The club was founded in Amsterdam on March 18, 1900 by Floris Stempel, Carel Reeser and Johan Dade.
It was the second incarnation, after a short-lived previous attempt (as the Football Club Ajax) in 1894.
The club were named after the mythological hero Ajax, a Greek who fought in the Trojan War against Troy. In The Iliad, Ajax was said to be the greatest of all the Greeks next to his cousin Achilles, and even fought an inconclusive duel with Troy's champion Hector. According to most accounts, Ajax died by committing suicide. Thus, unlike Achilles, he died unconquered.
Ajax succeeded in promotion to the highest level of Dutch football in 1911, under the guidance of Jack Kirwan, their first official coach. The promotion meant that Ajax were forced to alter the club's strip, as Sparta of Rotterdam had the same kit, red-white vertical stripes with black shorts. Ajax adopted a broad vertical red stripe on a white background with white shorts, the club's kit to this day.
Although their efforts were not unnoticed (Gé Fortgens became a frequent member of the Dutch national team for a while) they were relegated in 1914. While they immediately bounced back, they had to wait until 1917 to regain higher level status again: they did become league champions in both 1915 and 1916, however the 1915 league was declared unofficial (due to World War I), whereas in 1916 they did not make it through the promotion round.
Under the guidance of Jack Reynolds (Kirwan's successor as of 1915) the club was promoted to the highest level in 1917 and won the Dutch national cup final, defeating VSV 5–0. Ajax went on to win their first national championship in 1918. The championship was secured in Tilburg where they faced Willem II without Jan de Natris, arguably the club's first 'star player', who missed the train to Tilburg and opted to stay in Amsterdam instead – earning him a fine of 10 cents. In the following season he earned a six month ban, but Ajax did well in his absence: not only did they retain the championship title, their 1919 campaign was also an unbeaten run for them – an accomplishment that was only repeated 76 years later by Ajax themselves.
Now a regular contender for the Western Regional championship in the Netherlands, Ajax marched through the twenties with regional titles in 1921, 1927 and 1928, next to a few minor cups. The 1930s would prove to be more successful however; with household names as Wim Anderiesen Sr., Dolf van Kol, Piet Strijbosch, Wim Volkers, Jan van Diepenbeek, Bob ten Have, Erwin van Wijngaarden and prolific striker Piet van Reenen, Ajax' period from the late twenties until World War II was so successful that many people dubbed it 'the golden age' (a reference to the 17th century, the heyday of the Dutch Republic).
With eight regional titles (1930-32, 1934-37, and 1939) and 5 national championships (1931, 1932, 1934, 1937, 1939) Ajax was the most successful team of that era in the country. The thirties were also notable for the final culmination of the rivalry with Feyenoord, another squad that earned many awards in that time, as well as the creation of the stadium 'het Ajax-Stadion' dubbed 'De Meer' (named after the borough of its residence). Until the emergence of the Amsterdam ArenA in 1996, this was Ajax' home ground together with the Olympic Stadium for the bigger games.
As of the 1940s, perhaps in line with Jack Reynolds' retirement (he had stayed – save for a few spells of absence – on for the entire time as Ajax' manager since his entry in 1915), Ajax went through a period of rebuilding. Gerrit Fischer and Erwin van Wijngaarden were retained, with Joop Stoffelen, Guus Dräger, Gé van Dijk, Jan Potharst and later Rinus Michels and Cor van der Hart brought in. After a Cup Final victory in 1943, Ajax went on to finish second in the championship league in 1946 (behind HFC Haarlem) followed by a league championship win in 1947.
They became regional champions in 1950 again, though they never came near winning the championship. The season was notable for a match against SC Heerenveen, with Heerenveen coming back from 5–1 down to win 6–5. In 1941, Ajax performed the opposite: after being 6–0 behind to VUC in The Hague they managed to pull out a draw in the end (6–6).
