‘Netherlands looks bad in Europe’

‘Netherlands looks bad in Europe’
Michael van Praag

NOS Football

As chairman of UEFA’s Stadiums and Security Committee, Michael van Praag watched the riots at AZ last night with horror. In doing so, the hooligans crossed a line that was sacred in the past.

“In my time as chairman of Ajax, I had a lot to do with the F-side,” Van Praag said. “Those fought with other supporter groups and that was also terrible.”

“But they stayed away from the elderly, women and children, that was a golden rule. At AZ yesterday that did happen. If you start attacking family members of players, then the limit has been reached, you know.”

AZ supporters storm the main stand

A week ago, something similar took place in London. Supporters of West Ham attacked family members of AZ players, who were cheering after a goal by the Dutch team.

“What happened there is just as reprehensible. Then you know in advance that you can expect revenge in Alkmaar,” Van Praag said. “That’s why from UEFA we sent our two top security managers to this match.”

Possible punishment

Van Praag had not yet had contact with the heavy UEFA delegation that attended the match half a day after the disturbances. But there is no doubt that AZ can expect a hefty penalty.

“AZ is responsible for the course of events and safety in the stadium. The club can count on a bill from UEFA. The amount of the sanction will depend on the club’s history. I cannot say anything further about that, because the disciplinary tribunal is an independent body.”

AZ supporters storm main stand

From his UEFA position, the soccer executive sees that the Netherlands is “looking less and less good” in Europe. “On the one hand, it’s nice that more and more Dutch clubs are playing in the Champions League and the other competitions. But they are also clubs where actually something is always going on with supporters.”

“Feyenoord takes the crown in that respect, but PSV and Ajax can also do something about it,” Van Praag said of supporter violence. “We are in the European top ten and one Dutch club in the top five. I’m embarrassed as a Dutchman when I see those lists. Why don’t we tackle this?”

English approach

Van Praag thinks he knows the solution. He emphatically points to England. “There they have banning orders introduced, special laws for soccer stadiums. If you set off fireworks, throw objects, enter the field or start fighting, you commit a criminal offense. The police pick you up and within a week you are in court.”

“In England they don’t have this kind of scene like last night anymore.” The violence last week in London was a rare occurrence. Because, “If you misbehave, you get a stadium ban, a reporting requirement and a criminal record. That just deters.”

Digital reporting requirement ‘easy to circumvent’

Dutch soccer with the KNVB in the lead has been advocating the English approach for some time when it comes to combating supporter violence. But due to police capacity problems, this has so far been impossible in the Netherlands. As a result, there is now only a civil stadium ban, to be enforced by the clubs themselves.

A digital reporting requirement is currently being considered. This would require supporters with stadium bans to report their location during their club’s matches using an app on their phone.

“Maybe I’m too cynical about it, but such a digital reporting requirement is certainly not foolproof,” Van Praag said. “It seems very easy to get around. You go to the stadium and leave your phone at home, where your wife or husband then logs in for you to pass on the location.”

Waterproof or not, the reporting requirement is badly needed, according to Van Praag. “A criminal stadium ban is really the missing link now. All parties – justice, police, the clubs, supporters and KNVB – must work together. Only with a joint approach can this be tackled. The system is as strong as the weakest link.”

Sniffed and drunk

“And we must continue to enforce it. At the beginning of this century, no alcohol was allowed to be drunk in stadiums. Then things went well for a while and we let that go again. But we see after covid that people have started to behave differently, throughout society. There is violence against emergency workers, but also in the stadiums.”

“Take that boy at PSV, who attacked the Sevilla goalkeeper. He had been snorting and drinking. If you do both, you’re out of your mind, you don’t recognize your own mother, so to speak.”

Van Praag hopes the criminal law approach to football-related violence can be implemented soon. “My experience is that hardcore supporters want clarity. Now they often get away with it. If they know what the consequences will be, it deters them.”

Kayleigh Williams