Feyenoord's measures to control their fans failed to work in Nancy. Ernst Bouwes reports

What cruel irony. In 1974, fans of Tottenham Hotspur introduced major football violence to Holland during the second leg of the UEFA Cup final against Feyenoord. Thirty-three years later, Feyenoord find themselves banned for the rest of the European season for hooliganism at a UEFA Cup tie at Nancy while their scheduled opponents, Spurs, may receive a bye into the next round (Feyenoord still have a chance that the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne will overturn the verdict).

Feyenoord officials asked their counterparts at Nancy not to sell tickets on the open market and warned the local authorities, but the French were thoroughly unprepared for the unruly elements that came to their town. The turmoil started with the smashing of shop windows in the afternoon and continued during the game, which the referee had to delay for half an hour as tear gas spread over the pitch following Nancy’s third goal in their 3-1 win. “We can’t take responsibility for people we don’t know,” said Onno Jacobs, director at Feyenoord. “Now we will be punished for the behaviour of a group of louts, whom we never invited.”

For Dutch league games, Feyenoord had worked out an elaborate system of membership cards. Travelling fans need a “silvercard” to buy tickets for away games. If they behave well on their travels they progess to goldcards then diamondcards, whose owners get first option on tickets. This seems to be keeping most of the troublemakers out of the away sections.

Yet when Feyenoord score on their travels in the league, you will usually see small pockets of celebrating fans spread through the rest of the crowd. These supporters are not easily barred from games as they buy tickets on the black market or on the internet.

Nor does the system help at European games. Weeks before the Nancy match, people drove to France to get a stack of tickets to sell in and around Rotterdam: no questions asked, no cards to show. The away match at Nancy became a sort of “sentimental journey” for those who have been locked out of Dutch stadiums in recent seasons. There was nothing Feyenoord could do about it, but they still have to face the consequences.

In recent times, Dutch football violence has charted new territory. League tickets are sold only to fans with official club cards, while increased stewarding and CCTV have made grounds safer. Several clubs have banned alcohol and cannabis from their terraces. So troublemakers look elsewhere. One Friday night, a group of Ajax followers visited the ADO Den Haag supporters’ club and beat up a couple of kids playing cards. Pre-season friendlies between professional clubs on small amateur grounds are frequently called off when evidence of arrangements for a fight is found on the internet. Pundits and club directors receive death threats by mail or get beaten up in stadium car parks. Two coaches resigned in 2006 after receiving serious threats from their own supporters over poor results.

After the Nancy bedlam, politicians responded to calls for stricter rules. The football authorities want to introduce the English system of stadium bans, with excluded supporters required to report to police stations when their team is playing. The police, however, are not that keen to organise a gathering place for hooligans at eight o’clock on a Saturday night, even if it is on their own doorstep.

From WSC 241 March 2007. What was happening this month

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