Is it safe at ADO?

Is it safe to go to ADO Den Haag?

During the world cup finals I got to visit several bars in and around The Hague. I saw many fans from different countries, wearing rival shirts, yet having a great time sharing the football experience. So when I got talking to groups about football, I asked if they ever went to see the local football team. Not one of them said they did. They all said how much they followed their home teams on television or via the internet, even though they missed the live adrenalin rush of actually being there in the flesh. So the simple question was then to ask why they did not go to see ADO Den Haag.

The answer that was given roughly 70% of the time was they were nervous, worried or totally scared to go due to the fearsome reputation of the Hooligan following of ADO Den Haag.

Now this got me thinking. I have been going to the home matches of ADO Den Haag for almost two whole seasons now. During that time; I have not seen one single arrest, not one punch thrown, not a single sign of aggressive antisocial behavior. Yet people are scared to visit the stadium. So I decide to delve a little deeper in to this matter.

Ok, it is common knowledge that a many years ago, when ADO Den Haag were still playing in the old Zuiderpark stadion, ADO’s fans where often called the Millwall of Holland. Matching the South Londoners notoriety for causing havoc in and around stadiums throughout the towns and cities in which they played. Some frightening events took place in Zuiderpark over the years, which in turn forced the police to use a very heavy handed approach to its policing methods.

I did visit Zuiderpark for one game around five years ago. The minute you stepped off the tram, there was a heavy tension filled atmosphere in the air. There were van loads of riot police, all dressed up like storm troopers, ready and waiting to go in to battle. This offensive battledress in turn provoked the home support, and I saw the odd bottle being thrown and lots of vile, hate filled chants directed towards the police. If that was not bad enough, the stadium was like a caged prison camp, not fit for football fans in all honesty. But it had to do I guess. So; with the police showing a tough stance outside and home supporters being forced to go in to a cage surrounded by barbed wire etc, was it any wonder that the place often exploded. The volatile mixture was a bomb waiting to be triggered. To my mind, if you treat people like animals, then they will behave like animals and this was proved correct on many previous occasions. I have to admit, I almost turned away as I was not feeling too brave at that moment. However I eventually plucked up courage and went in. I discovered that once inside, the atmosphere that was created by the small crowd to be amazing. The vocal support was truly moving. Have to admit I was so pleased I went, thoroughly enjoyed the action. Unfortunately after the game, the mood yet again turned sour and I was only interested in head down and walk as quick as possible to the nearest public transport stop, never been so pleased to see a bus!

Now lets come forward to the present day and see what today’s match day experience involves in and around the Forepark Stadion, sorry, the newly renamed Kyocera Stadion. The walk from the Forepark tram stop to the stadium takes roughly ten minutes. Rarely, if at all, do you see any police on that short walk. So not surprisingly the atmosphere is totally different already, there is cheerful talk and laughter as the crowd converges on the football ground.

Security at the stadium seems relaxed. There are plenty of stewards around the perimeter of the stadium, all in their high visibility Day-Glo jackets, so you can’t miss them. You do see the occasional couple of police officers walking around, but not in riot gear, just their normal street attire. At the far corner there are usually three or four mounted officers. This time there is no sign of ill feeling towards the police at all and I have not seen any in two years of going. There is another thing different to now that at Zuiderpark. There are a large amount of kids going to the games. The police on horseback happily chat with them as though it is a normal day in a quiet park.

Visiting supporters to ADO Den Haag have to travel like all away fans in Holland. They have to travel on club buses directly in to a highly secure area before disembarking in to the holding area before entering the stadium. Rival fans can not get at each other even if they wanted to. The ADO Den Haag stadium is reputed to be one of the safest stadiums to visit in the world, thanks to all its safety measures.

Inside the ground I have very rarely seen a police officer; the whole security operation is run by a large team of highly trained stewards, who certainly seem to know who is who within the supporters groups. I feel there is a huge amount of mutual respect between the fans and stewards, and it shows as the atmosphere inside the ground is always vibrant, bouncy and full of energy, so different to the days in Zuiderpark. There is no tension at all, in Zuiderpark you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, so different to now.

