Dutch Soccer Has A Fan ProblemS

Predictably, in the aftermath of AZ Alkmaar keeper Esteban Alvarado being attacked by a fan, defending himself, then being sent off, the focus is on Alvarado's and the referee's actions. The Dutch FA has ruled that while the referee was correct in showing a red card, Alvarado will not receive the mandatory suspension due to the "exceptional circumstances." They're still debating whether to replay, resume, or abandon the match altogether.

Perhaps more ink should be spilled on other side, the side of 19-year-old fan, who "had been drinking," had already been banned by Ajax for a year but snuck in, and is now banned for life. It would be reactionary to say that Ajax and Dutch soccer have major problems because of what happened yesterday, but not too far to say that Ajax and Dutch soccer definitely have major problems.

A few years back I attended a match at Amsterdam Arena, one of the newest, largest, and blandest of European stadiums. I was struck by a noteworthy design feature: just outside the northern corner of the stadium, there is a little-used train platform. It only opens on certain match days, when special trains from around the Netherlands are packed with fans of the visiting team. The train makes no stops from the home city until this special station at the Arena, where it discharges the away supporters and waits for the match to end. Those fans walk from the platform through a covered tunnel that leads them to their own entry gate. There they fill the away stand, which is enclosed on all sides by a high fence. All of this: the fence, the tunnel, the exclusive train platform: it all exists for the sole purpose of making sure visiting fans never interact with Ajax supporters.

The platform and tunnel can be seen here from above, and in this video showing Ajax fans being forced back by police horses as they attempt to rush and intimidate arriving Feyenoord supporters.

Hooliganism is alive and well in the Eredivisie, and not just in the aren't-they-cute-but-irrelevant rivalries like Millwall/West Ham in England. Ajax is one of the most successful and storied teams in all of Europe, yet look at the restrictions they're forced to apply. They had to move their two biggest firms, F-Side and VAK410, to the opposite side of the arena from visiting fans. For most games, visiting fans are not allowed to attend unless they travel by the special train and sit in their guarded section. Against rivals Feyenoord and ADO Den Haag, visiting fans aren't allowed to attend at all.

So much effort has gone into protecting and policing the supporters, that perhaps there isn't enough done to protect the players. While Ajax and AZ aren't particularly rivals, security still had to devote its efforts into keeping the fans from each other. In the end, then, there weren't enough guards outside the stadium or on the edge of the pitch, the two places Alvarado's attacker could have been stopped. But he's the story today, when maybe the real story should be the 25 other Ajax fans arrested during the match.