ADO Den Haag 4 SBV Excelsior 4 (Excelsior won 7-8 on penalties), 29/May/22, Kyocera Stadium, The Hague. 

As a fan of Newcastle United and an avid follower of Welsh football, it’s safe to say my footballing supporting career has not been littered with trophy laden highlights. I really thought this weekend would be a change to that, as ADO Den Haag got to the playoff final for a spot in the Eredivise. Since moving to The Hague, going to these matches has been a real highlight of my my time here, and I hoped to have the cherry on top of that cake. Alas, I was once again disappointed, but not just by matters on the pitch. 

On Tuesday we travelled to Excelsior in Rotterdam – our opposition for this two legged promotion battle. After a thoroughly disappointing performance put us 1-0 down, ADO scored a 93rd minute equaliser. The away end was the definition of limbs, but it was sheer joy. Unadulterated football joy and the chanting on the bus home was a pleasure. That moment was the reason we do this as fans. The travelling. The cost. All worth it in an instant. One of our number was due to miss the final because of holiday plans – holiday plans which were drunkenly altered on the way home to allow attendance on Sunday. No one wanted to miss out.

As we filed into an already packed stadium an hour before kick off on Sunday ahead of the second leg, and were handed our yellow t shirt to spread the club colours around the ground, it was excitement and nervous energy. When we left, the nerves remained but for very different reasons. 

ADO went 3-0 up, with the third goal coming just after half time and a 45 minute promotion party seemed on the cards. All until the 78th minute, when ADO right back (who I’d just claimed to be the man of the match so far) Tyrese Asante got sent off for one of the most foolish second yellows I’ve ever seen. Regardless, the match and it’s rewards were still in our hands. Come the 93rd minute and Excelsior made it 3-3 after a chaotic 12 minutes including a disallowed goal. We were going to extra time, and penalties. It was not a pretty sight. 

By this point, the benches had had a set to, the players have been brought off the pitch by the referee for 10 minutes because the linesman had been struck by a lighter, and worse still, some fans had climbed from their seats in the stand and onto the advertising hoardings. One fan at my end had even made his way into the dugout undeterred. The head of the ADO “ultras” at my end of the stadium had started this, and was now yelling at fans to get back. It was carnage. Just because someone calls you an ultra, it doesn’t give you license to act like an arsehole. 

There was not one steward around and not one police officer anywhere nearby. It didn’t take a genius to realise what would happen if the result didn’t go the right way. Needless to say, my personal football curse continued. Despite going 4-3 up in extra time, ADO succumbed to the 8th penalty of a sudden death shootout. The only time in the match Excelsior led, was when they won it. Sickening. 

Very quickly however disappointment turned to anger. Not at the players but the fans, if you can call them that. Those around the hoardings expecting a party ran straight to the away end. To my horror flares and fireworks were shot into the away fans along with all sorts of other objects. It was truly horrifying. Only now did we see the police but it was too late. The fans were fighting amongst themselves, never mind the away fans. Families crying, objects ripped from the stadium itself to be hurled at police and others. 

Leaving the stadium was like entering a war zone, and I do not say that lightly. Police dogs grappling with fans, stones being thrown in every direction, fireworks shot at peacekeepers from home made devices. It was the worst thing I have seen at football, and I’ve traveled to many places to watch it. The rise of the so called hooligan is something which is hindering football, and something needs to be done. I’ve come to the conclusion that the police wanted this trouble to unfold here, so it could be contained in what is an industrial estate with very few houses or other businesses around it, rather than letting it spill into the city centre when it becomes difficult to control. This measure did however mean that the majority of the law abiding 15,000 strong crowd were also caught up in the bedlam. 

I like the football casual scene. I like the clothes. I like the music. I like the drinking. I like football as a culture because it connects and accepts people, simply because of the colour of your shirt or the songs you sing. The football causal scene is dying however, and is being replaced by coke riddled idiots which think a Stone Island jumper makes them hard. Wrapping a scarf around your face to hide who you are doesn’t mean you’re a football fan. It means you’re a thug. If you’re shouting “cancer n****r” to the player who missed the key penalty as you leave the pitch, you’re not even a thug. You’re a stain on this club and city and it’s people. 

After the match and these appalling scenes, two further issues concerned me. The club themselves coming out and taking no responsibility for trying to stop these people who were pitch side for 15 minutes before the inevitable equaliser came, and the police who seemed all too content to let this chaos happen. Whilst the fans are to blame without question, and the rise of the fake hard-man, authorities will always try and absolve themselves of blame, and it needs to stop. It was the French at the Champions League final, the Dutch this weekend and the English authorities after a farcical Euro 2020 final. 

Football is a fantastic way to spend your time. It builds friendships and relationships. It heals wounds and creates them in equal measure. However, if fans, police and clubs aren’t united in a more constructive way moving forward, especially around big events, football will become something that many will want to avoid all together. Maybe that is the aim of the authorities after all – who knows. Perhaps football becoming the NFL is the goal. Quietly full stadia, full of fans who overpay for their tickets because they can, all whilst enjoying a dining experience around the concourses.

This doesn’t solve the problem of what the “fans” who cause problems do or how they think. Their vehicle for idiocy has been removed. What football and it’s authorities should be doing is using football  as a vehicle to support and change people who think this sort of behaviour is ok. Use it as the power for good I know it can and should be.

Otherwise football will continue to eat itself and slowly stop becoming the community asset is should be, and one of the reasons I and many others fell in love with it. 

David Rees – @Colemans_Dream