Have you had the pleasure of witnessing, whether in real life or on TV, of European soccer (football) hooligan rants and violence? To me, the sight of black riot vans, police armed with riot gear with horses and dogs is an essential part of the game.
A few days ago, local government officials in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam openly discussed whether they had the will to hold those expected games in April at all, citing fears of rabid fan clashes, and the exhaustive efforts involved in dispatching the police force.
During the last decade, the damage caused by rival team fans have been so large, that all over Europe, and more specifically here in the Netherlands, that a concerted and very public effort has been made by the government, police force, and football teams to contain and control crowd violence.
Nowadays, all those tagged as hooligans are registered with the police, whom must report their whereabouts at game times. At game times, the clubs are responsible for transporting their fans either through shuttle buses or special trains, so as to avoid contact with the general public. Additionally, cities have invested considerable amounts in constructing specific walkways/tunnels that lead fans directly from their mode of transportation to the arena, so as to avoid contact with fans from the home team (check out the video below, it is pretty insane). The stadium is also blocked in sections so as to segregate fanatical supporters of each side from the general public.
But this game now underway between old-time rivals, Amsterdam Ajax and Rotterdam Feyenoord, which have caused large-scale damage, and even death, not too long ago, has the cities worried again.
Fears of large-scale hooliganism have been prompted by campaigns on the websites of hardcore Ajax fans, who are threatening “to flatten Rotterdam again”. The port city was bombed by the Germans in 1940, and a chilling picture of the flattened city centre has been posted to illustrate the threat. Calls to go rioting have also been posted on Feyenoord fansites.
It’s not just the Ajax fans that are causing concern. Feyenoord’s fans also include a group of hooligans who were involved in a mass fight with police at a beach party last year. Police fired shots which killed one of the rioters on the Hook of Holland beach, near Rotterdam, in August 2009. Some hooligans convicted for their part in the beach riot have already completed their sentences and are expected to attend the match.
As a pre-emptive strike against almost certain violent clashes, the Amsterdam club has returned a number of tickets available to its fans back to the national football association, in hopes of filling out the stadium with more neutral spectators.
To a bystander like me, identification with teams seem to incite the worst kind of rivalries along regional and national lines. It’s also sustained, most likely, a large number of graduate social science thesis papers on social classes and identities.
Interesting how this kind of phenomenon can co-exists with the greater ideals of European enlargement, arguably sticking up a fat middle finger to the supposed triumphs of cosmopolitanism.