Now want I want to know is? Am I looking through rose tinted glasses and seeing what I want to see? Has there really been a difference over the passed few years? So with this in mind, I began to contact those in the know and ask them. I wanted to know, was it a concerted effort to change the policing methods to enhance the match experience, or did it fall in to place by accident? Is there anybody who could take the credit?

The person to meet was Piet van de Laar; the chief steward at ADO Den Haag who agreed to meet me and give me a tour of the stadiums ultra modern and ever improving security systems.

As we toured the ground Piet told me that yes, trouble with ADO supporters was really bad many years ago, reaching a peak in the mid to late 80’s. I asked him how he came to be top steward after being a loyal fan from the terraces, as stewards don’t actually get much time to watch the game, if any. His reasons made perfect sense. The date was March 1st 1987; a day that went down in history as the worst football violence seen within a Dutch stadium. ADO Den Haag were hosting Ajax and vicious fighting erupted on all sides of the ground. The police panicked and began to lash out at anyone within striking range, be they involved in the trouble or not. Piet had taken his son to that match, his son is wheelchair bound and Piets main concern was getting him to safety. The police made a shield and got his son out. As this happened, Piet saw two young girls who were alone and close to the fighting, so he put his arms around them and blocked them against a wall to protect them. Next, the police were beating down on Piet’s back with their batons. After this experience, Piet made a decision to help his football club.

The following season Piet joined the team of stewards at Zuiderpark and tried to help control the crowds. Back in thos days it was a virtual impossibility to prevent the trouble, it was mob rule. Then, on the 15th February 1992 a new initiative was started that would become the start of a whole new way to deal with supporters that would eventually be adopted by clubs across the Netherlands. Instead of fighting the hooligans, they wanted the hooligans to be a part of the team, a team who took pride in the club and community.

The start was terrible. The hooligans looked upon the new stewarding as another rival to go along side the police and rival fans. Piet said it was hard work and at times really very difficult. As the season passed and the stewards and hooligans started to get to know one another things began to calm down. As the seasons passed, things improved. Piet puts this down to being able to get to the newer fans at an early stage of their supporting careers and show them that being a football supporter does not mean being a hooligan, far from it.

Today Piet is the chief steward and is proud of his and his stewards achievements. Piet has a reputation at ADO and is well respected by all there, from the Chairman to the casual supporter. He says that when the stadium is sold out, he reckons that 80% of the fans there know him or of him and respect him for his work. So much has the fan attitude at ADO changed that the hooligans of old who attend the matches help out if anyone starts to misbehave. The old hooligans are now an extra arm to the stewarding team that are making ADO Den Haag a safer place to visit.

So that is how the breakthrough was made, but what of the security itself within the stadium? Well the blindingly obvious is that the barbed wire and cattle gates have gone. No relation to a prison camp at ADO anymore, simple improvement, but one which makes one hell of a difference on the people attending.

The network of control for crowd control is quite simple, but well regimented in its operations. There is a chief of security who has three direct groups to deal with. The control room were the CCTV’s are monitored. A project manager who liaises with other clubs, police and other emergency services. Finally an operations commander. The operations commander has six supervisors who in turn are in control of the stewards in and around the stadium.

On a match day there are normally 112 stewards on duty plus up to 40 other security staff who are brought in from an outside source. The head stewards have to be at the stadium four hours before kick off to attend security briefings. Every other steward has to be at the ground three hours prior to kick off. Why so early? The stewards individually check that each of the 15,000 seats is securely bolt in place. All emergency exits are checked as are all the fire extinguishers.

When the turnstiles open to allow fans access to the stadium, an ultra modern high specification system comes in to play. To enter most games you have to be in possession of a club card or season ticket. You enter your ticket into a reader, if accepted you pass through one gate. Then you come face to face with a turnstile operator who will see if your face matches the one that is registered to the card on the clubs fan base system. If you match, you are then allowed to pas through a second gate where the fan will be then searched by a steward for any dangerous items. This is why you have to take legitimate ID with you if you attend a game when day cards can be purchased. AS your details will be entered on to that system too, so you will always be caught if you misbehave! This security is not just for your average match going fan either. In the main stand where all the private boxes are situated, everybody, even top VIP’s have to go through a security gate, there is not one thing left to chance when people enter the stadium.