Until 1954, the year that professional football was introduced in the Netherlands, Ajax had some minor successes, with the regional title in 1952 and a second place in the regional championship in 1954 (equal in points with fellow Amsterdam club Door Wilskracht Sterk).
 Professional football and the road to the top
In 1955, professional football was finally permitted in the Netherlands. Ajax was still far from the international top, as was demonstrated in the European Cup match against Vasas SC, where they were beaten by the Hungarians 4–0 in the Népstadion). Similar European failures followed in 1960, with Ajax being knocked out by the Norwegian amateurs of Fredrikstad FK and in the Cup Winners' Cup in 1961 by Újpest FC of Ferenc Bene.
Ajax achieved some success on the domestic level, earning the first Eredivisie-championship in 1957 and again in 1960 – the 1960 title decided by a playoff after equalling in points with arch-rivals Feyenoord. Ajax cruised to a 5–1 victory with a hat trick by striker Wim Bleijenberg.
Bleijenberg was not the top scorer however. Henk Groot – the younger brother of Cees Groot who scored 100 goals for Ajax in his 5 year stay – arrived in 1959 from Stormvogels and scored 38 goals in 1959/60 and 41 goals in 1960/61. He was a vital part of Ajax in the early sixties, replacing star striker Piet van der Kuil who left for PSV in 1960. Alongside the man who would later become Mister Ajax, Sjaak Swart, Co Prins, Ton Pronk, Bennie Muller and a young Piet Keizer, Ajax added the National Cup in 1961 and the Intertoto Cup 1962 to their trophy cabinet.
Johan Cruijff played at Ajax between 1959-1973 and 1981-1983.After missing out on the championship after a 5–2 defeat against PSV in 1963, Ajax entered a period of decline in the national league. Henk Groot left to Feyenoord that summer, and in 1964/65 they were near relegation. Things improved after former player Rinus Michels replaced Vic Buckingham as the head manager. Ajax managed to secure a midtable spot under Michels; however Buckingham's second tenure saw the introduction of Johan Cruijff during a 3–1 loss at GVAV.
Michels started a revolution in Amsterdam, beginning with the return of Henk Groot and Co Prins, as well as the signing of goalkeeper Gert Bals. Michels built a side around the vision of Total Football, sacrificing players who he considered not to be good enough or fit the style of play. The most notable example of this was defender Frits Soetekouw – replaced by Ajax' new captain Velibor Vasović – whose own goal aided the victory of Dukla Prague in the quarter-final of the European Cup in 1966/67, after Ajax had knocked out Beşiktaş and defeated Liverpool 5–1.
Ajax sealed their second consecutive championship in 1967. They were not as dominant as the previous year, but with a seemingly unstoppable attack they scored no less than 122 goals (still a national record), of which 33 were from Johan Cruijff, at 20 years old already the star player. It was also the season for another important milestone: for the first time in history, Ajax won the double (after defeating NAC in the cup final).
It earned them European Cup qualification, being knocked out by Real Madrid in the subsequent season, with Veloso scoring the winner for Los Merengues in extra time after two 1–1 draws, results which greatly enhanced the reputation of the club.
Ajax won the Dutch title of 1968 overtaking Feyenoord, the league leaders for much of the season, and reached the European Cup final of 1969 in Madrid against AC Milan. In qualifying for the European Cup final Ajax defeated FC Nuremberg in the first round. They were almost knocked out by Benfica in the second, losing 3–1 to them in Amsterdam but winning the second leg in Lisbon 3–1. The decisive third match in neutral Paris was won 3–0 through goals by Inge Danielsson (2) and Johan Cruijff. They repeated this score at home against the next opponent, Spartak Trnava in the next round, but struggled in the second leg qualifying narrowly on aggregate. In the final, Milan – lauded for their excellent defense and counter-attacks – easily won 4–1 with Pierino Prati opening the scoring after seven minutes and going on to score a hattrick, while Velibor Vasović was the only Ajax player on the scoresheet with a penalty. Milan's win was capped by a goal by Angelo Sormani.
