Zonder respect, geen voetbal
While attracting surprisingly scant press coverage here, the violent assault on a referee’s assistant in Holland and his subsequent death have rightly dominated news stories elsewhere. That this took place at a youth game makes it all the more shocking.
In the town of Almere to the east of Amsterdam, SC Buitenboys is a large community club with 110 teams, 1175 junior and 225 senior members. Father of three Richard Nieuwenhuizen was a parent volunteer running the line of an under-17 game in which his middle son was playing. In an altercation at the end of the game he was knocked to the ground by players of the visiting team. 41 year old Richard Nieuwenhuizen fell into a coma and died the next day.
The aftermath brought the cancellation of 33,000 amateur matches in Holland, a minute’s silence at all Dutch league matches and a silent protest march of 12,000 people through the town on the day of his funeral. 4000 red roses flank the pitch where Nieuwenhuizen was officiating on that fateful day and a memorial game will be held in the Spring with Ajax legend Frank de Boer leading a team.
After much soul searching the club has decided to carry on. It has adopted the slogan “zonder respect, geen voetbal” (without respect, no football) and instigated far-reaching measures to address issues of player and parental behaviour. It is a similar story at the opposing club on that day against a background that includes the continued arrest in police custody of 8 players and parents.
The parallels for UK football are of course strong. The sight and sound of irate adults berating players and officials on the touchline of junior games has not disappeared entirely at all clubs though are much rarer than was the case. The sight and sound of premiership players abusing referees and fellow players are there every matchday on TV screens in every household in the country.
The aim is not to sanitise a combative, fast moving sport or to strip it of physical contact or competitive spirit. It is to recognise that the day must finally be over when the football match can be an excuse for otherwise fair-minded and civilised people to turn into their irrational and abusive alter egos.
We must recognise that physical assault on an official is the kid brother of verbal abuse that is itself the product of the win-at-any-cost obsession that leads to the one-eyed fury. There is a fine line between genuine banter that can laugh at itself and boorish abuse that is simple thuggery souring the atmosphere and inciting similar from others.
Our response must be not to accept foul language or threatening behaviour on the pitch, in the dug-out or on the terraces. This starts at the top with managers and players, the role models for juniors, and extends throughout the game at all levels. The FA’s Respect campaign set out on the right lines but there is no quick fix or cure-all. This takes time. Respect must be real. Without respect, no football.