Hooliganism, Nationalism & Soccer: The Netherlands vs. Germany Essay

A Dutch Jew, Sjeng Scheidt, who was captured by the Germans in the Second World War, was put in a concentration camp. He had the following attitude towards the Germans:

“They should hang all Germans for what they did.” Then, somebody else would say to him, “But Sjeng, there are also good Germans.” Sjeng said, “Okay, then we will hang those apart.”

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After the Second World War, this was exactly the way many Dutch people thought of the Germans. However, this attitude did not only come from the war, it has deeper roots. These roots are important, because they reveal the current attitude from the Dutch against the Germans. It also gives us an insight in why the Dutch-German soccer games are full of violence.

The 17th Century in The Netherlands is also called the ‘golden age,’ because in this period the country was a true world power. Our trade with other countries, our industry and our culture thrived. Then, in the next centuries, the Dutch international power declined due. Amsterdam, our capital, lost its leading position in the European market and the economic boom the colonies brought to the ‘fatherland’ deteriorated. While Dutch power declined, German power increased; the Weimar Republic that was founded in 1871 turned the little states into a powerful country.

Maarten Rigter in his article Dutch-German Relations from the Dutch perspective says that “Germany became ‘big brother’ and from then on the Dutch were often considered as ‘Niederdeutsche’ (Germans of the low lands)” (Rigter 1). At that time, the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck even declared in the parliament “The Dutch will voluntarily join our state” (Rigter 1). Although this was said in the open, the Dutch still kept a good relation with the Germans since they obeyed Dutch neutrality in the First World War.

This positive momentum abruptly changes with the cruel invasion by the Germans in 1940. The Netherlands wanted to remain neutral in this war as well and invading our country came as a shock. If invading the country was not bad enough, the war killed many Dutch people due to starvation during the ‘hungerwinter’ of 1944. From now on, Dutch-German relations became tenser. Now, how does this attitude tie in to soccer and hooliganism?

As we can conclude, the Dutch-German hooliganism in, during, and after soccer-games is a rivalry that has historically grown. It originated from rivalries that had nothing to do with soccer; the rivalry had to do with international, imperial, and economic power. The rivalry got even stronger after the World Championships in 1974, which were held in Germany. The Netherlands was able to qualify for this tournament and they reached the finals after defeating Brazil in the semi-finals. They played the finals against Germany. The final score was The Netherlands 1, Germany 2. Germany had won the World Cup!

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In The Netherlands, a bitter aftertaste was left in the mouths of many Dutch people after the finals. Some said they would have rather not been in the World Cup than losing to the Germans. But, with the European Championships in 1988 in West Germany, The Netherlands would have another chance of ‘setting things straight’. In the end, The Netherlands ends up winning the European Championships in 1988 by defeating the Soviet Union in the finals with 2-0. However, the semi-finals against West Germay was of greater importance. Everyone felt that now was the time, as I have said, to ‘set things straight’. Not only to our opponent, who had ‘stolen’ the World Cup from us in 1974, but also to ourselves; the Dutch team had failed to qualify for the finals three times in a row: in 1982, 1984 and 1986.

Therefore, the press and also the players from the ‘golden soccer generation of the 70’s’ gave the national soccer team a lot of criticism. Moreover, Dutch soccer clubs in this period lost against the German teams. As one can see, frustration and irritation were motivators for the Dutch national team of 1988 to win against Germany in the semi-finals. What happened in that semi-final? The Dutch won! Marco van Basten scored the winning goal, one for the end of a regular match. The finals score was 2-1. At once, the Dutch were freed from their feelings of hatred.

Of course, the Germans were not very happy with the end result of the semi-final of 1988. In Rotterdam, after that match was played, the worst riots took place in the history of The Netherlands. Since that time, the tensions at soccer matches between The Netherlands and Germany have been incredible high, whether this is national match or a club match. Now, how did hooliganism get intertwined with soccer?

