The Russians bring Ajax down to earth

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The Independent Online
Ajax, the newly crowned world club champions, left for home for the second time yesterday after their original flight from Tokyo was refused permission to fly over Russia, an airport spokesman said.

The chartered KLM aircraft intended to retrace its flight path to Amsterdam after winning permission to fly over Russia. However, Russian authorities denied the plane permission to enter their airspace, forcing it to circle while the problem was resolved.

"By the time permission was finally granted, the aircraft had consumed so much fuel that it had to return to Narita [Tokyo] for refuelling," a KLM spokesman in Tokyo said.

"It was all a misunderstanding over flight numbers," the KLM spokesman in Amsterdam, Hans Leijte, said.

KLM does not operate a scheduled Tokyo-Amsterdam flight on Wednesdays and this extra flight had a four-digit number instead of the usual three. "The mix-up has been sorted out," Leijte said.

Dmitry Polkanov at the Russian Centre of Air Traffic in Moscow said the plane was refused permission to enter Russian airspace because none of his controllers had information about flight KLM 8623. He said KLM had apologised for not announcing the charter flight properly in advance.

Thus, a day after winning the World Club title in Tokyo by beating Gremio of Brazil 4-3 on penalties, the Ajax team endured a wearying journey that still had many hours to go before they reached home.

The debacle forced Amsterdam to postpone its massive homecoming celebrations for Ajax, for which preparations were well underway yesterday morning.

"The tribute has been cancelled until further notice," a city council spokeswoman said. The protracted delay will disappoint thousands of fans.

Ajax's European Cup win over Milan in May drew an estimated quarter of a million supporters to Amsterdam's central Museumplein.

The Narita Airport spokesman said the Boeing 747, carrying 230 passengers - about 30 team members and 200 Dutch supporters - originally left Tokyo at about 12.30pm local time.

It arrived back in Tokyo at about 7.40pm and after spending two hours on the ground took off again at 9.40pm. Passengers were not allowed off the plane while it was on the ground.

The plane was expected to spend about another 12 hours in the air before reaching Amsterdam.

Sunday's Dutch First Division match between NAC Breda and Feyenoord has been postponed owing to a series of strikes by police, the Dutch football association said yesterday.

"As far as we know no other matches have been affected by the police actions," a spokeswoman for the association said. "The match between Feyenoord Rotterdam and NAC Breda will be played on Monday."

The Rotterdam mayor, Bram Peper, said that a planned action by police on Sunday would not leave enough officers for crowd control. Police in various parts of the Netherlands will take turns to strike between 8am and 6pm in support of a pay and conditions claim.