Last August I took my eldest two sons to their first eredivisie match at the Kyocera Stadion in The Hague. We’ve been to most home games since.
It’s reminiscent of my own footballing childhood; from the age of seven I stood on the terraces of my local football club at Vicarage Road. Up until I left England in 2000, at the tender age of 27, I was a serial season ticket holder at Watford Football Club.
It’s amazing what you can learn as a football supporter when you are a child: loyalty to a cause; dealing with disappointment; emotional involvement; commitment; social connection, cohesion and a sense of community; something to identify with and most importantly of all you learn to believe in dreams and miracles. (I write this hours after I watched ADO beat Feyenoord in De Kuip.)
As a child I associated football with family time. My brother (actually a Liverpool supporter) and I travelled with my parents the length and breadth of England to follow the Hornets. I have fond memories; it was an activity that brought us together – football was a passion we shared. So it’s no accident my own little family can be found in the family section of ADO’s home ground this season. I have been waiting for my children to be of an age where they are ready to embrace sitting in a football stadium every week for ninety minutes at a time.
On one occasion this season my husband accompanied us, as did our four year old, but it proved to be a little much for the attention span of our youngest. (The lesson he learnt that day was patience!) So the composition of my family representation changes each home game – but in one form or another we are there. We are part of the ADO Den Haag community.
It’s a community that was caught up in a scandal in January when a handful of fans chanted racist and insulting slurs against Ajax. There were two appeals over the loudspeaker to stop. It didn’t. It was disturbing. It was uncomfortable. This was happening at my club. Our club. I left the stadium with a bad taste in my mouth that, for once, wasn’t attributable to ADO’s defeat or on pitch performance.
As we walked to the train station after the match, I took the opportunity to speak to my eldest son who was at the match. I asked him how much he had understood about what had been going on. He hadn’t got any of it – he was focused on the match and we couldn’t hear the specifics of the songs or chants from where we were sitting. I could have left it there. But I chose not to.
I chose to use it as a learning moment. We talked about what had happened as we walked. We talked about it again when it was announced that supporters had been identified, faced prosecution and had received a stadium ban. We talked about it again after the next ADO home game, when the ADO club staff tackled the issue themselves with videos of the players and staff about the kind of support they wanted to hear from the terraces, and a banner which asked for racism to be given the red card.
We talked about what and why it had happened. We talked about whether it was right or wrong, and why he thought what he did. He was shocked that racism exists. He was shocked that people would insult a football player because of his origins. He looked puzzled as he told me,
“We are all the same, just different colours.”
I realised I didn’t need to give my son a lesson about racism – he has it covered. My son showed me that it’s not just as children we can learn a thing or two sitting supporting our local football team – it’s a lesson that other football supporters would do well to learn too.
ADO’s 2016/17 campaign kicks off on August 6th at home against Go Ahead Eagles. If you are a football fan living in The Hague area and you are missing the regular stadium trips to your football club back ‘home’ then head to the Kyocera Stadion and support your local team instead. ADO’s reputation hasn’t been great in the past but that’s history – there’s a great article here to set your mind at ease.
You can find out more about joining the ADO Den Haag kid’s club here. The club has a huge (no-smoking) family section and there is a great atmosphere.
There is also a great website for expats to keep up to date with the “Haagse” club in many different languages – ADO for expats.