First of all, it is important to answer the question, “What is hooliganism?” According to Gerrit Valk in his article Football hooliganism, which was a report for the Committee on Culture and Education, he says that, “Hooliganism already existed in the last century. Modern hooliganism exists since the sixties in several countries. Boys and young men, aged between 15 and 25, collectively engage in fights, demolitions, and provocations. Their main targets are other groups, who only differ from them in their being composed of fans of another football team” (Valk 2). The reason for their behavior is that their hooliganism seems to be an attempt to gain prestige, both within one’s own group and relative to the rival group. “The ability to fight, group solidarity and loyalty, plus the aggressive defense of culturally defined areas, are all elements of satisfying male identity.

Fighting at football is largely about young males testing out their own reputations for manliness against those of other similarly motivated men” (Valk 2). In other words, hooligans want to their club to gain prestige, they want their own ‘hooligan group’ to gain more prestige, but they also want to gain more prestige themselves. According to a Dutch website about soccer vandalism, which was set up after everybody had witnessed the increased soccer violence at Euro 2000 in The Netherlands and Belgium, the individual prestige is important, because “the hooligan wants to get an own identity within the group so that, in the future, he might be able to secure a position as a leader” (voetbalvandalisme).

The name Hooligan comes from an Irish family that in the beginning of the 20th century was known for their violence. Soon, it will become a name for people who commit a lot of violent acts. Later on, this name will stand for groups of soccer supporters that will fight each other. According to a Dutch website, these hooligans became more violent throughout the last 40 years? First, “they sang songs, then the started to use cuss words, and then they ended up fighting each other” (Voetbalvandalisme).

What people started hooliganism? Hooliganism started in Great Britain. It came to the surface when the British change their labor culture. Because of these changes, some doors closed for a lot of young people; instead of looking forward to a great future, they became part of a group of unschooled workers. The mentality in the hearts of these young people changed, since they had to find another way to keep their honor and dignity. Consequently, “the youth earned prestige not by their personality but by the amount of bravery they showed” (Voetbalvandalisme).

After the World Championships in 1966, after the media had made a big fuss about the first real acts of violence by hooligans in Great Britain, a feeling of ‘moral panic’ came to the surface. This moral panic only increased the problem and set it off into the rest of the world. On the Dutch website it says that, “this ‘example’ was discovered all over the world and it became a hype” (Voetbalvandalisme). If one club or national team had hooligans, than the other club/national team wanted to have this as well. This is how hooliganism became a struggle between teams and supporters.

Lastly, how did hooliganism grow to such great proportions? As it is hardly a secret, soccer vandalism/hooliganism has become a real social problem. Through the eyes of society, soccer vandalism exists because of “a lack of discipline in people and it is an expresses the lack of norms that people should have” (Voetbalvandalisme). Most of the times, it is the failure from the people around the hooligans, such as friends or family, who do not teach them what is right and wrong at an early stage in their lives that violence is not the way to go.

After your favorite club loses the match, this is your behavior?

Often, people have wondered why hooliganism takes place at soccer games. First of all, in The Netherlands and Germany, soccer is the biggest sport in the country. It is what the country is famous for; winning soccer championships earns the country and the people more prestige. Therefore, losing soccer matches is a big deal. Also, soccer is a sport that is executed by a collective, not an individual. This collective of eleven people represents the whole country so that losing soccer matches becomes a big deal. This is a situation where the concept of nationalism ties in again, especially when this is a soccer match between The Netherlands and Germany.

This is a clear example of soccer and nationalism!

All in all, hooliganism is something that has existed since the 1960’s. Between The Netherlands and Germany, hooliganism has only increased the tensions between the two countries. As if the history between the countries had not done enough. Nationalism, the feeling that the Dutch had to prove something against the Germans worsened the riots after the soccer match between The Netherlands and West-Germany in 1988. The Germans’ national pride decreased, since those men out on the field do not only represent themselves, they represent the whole country with all its people. Therefore, Orwell was right: sport is politics.

Why is this necessary???

Bibliography

www.karl.aegee.org/oem/articles/oe8/posit-nl.htm Dutch-German Relations from the

Dutch Perspective, Maarten Rigter, Utrecht.

www.gevaarbeheersing.homestead.com/files/edoc8553definitief.htm Football Hooliganism, Gerrit Valk, sept 30, 1999.

www.iselinge.nl/scholenplein/pabolessen/99002cvoetbal Voetbalvandalisme (soccer vandalism), Marieke Lamers, Ralf Loeven, Robbin Haverdill, Liselotte Mertens, and Anneke Grob.

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