All the above high tec security is deemed not good enough! At this time ADO are installing a new facial recognition system. Trails have already started and the equipment already installed. A photo of you is taken using six cameras at different angles, reading your facial features. It is hoped eventually that you will not even have to show your tickets to enter the ground. A scanner will pick up your ID electronically from within your pocket or wallet etc. A camera will scan your face at the entrance, if it is a match, in you go. This will make entering so much quicker and will also rule out anybody cheating the system.

Into the control room which has a clear view of the inner stadium area. Present in this room at each game is a representative from ADO Den Haag, the police, the fire service and the medical team. With these are between seven and nine people who monitor the four large television screens and twenty two other monitors. These monitors receive pictures from the 122 CCTV cameras that show complete coverage of property owned by ADO Den Haag, both inside and outside the stadium.

If an individual decided to play up within the stadiums limits, his/her images are sent to three screens and with CCTV coverage, this person would always be tracked by three cameras no matter where they were. It really is impossible to hide in and around the stadium. You misbehave, you will be caught!

The pitch itself is well separated from the danger of invasion by a large wall and moat. There is also a great deterrent for not invading the playing surface. A 10 year instant ban plus a fine of €15,000! If you do not pay the club, then it goes to the police who will then deal with it, severely.

There is also a room within the stadium that holds a magistrate. If you commit an offence that breaches the stadium regulations, you would be taken there and dealt with legally. If it was for severe verbal abuse etc, you may be fined on the spot. You can pay it there and then and even allowed to go back and watch the game, but a record is kept on ADO Den Haag and police files. It is an approach that really works well according to Piet. It is a room that is now very rarely used. As it is a full legal team in there, anything serious can be dealt with quickly, charges made and you could be instantly shipped off out in to police custody.

So what of any trouble making visiting supporters?  Well it can’t happen, simple as that. A visiting fan to ADO Den Haag has a very interesting journey to say the least. From no matter where you travel from as an away supporter in Holland, even if it means driving past the stadium, you have to go close to Zoetermeer. As from there, there is a private 5km road that is used for transporting visitors to the ADO Den Haag stadium ensuring that any contact with rival fans is impossible! When there are no games, this road is open to cyclists.  Once inside the stadium gates, visitors go through a turnstile, up some stairs and through a walk way in to the stadium itself. There is a huge plexi glass screen at the front and at both sides, plus netting above that to prevent any missiles being hurled. A physical confrontation of any kind can not happen.

It is amazing security but one which has paid off well for ADO Den Haag. Clubs travel to the stadium to see how it all works, not just the gadgets, but also how their stewarding works and why is works so well. ADO Den Haag has become the envy of clubs in Holland with their achievements in changing how their fans and team are perceived from outside the club.

It is not only the clubs reputation that gains from this. Fans are going to be rewarded this season, as for the first time in the new stadium; they are going to trial the selling of light beer within the ground. If there is no return to drunken behaviour then it is hoped to eventually to sell normal beer and allow fans to stay behind after games and have a party. It is a great way to ensure that the fans behave and actually fall in love with the club again and see it not just as a football club but also as a social club in which to be proud.

Finally how do the ADO Den Haag fans see their club and how it has changed and most of all, would they welcome an influx of expat supporters to the club?

I arranged to meet Alberto van der Spiegel, the main man behind the popular fan website ADO journaal, Alberto is 54 years old and has been attending ADO games since he was 6 years old when he went with his father. He says he was instantly affected by the ADO Den Haag virus and now has green and yellow blood flowing through his veins.

As he reached his teen years Alberto moved from a position behind the goal with his father to be amongst friends standing on what was then the notorious Midden Noord. From there he openly admits to being involved in the hooligan element of Den Haag supporters. In the 80’s the fans called themselves the Hague City Firm. These supporters gained a terrible reputation for creating havoc everywhere they descended.

After a period of time, many of the fans began to take notice of the harm they were doing to their beloved club. Things slowly but surely began to change. Fans could see only bad reports in the news, both on television and in the printed press. Yet the fans on their travels showed a different side to their nature at times. On one occasion when ADO Den Haag were playing away at Volendam, one of the opposition players had been in the news as his child was suffering from a very serious illness. When this player came on to the pitch, the ADO supporters threw hundreds of cuddly toys on to the pitch for the players’ child and to give to the hospital where the child was being treated. What hurt the travelling fans that day was that there was no mention of that anywhere. In the eyes of the media, if the fans of the Hague club were not presenting bad news, then it was no news at all.

