Hooliganism and obscene chanting have reached such a level in Holland that a recent Den Haag game against PSV waas abandoned, as Ernst Bouwes reports

I first met a Den Haag sup­porter in the flesh in 1983. They had been relegated from the top level and were playing my club, EVV Eindhoven. This rather small away fan came over to me and claimed that the hand in his pocket was holding a knife. No one would be hurt if I handed over my blue-and-white scarf. I declined. A stand-off followed, until my team came to the rescue. His side’s first goal made my assailant run to his mates to join in the celebrations. In the remaining hour there were another seven goals – celebrating an 8-0 win didn’t give Den Haag fans much time for hostilities.

I was not the first victim, nor the last. As early as 1956 another club from The Hague, SHS, were the first in Dutch professional football to have two points de­ducted, when spectators went on the pitch and hit a couple of opposing players after a disputed red card had prompted the home team to walk off. SHS, later called Holland Sport, merged with local rivals ADO in 1971, bringing along their rowdy reputation, which came to the fore again with the rise of Dutch hooliganism in the 1970s. When away terraces were created and travelling fans had to go by buses instead of trains, the only fun left was vandalism, throwing missiles and threatening chants. ADO Den Haag, as the club is now called, have tried everything on the market from elec­tronic club-cards with iris scans to massive stewarding to keep their supporters under control. In the mean­time, decent fans and sponsors drifted away, almost bringing about the club’s financial collapse.

Last season Den Haag were promoted to the top flight after ten years in the backwaters. They found most grounds new or modernised, built as fortresses, with CCTV cameras monitoring every seat. Troublemakers in the Eredivisie had long since concentrated on fighting outside grounds.

Den Haag, perhaps because of the city’s strange make-up – you are either a civil servant or part of a post-industrial working class, with very little middle class in between – have the worst problems, but are by no means alone. An Ajax fan was killed in a fight against Feyenoord in 1995. Last season Ajax fans attacked players from their Rotterdam rivals after a reserve game on the training pitch next to the Arena. Coach Leo Beenhakker was hit in the face in the FC Twente car park, while letters with bullets inside and threatening emails to chairmen, officials or the press seem quite common now. The atmosphere around football is very unsavoury – which is why Ruud van Nistelrooy vowed he would never play in the Dutch league again.

Short-fused supporters now vent their anger at the match through abusive chanting. Any disagreement with the referee can lead to thousands of people wish­ing him an early grave or a mortal illness. When the wife of Louis van Gaal was suffering from cancer, opposing fans of some teams rarely missed the opportunity to remind him. Anti-Semitic chants at matches against Ajax (a club regarded as having a partly Jewish identity) include “Hamas, Hamas, The Jews aan het gas” and a shushing sound supposed to imitate escaping gas. The Dutch FA, backed by politicians and public opinion, are trying to stamp out these chants. Referees are now allowed to halt games in an attempt to calm everyone down, or even abandon them.

A month before their clash with PSV, ADO fans turned on Rafael van der Vaart’s girlfriend, a TV pre­senter, throughout their game against Ajax. Next time, the FA warned, the game would be called off. At the PSV game, the referee Rene Temmink was sub­jected to such vitriol (“Temmink is the whore of PSV”, then anti-semitic chants) that he decided he’d had enough and took the teams off. When fans tried to get into the away section and others storm­ed the entrance of the boardroom, the mayor of Den Haag let it be known that he would not allow the match to go on.

ADO face a severe punishment, probably several games played behind closed doors or even three or more points deducted. Although the club have gone to extreme lengths to reason with their fans, this seemed bound to happen. A new edge-of-town stadium is supposed to be the solution, but one wonders whether the club will manage to stay alive until it is finished.

From WSC 214 December 2004. What was happening this month

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