 Gloria Ajax – European dominance and treble
Following their loss in the European Cup final, Ajax entered another period of rebuilding. Among the new additions were national top scorer Dick van Dijk and midfielders Gerrie Mühren and Nico Rijnders, while a second team player, Ruud Krol, was promoted to the first eleven. They replaced Klaas Nuninga, Inge Danielsson, Theo van Duijvenbode (all sold to other clubs) and Henk Groot, who retired from football after an injury while playing against Poland. Ton Pronk and Bennie Muller were no longer as frequently in the first eleven after many years of service.
In 1969–70 Ajax won the Dutch league championship, winning 27 out of 34 games and scoring 100 goals. Feyenoord remained in contention throughout the season, but they had to settle for second place. Both clubs won a trophy however, with Ajax winning the Eredivisie title while Feyenoord captured the European Cup. Ajax reached the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970 (being knocked out by Arsenal after defeating Hannover 96, Napoli, Ruch Chorzów, and Carl Zeiss Jena)
1971 became the long awaited year of glory, with Ajax winning trophies at both domestic and European level. For a substantial part of the season Ajax seemed to be on their way to the European treble (a feat only previously performed by Celtic in 1967). Domestically, Ajax finished second to Feyenoord in the league, winning the KNVB Cup after a replayed final against Sparta. In Europe, Ajax defeated 17 Nëntori, FC Basel, Celtic and Atlético Madrid en route to the 1971 European Cup final played at Wembley on June 2. There, 83,000 spectators witnessed a 2–0 victory over Panathinaikos, with goals from Dick van Dijk and an Arie Haan shot deflected by defender Kapsis. Captain Vasović could finally lift the European Cup, having lost two previous finals in 1966 with FK Partizan and again in 1969.
In the following years Ajax established itself as the foremost club in European football. Stefan Kovacs replaced coach Michels in 1971, while Rijnders and Vasović' departed in the same year. Van Dijk's departed in 1972. Such changes in the side and management did not disrupt the success of the club, with Ajax completing the treble of European Cup, Dutch National Championship and the KNVB Cup in 1972 to which was added the Intercontinental Cup. In 1973, Ajax won a third consecutive European Cup and another Dutch championship; however, failure in the KNVB Cup meant Ajax missed out on a second consecutive treble.
The departure of Johan Cruijff for FC Barcelona in 1973 signalled the end of the period of success, effectively ending the reign of the so called 'Twelve Apostles' (The usual line-up Heinz Stuy, Wim Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Horst Blankenburg, Ruud Krol, Arie Haan, Johan Neeskens, Gerrie Mühren, Sjaak Swart, Johan Cruijff, Piet Keizer plus the usual twelfth man who was Ruud Suurendonk until 1972 and then Johnny Rep). Whereas clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Internazionale, Arsenal, Juventus and Independiente were beaten by Ajax between 1971 and 1973, failure in the European Cup at the hands of CSKA Sofia in late 1973 signalled the decline of Ajax in European football.
Nevertheless, the Total Football that they had propagated became a lasting memory for many football fans, contributing to the Dutch national team reaching the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup using similar tactics. The decline of Ajax and the loss to the Germans in the World Cup final saw the end of the Total Football era; later Ajax manager Tomislav Ivić would dub the era 'Gloria Ajax', illustrating the impact of their years at the top.
 The 1st Renaissance and 1980s
After a period of decline, in 1977, Ivić coached Ajax to their first domestic championship since 1973. Ajax returned to domestic success winning 5 league championships after '77 as well as 4 cups, though impressive European performances were sparse. Ajax were knocked out by Juventus in the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1978 and reached a European Cup semi-final in 1980, losing to eventual winners, the Brian Clough-managed Nottingham Forest. Disappointing European form between 1980 and 1986 saw the club not getting past the second round for six years in a row. Johan Cruijff returned to the club in 1981, with the club producing some talented youngsters in the mid-1980s such as Wim Kieft, John van 't Schip, Marco van Basten, Gerald Vanenburg, Jesper Olsen, and Frank Rijkaard.
