The Eredivisie (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈeːrədiˌvizi]; “Honor Division”) is the highest echelon of professional football in the Netherlands. The league was founded in 1956, two years after the start of professional football in the Netherlands. At the end of the 2012–2013 season it was ranked the ninth best league in Europe by UEFA.
The top division consists of 18 clubs. Each club meets every other club twice during the season, once at home and once away. At the end of each season, the club at the bottom is automatically relegated to the second level of the Dutch league system, the Eerste Divisie (First Division). At the same time, the champion of the Eerste Divisie will be automatically promoted to the Eredivisie. The next two clubs from the bottom of the Eredivisie go to separate promotion/relegation play-offs. The play-offs are played in two groups. Each group has one Eredivisie club and three high-placed clubs from the Eerste Divisie. In both promotion/relegation play-off groups, each club plays a home-and-away series with the other clubs. The winner of each play-off group plays in the following season’s Eredivisie, with the other teams going to the Eerste Divisie.
The winner of the Eredivisie claims the Dutch national championship. AFC Ajax has won most titles, 24 (33 national titles). PSV Eindhoven are next with 18 (21), and Feyenoord follow with 9 (14). Since 1965, these three clubs have won all except for three titles (the 1981 and 2009 titles went to AZ and FC Twente won the 2010 title).
From the foundation of the Netherlands Football League Championship until 1954, the title was decided through play-offs by a handful of clubs who had previously won their regional league. The competition was purely an amateur one; the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) rejected any form of payment and suspended players who were caught receiving salary or transfer fees. The call for professional football grew in the early fifties after many national team members left to play abroad in search for financial benefits. The KNVB would usually suspend these players, preventing them to appear for the Dutch national team. After the North Sea flood of 1953, the Dutch players abroad (mainly playing in the French league) organised a charity match against the French national team in Paris. The match was boycotted by the KNVB, but after the assembled Dutch players defeated the French (2–1), the Dutch public witnessed the heights that could be achieved through professional football. To serve the growing interest, a dissident professional football association (the NBVB) and league were founded for the 1954–55 season. On 3 July 1954, the KNVB met with a group of concerned amateur club chairmen, who feared the best players would join the professional teams. The meeting, dubbed the slaapkamerconferentie (‘bedroom conference’), led to the Association reluctantly accepting semi-professionalism.
Meanwhile, both the KNVB and the NBVB started their separate competition. The first professional football match was contested between Alkmaar and Venlo. The leagues went on for eleven rounds, before a merger was negotiated between the two federations in November. Both leagues were cancelled and a new, combined competition emerged immediately. De Graafschap, Amsterdam, Alkmaar and Fortuna ’54 from the NBVB were accepted to the new league. Other clubs merged, which led to new names like Rapid J.C., Holland Sport and Roda Sport. The first (semi-)professional league was won by Willem II. For the 1956–57 season, the KNVB abandoned the regional league system. The Eredivisie was founded, in which the eighteen best clubs nationwide directly played for the league title without play-offs. The inaugural members of the Eredivisie in 1956 were Ajax, BVC, BVV, DOS, EVV, Elinkwijk, SC Enschede, Feijenoord, Fortuna ’54, GVAV, MVV, NAC, NOAD, PSV, Rapid J.C., Sparta, VVV ’03 and Willem II. Ajax was the first team to claim the title that season.