Death threats, racism and hangings – Dutch football has embarrassed itself enough already in 2016
We may only be a month and a half into 2016, but it has already brought us some intriguing news lines in Dutch football. PSV are taking control of the title race, just as Ajax’s challenge starts to stutter, Feyenoord have now lost an incredible seven games in a row and have taken just one point from their last eight, Heracles are sitting third and AZ have rocketed up to fourth. Now we have an interesting relegation fight, with De Graafschap having clawed their way off the bottom spot for the first time this season, as Twente escape the relegation playoff zone too.
Meanwhile, ADO Den Haag’s 18-year-old Dennis van der Heijden emerged from the bench on his debut to score two crucial goals in a 4-2 win over Excelsior – he returned to the class room on Monday morning and is doing an internship at a hardware shop. His story is similar, though perhaps less extraordinary, to that of Maikey Parami, the player who scored the winning goal for amateur team VVSB to send them into the KNVB Beker semi-finals – only to return to his job in the supermarket the next day.
It has, in many ways, been a fascinating year already.
It is, then, such a shame that all of that has been overshadowed. The sporting improvements and disasters, the romance, the fulfilled dreams and the uplifting stories all obliterated from the discourse by an aspect of Dutch football much darker and more disgusting than some of those examples are bright and enlightening.
We may only be a month and a half into 2016, but it has already brought us a great deal of shame and we have witnessed enough despicable behaviour to want to scrap it all and start the year again.
As if the racist abuse directed at 19-year-old Ajax midfielder Riechedly Bazoer from the ADO Den Haag fans in the first game of the year was not despicable enough, Dutch football fandom has continued to plummet to new depths.
Now we have heard of Feyenoord’s summer signing Marko Vejinovic receiving death threats at his home from his team’s own fans, affecting not just the midfielder but his wife too. He was not the only one who suffered the wrath of the Rotterdam natives – striker Michiel Kramer has also been harassed though to a lesser extent of Vejinovic.
And the controversy continues. Games between Ajax and Feyenoord are of course perennially contentious and tense, so much so that away fans have not been allowed to attend them for years and are unlikely to be permitted to do so any time soon. However, there was a particularly stomach churning incident ahead of their meeting in the Amsterdam ArenA this month. While the Ajax fans waved off club legend John Heitinga as he bid farewell, taking up retirement, in a delightful moment, there was someone who decided to darken the occasion.
With Feyenoord’s goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer returning to his old stomping ground, having been on Ajax’s books from 1999 before his transfer to Rotterdam in 2014, he was of course going to be the subject of pantomime-esque boos and hisses from his former fans. However, the line was crossed before the game even started as an inflatable doll with a Vermeer jersey was hanged from a nous from the second tier.
It was a despicably violent and horrifying image and to be fair to the authorities, they acted swiftly and arrested the culprit before giving him a stadium ban.
With the atmosphere poisoned already, Ajax’s ultras section – VAK410 – opted to take aim at Vermeer in another cringeworthy fashion, as the chants of “Kenneth NSB” began to emanate from the raucous section. By uttering the goalkeeper’s name alongside the initials of the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (National Socialist Movement) – the party that collaborated with the Nazi party in World War II – they are comparing their once loyal shot stopper to a traitor of the most despicable kind. Given Dutch football’s determination to quell the issues of violence and criminal chants of late, it did not take long before an announcement came over the tannoy, requesting that they stop the chants which only prompted the VAK410 to shout it louder for a short period.
The issue with such violent imagery and putrid chants is more severe than those responsible want to imagine.
It goes well beyond the labelling of Vermeer as a traitor and the calls for him to be hanged, just as it goes beyond the racist abuse suffered by Bazoer, just as it goes beyond the frequent demands for Jews to be gassed and murdered whenever Ajax visit certain stadiums.
There is a real danger of such poisonous behaviour and attitudes being adopted and evident outside of a footballing context. To minimise it as a vacuum is naïve and preposterous.
That much is evident from the “Kenneth NSB” slogans transcending sport and national borders, as they were held up at a darts competition in Newcastle.
It’s evident in Vejinovic being targeted at his own home, in Ruben Schaken’s concerns that his children hearing racial abuse will prompt them to think it’s normal.
Ajax and Vermeer have reacted well – the goalkeeper revealed after the Klassieker that he had made a criminal complaint against the culprit behind the dummy and he was quickly dealt with and condemned by all imaginable. The Amsterdam club have also identified 20 fans who will receive stadium bans for their distasteful chants, while ADO Den Haag found a similar number responsible for abusing Bazoer.
Such action is uplifting. A united effort between clubs, governing bodies and legal authorities is needed to punish those responsible for taking things too far. Dutch football has been plagued by violence for too long and these instances, while not physical, are abhorrent and must be stamped out.
But what is terrifying and all the more difficult to clamp down on, is that there is clearly a significant number of people out there who believe this is the right way to act and who believe it is perfectly innocent to disregard a football player as a person, to see them purely as a traitor, or a race or something they own – that they can abuse and threaten.
It is certainly the worst aspect of the tribalism in football and, sadly, it is not going to go away from Dutch stadiums any time soon. We have had some fun in 2016 already, but the dark side of the game has been all too evident this year, it’s just a shame that brutality will likely continue for the time being.