Alberto got sick of this and changed his way of supporting his heroes. Instead of harming the club he loved he began working hard to promote it. After twenty years of running around with the boys being over exuberant, he realised it was doing nobody any good what so ever. It was not only Alberto who saw that changes were needed. Many moved away from the terrace battles and in turn the percentage of trouble makers dropped. They basically became new supporters of the club, supporters the club could be proud of. As there was still a link between the rougher elements and those who had changed their ways, things began to calm down.

Alberto tells me now that all he has in his mind is the promotion of ADO Den Haag to the world. He works hard on the website, has close contacts within the club. The website now has lots of video clips that Alberto and his friend Alain Clement have produced; Alain is also the site administrator and is heavily involved with ensuring the ADO Den Haag image continues to grow in a positive manner. They go to the player signings and training sessions. Even the television channel Eredivisie live shows a four minute piece about the club filmed by the Groengeelhart.

These fans now also make special arrangements for surprises on some fans big days such as weddings and birthdays. This site is really helping to build a bond between the club and its community.

Then I asked Alberto the big question. “How would the supporters react to a large number of new breed expat supporters turning up to follow the club?” He was so enthusiastic in his response it was a real burst of energy. He said that the fans would love it. Everybody knows of the clubs financial predicament, so more fans would mean more money going in to the accounts. He said that twenty years ago, ADO Den Haag was for Haagenaars only, but now everybody is welcome to join the support; saying nobody would have anything to fear if they come along to support ADO Den Haag. In recent times there have been visits from Juventus and Swansea supporters to watch some matches and in turn reciprocated. Alberto is hoping the visit of Swansea in the pre season would bring a few more expats in to the stadium.

I then got some feed back from fans that are associated with the www.ADOfans.nl website. There are just three of them.

Patrick, 42 years old and his 10 year old son are at every home game. They both enjoy the games and say “Expats should come to the ADO Den Haag home games because: Professional football is just top fun. It’s a distraction from the daily stresses at the office or school. A visit to an ADO Den Haag home match covers it all: entertainment, amusements, solidarity between fans and all of it in a safe child friendly, modern stadium with excellent facilities.

Edwin, 33 years old who has been going to ADO Den Haag since he was 12 say’s: “Well I can mention 1000 reasons why Expats should visit a ADO Den Haag match. Ok, you don’t have to expect always the best football in the world, but the atmosphere is great, it’s good entertainment and just fun for every one, man, children and women of all ages. There are very good facilities also for disable people who are in a wheel chair. Do you want to hear the other 986 reasons? “Ha ha ha.

In 1979 Willem’s father took him for the first time to the old Zuiderpark stadion since then he seldom missed a game. Now 38 years old and a father himself, Willem and his son visit all the ADO Den Haag games, home and away. Willem says “The atmosphere is great the stadium itself has all the facilities you need, good food, good drinks. You can get there by car of Randstad rail. Everybody likes it Children, Women, Elderly people. I think Expats will be surprised, in a positive way, how much fun a visit to the ADO Den Haag stadium is. So just come and see”

I have the last fan word from Ed who has the website www.nothside.nl  When I asked him the same question, his response was I felt genuine and from the heart. “I am sure that they are safe in our stadium. They are of course most welcome to join us and support our heroes!”

One of the best signs of the clubs continuing work in providing a great environment in which to watch football is that the government is allowing the club to sell more day tickets each season. This shows huge confidence in the club from those also outside of football. This along side the drop in large numbers of the police presence is making ADO Den Haag a stand out example of how a good football club should look after and treat its supporters.

So all in all what have I discovered? Simple, ADO Den Haag is a club that has worked extremely hard to change its image to those outside of The Hague. In fact the club is still spending money on improving its facilities and on looking after the welfare of the supporters who enter the stadium. The stadium is already reputed to be one of the safest, if not the safest in the world. The fans want the large expat community to embrace the club; they want to see new faces enjoying what is a fantastic crowd of support. I for one know that my hairs stand on end each game as Liberte is blasted out through the sound system rocking the stands. It is a wonderful experience and an experience you can enjoy in total safety.

Do it, just do it. Get on the tram and go to watch your local first division team play. You’ll love it!