The Eredivisie ("Honor Division" or "Premier Division") is the highest level of professional football in the Netherlands. The league was founded in 1956, two years after the start of professional football in the Netherlands. From the 2018/19 season, it will be UEFA's 11th best league in Europe.
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From the founding of the Dutch National Football Championship in 1898 to 1954, the title was decided by play-offs from a handful of clubs that had previously won their regional league. The competition was a pure amateur competition. The Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) denied any form of payment and suspended players who were caught on receipt of salary or transfer fees. The call for professional football grew in the early fifties, after many members of the national team had gone abroad in search of financial benefits. The KNVB would normally block these players to prevent them from appearing for the Dutch national team. After the North Sea flood of 1953 organized the Dutch players abroad (mainly in the French league), a charity match against the French national team in Paris. The game was boycotted by the KNVB, but after the assembled Dutch players defeated the French (2: 1), the Dutch audience experienced the highlights that could be reached by the professional football NBVB) and league were established for the 1954/55 season. On 3 July 1954, the KNVB met with a group of concerned amateur club presidents, who feared that the best players would be included in the professional teams. The meeting, which was called "slaapkamerconferentie" ("bedroom meeting"), meant that the association was reluctant to accept semiprofessionalism.
In the meantime, both KNVB and NBVB have started their own competition. The first professional football game was played between Alkmaar and Venlo. The leagues continued for eleven rounds before a merger between the two associations was negotiated in November. Both leagues were canceled and immediately there was a new, combined competition. De Graafschap, Amsterdam, Alkmaar and Fortuna '54 from the NBVB were admitted to the new league. Other clubs merged, leading to new names such as Rapid J.C., Holland Sport and Roda Sport. The first (semi-) professional league won Willem II. For the season 1956/57 the KNVB gave up the regional league system. The Eredivisie was founded, in which the eighteen best clubs nationwide struggled directly without playoffs for the championship title. The founder members of the Eredivisie in 1956 were Ajax, BVC, BVV, DOS, EVV, Elinkwijk, SC Enschede, Feijenoord, Fortuna '54, GVAV, MVV, NAC, NOAD, PSV, Rapid JC, Sparta, VVV '03 and Willem II Ajax was the first team to win the title this season.
Since the beginning of the league, there have been three clubs that had many more spectators than the others: Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. Clubs like Heerenveen, FC Utrecht and FC Groningen also have a relatively large fan base. The average attendance in regular season was just over 7,000 in 1990, but this number has increased sharply over the years through the opening of new and the expansion of existing stadiums across the country. The average number of visitors for the 2018/19 season was 18,010, with Ajax the largest with 52,987 and Excelsior with 4,223 the smallest. However, the numbers of Ajax are different from those of the Johan Cruyff Arena because the club counts all tickets sold, rather than the number of people passing through the hubs.
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