Soccer violence increases, more and more stewards drop out: ‘Situation alarming’
Guido van Gorp
Investigative journalist NOS Sport
Guido van Gorp
Investigative journalist NOS Sport
Stewards are increasingly turning their backs on professional soccer. The aggression and violence of recent times are an important reason to quit. Clubs that see their stewards drop out are having the greatest difficulty recruiting new recruits.
That’s according to conversations NOS conducted with club directors, municipalities and security specialists in soccer. To step in for the stewards, the KNVB is working on a national steward campaign.
“You see a decline in the number of stewards everywhere in professional soccer, and young people are not ready to do this at all. The aggression in stadiums is certainly not an advertisement for recruiting new stewards,” said Frank van Mosselveld, general manager of RKC.
Other clubs recognize that picture. “We as clubs have long benefited from the virtually free deployment of stewards. That time seems to be over,” says NEC director Wilco van Schaik. He calls stewards “indispensable” and advocates much more appreciation.
Every game we need replenishment from a security company. You have to have the positions well filled, otherwise you just have a problem.
Van Schaik: “The respect in stadiums is decreasing and society is coarsening. If you’re, say, twenty-three, you’re not going to stand with a yellow vest like that for a few euros at this point.”
Every club currently has vacancies to become a steward, but enthusiasm is far from nonexistent. After all, who wants to become a steward when incidents occur almost weekly?
A recent survey of club safety coordinators shows that aggression in stadiums is hitting stewards hard. It is one of the main reasons for quitting.
This year clubs will receive a “stewarding handbook” from the Football Association, viewed by NOS. It describes in detail how clubs can recruit and retain stewards.
According to the KNVB, the time has come to get on the barricades for stewards. With a nationwide steward campaign, the league wants to win over the volunteer security officer in the coming months, but also protect them from aggression.
Resilience training to prepare stewards for escalations are part of this initiative. The measure to strike quickly when objects are thrown is also taken in part to guard the safety of stewards, according to the KNVB.
Fresh in the memory: the bloodied head of Davy Klaassen, a fist in the face of Jetro Willems, beer throwers and many suspended matches. It is a small sample from a long series.
Pure anti-advertising for soccer, agrees Olav (47), steward at PSV and present today at the cup final. According to him the profession is fed up with the hassle in stadiums.
“My colleagues are done with it. They are like: this has to stop by now. This also deters new recruits.”
Stewards who drop out because of violence and aggression? Yes, Olav understands. “I can imagine something about that. But personally, I can easily put that past me. That makes a big difference, too.”
Olav talks about how he ended up at PSV:
Soccer clubs see stewards drop out due to increasing supporter violence
“When I started in 2015, we had over 400 stewards. Now 270. Everyone has to go the extra mile, for example during searches. I do that with love. For other stewards around the country, it’s reason to quit.”
Olav stands with the hard core at home games, in one of the corners of the Philips Stadium. Last year, the number of stewards here dropped from nearly 70 to a scant 40 people.
“Every game we need replenishment from a security company. You have to have the positions well filled, otherwise you just have a problem.”
Why is it that clubs are struggling with steward shortages? According to Frank Wijnveld, a leading soccer safety expert, corona is the big culprit. Since then, clubs have been in “survival mode” and there are “severe shortages” among stewards.
“Stewards were blown away during corona, when games were played in empty stadiums,” says Wijnveld. A Heerenveen spokesman endorses that view. “Almost 60 people have quit with us in the past two years.”
Older stewards are waving goodbye and younger ones are opting for more affordable alternatives. To staff bleachers, clubs have resorted to the private security industry, but there, too, there are major personnel shortages.
We see in a lot of places that there is not enough cooperation, monitoring or being keen on the security situation. We see incidents increasing in recent months.
Wijnveld notes that clubs are now increasingly looking to ROC students in training.
“Those are now being put in a steward’s coat. By law, that’s allowed, too, but under supervision. We see in several Dutch stadiums that this is not being met. That means the robustness of the security organization goes down tremendously.”
“As far as I’m concerned, the situation is alarming right now,” says Wijnveld. Since corona, he sees a cocktail of slackening, less attention to safety, supervision and control emerging. That coupled with full stadiums, declining steward numbers and increasing incidents makes him gloomy. It’s waiting for accidents, he says.
As an example, Wijnveld mentions the promotion match between ADO and Excelsior, less than a year ago. At that time only 35 stewards were employed, far below the minimum stipulated in agreements with the KNVB, police and municipality. Some of the stewards were not trained and had expired certificates. Supervision was lacking on all fronts.
Eventually things escalated. Supporters stormed the field, at entrances barely checked. Fireworks and even a baseball bat were allowed in without a problem.
According to Wijnveld, who analyzed the situation at ADO on behalf of the municipality of The Hague, does not call this match an incident. It can happen anywhere.
“We see in a lot of places that there is not enough cooperation, control or people are keen on the safety situation. Meanwhile, we did go back to playing soccer full throttle and we’ve seen incidents increase in recent months. There is a causal relationship between that.”