of those crabs who, when they grow, have to find a new shell. And while they are looking, they are very vulnerable.”

It seems many people felt the same way but the Arena has become home since then.

De Meer has gone to a housing development and the old Olympic Stadium, where Alax played big games back in their heyday, has been reduced in size, although it is still in use and can be seen from one of the bus routes serving Schipol Airport.

The Arena which bears Cruyff’s name will take the breath away for Albion fans.

And not just when they climb those steep steps.