After leaving the club in 1983 after a conflict with president Harmsen, Cruijff returned once again in 1985 as the new manager. Cruijff's attacking tactics were immediately illustrated in his first active season, where Ajax ended the season with 120 goals in total, of which 37 were from Ajax's new star player Marco van Basten. Despite this, Ajax finished as runners up in the league to PSV Eindhoven twice in a row in '85/'86 and '86/'87. Despite the lack of domestic league success, Cruijff's Ajax won the '87 Cup Winners Cup, beating Lokomotive Leipzig. They reached the final again in the following season, losing out to KV Mechelen.
Cruijff departed prior to the second Cup Winners Cup final, as a result of the declining results in the national league. With most of the 80's stars such as van Basten also leaving, Ajax once again declined. They continued to compete for the title with PSV in subsequent years, who became the dominant club in European and Dutch football, matching Ajax's 1972 achievement of a continental treble in 1988. Negative aspects of the period 1988–1991 were the fraud-case in 1989 and a year long ban from European competition in 1990–91 following an incident whereby a fan threw an iron bar at the Austria Wien goalkeeper during a UEFA Cup tie in the 1989–1990 season. Under manager Leo Beenhakker, Ajax went on to win the championship race with PSV in 1990. They almost won the league again in 1991, losing narrowly to PSV.
 Van Gaal, European Success and Decline
On departure to Real Madrid in 1991, Beenhakker was replaced by Louis van Gaal, the former assistant-coach. Like Cruyff, van Gaal rapidly made his mark by altering Ajax' tactics. Also like Cruijff, his efforts were rewarded in his first season at the helm by winning the 1992 UEFA Cup after a thrilling final against AC Torino. Although he did not play the final, the tournament saw the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp who contributed six goals during the competition. Despite Bergkamp being the top goalscorer in Dutch football in 1991, 1992, Ajax once again finished as runners up to PSV in the league. In 1992/93 Ajax even had to settle for a third spot, for first time since 1984, but won the KNVB Cup.
In 1993, Bergkamp and Wim Jonk left to Internazionale, allowing Finn Jari Litmanen to establish himself as the new number 10 of Ajax. Aside from Litmanen, Ajax attracted Finidi George and the return of Frank Rijkaard, providing a base for van Gaal to build on.
The 1994–95 season saw the return of European success after two decades, with Ajax winning the UEFA Champions League 1994-95 and the league title. The season saw an unbeaten run in the national league and the final season for Frank Rijkaard, while striker Patrick Kluivert had an excellent start to his season, with the then 18-year-old coming off the bench to score a late winner to beat AC Milan in the final of the Champions League. Ajax went on to beat Brazilian side Grêmio on penalties to win the Intercontinental Cup. The following season, Ajax continued to succeed on the European front, succumbing only to Juventus on penalties in the European Cup final.
However, the subsequent period saw the departure of manager van Gaal along with an exodus of many key players, several on free transfers following the Bosman ruling. Clarence Seedorf departed in 1995; Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger, Finidi George, and Nwankwo Kanu in 1996; Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, and Winston Bogarde in 1997; Ronald de Boer and Frank de Boer in 1998; and Edwin van der Sar and Jari Litmanen in 1999, together with the retirement of Frank Rijkaard in 1995 and Danny Blind in 1999. Van Gaal's replacement, Morten Olsen, attracted Danish national team captain Michael Laudrup to the club. Ajax won the league championship and the Dutch cup. Despite this success, Olsen could not replace the key players who had departed or maintain the success under van Gaal. In Olsen's second year at the club, tension arose between Olsen and the Dutch players Ronald de Boer and Frank de Boer, and Olsen was sacked in 1998. In 1999, Ajax finished 6th in the league, their lowest position in over 20 years.