They Had to Go Under the Radar, Hooligans of Rotterdam

Baseball bat (Kelvin Bras) and Database (Shwet Parag) search for answers hoping not to get their brains bashed-in

I was driving into a territory of conflicting interest, on one side a Feyenoord supporter, on the other an investigative journalist. As I left the highway I passed the Feyenoord stadium. Sunday, 06/02 Feyenoord-Sparta, the Rotterdam derby. It would turn out to be an easy day for Feyenoord.

With a new head-coach and a clear football philosophy, Sparta Rotterdam, which was facing relegation wouldn’t prove much resistance in Feyenoord stadium – De Kuip.

As I drove along the Varkenoordviaduct supporters were heading towards the stadium. It was a sea of red, white and beercans. A bulky man wearing a shirt that said ‘Real Feyenoord Dad,’ carried a little girl on top of his shoulders. It was endearing seeing a face tatted man carry a child on his shoulders. It made him seem teddybearish. Something I wouldn’t have said from looking at him on his own.

I drove onto Beijerlandselaan and parked down the street from café T’ Kruispunt. I sat in the car with an uneasy feeling. How many people would be inside? Was it a dead end? Would I be beaten up for asking questions? It’s risky business when you’re investigating something, that’s something I heard before, somewhere. I shook my head and texted Shwet that I was at the bar. Shwet and I were in this together; he found things and I went places.

Cafe T’ Kruispunt

Café T’ Kruispunt, a hooligan bar. There were a dozen or so people in the bar. At the bar some guy was doing crosswords. In the corner a man was playing a slot-machine and the Tv showed the preview to the game. I sat down and ordered a coffee while trying to get the bearings of my surroundings. Most of the people in the bar were men; leathery skinned, potbellied, nicotine dimpled men. The few women looked perfectly Rotterdams, with that dockworker-ladylike grit. Both the men and women were bulky and looked like they spent their days doing manual labour.

I came to the bar to verify that it was ‘indeed’ a hooligan bar, all our research up to that point screamed it. In the end it was quite easy to verify that this bar was indeed a hooligan bar. In 2016 a special of unit of the police dropped by to arrest some people carrying drugs and a gun. Where most bars would probably lose their business if someone walked in with a 17th century musket, let alone a fully loaded modern handgun, T’ Kruispunt carried on like nothing happened. The little kafuffle didn’t mean much to the regulars, apart from making them even more antagonized towards the authorities. In the bar you felt that energy. The bar was covered in S.C.F. stickers, the biggest hooligan society of Feyenoord. You really felt that antagonistic energy.

But figuring out if it was a hooligan bar wasn’t all I came for. I mean: ‘Was it a hooligan bar?’ Yes! Ok, now what? Uhm, party? Not that enticing. No, our main goal was to gather information about bosfights, and Feyenoord hooligans’ involvement in them.

It might be an unfamiliar term to you ‘bosfights.’ Bosfights are arranged brawls between rivaling groups of hooligans. Two groups of hooligans arrange a meet, usually before a game, go there and begin to fight. They beat each-others brains bloody and go for a beer afterwards . It’s the hooligans’ own little spin on Fight Club. Only with less poetry and more ‘F*ck your club…’

The reason why these organized brawls are gaining popularity are recent run-ins with the authorities. Because of this hooligans have changed their tactics. Instead of fighting near the stadium they meet at secret locations and beat the shit out of each-other in peace.

But they don’t always meet in a secluded place. In December 2021 Feyenoord and Union Berlin supporters were arrested because they were planning to fight in the streets of Berlin. In the end it never came to an actual brawl and the Berlin police were on high alert. Algemeen Dagblad, a Dutch paper based in Rotterdam, reported that ‘On Wednesday evening the police in Berlin has intercepted at least 71 German and Dutch hooligans with fighting materials. The 70 men and 1 woman have been arrested.’ Brain bashing twarted.

Still, not much can be found about bosfights . The groups involved barely have a social media footprint and really aren’t trying to be found.

Back in the bar the first half was over. I felt like it was a dead end, it was clear that T’ Kruispunt was a hooligan bar but that’s not much to write about. Everyone knew each other and didn’t interact with me, I was a trespasser and they could sense that. I sat there and ordered a drink in silence, not sure when to start talking.

But during the break I got lucky. A man with a beany and fingerless gloves came in. He looked like he lived on a diet of tobacco and sambuca. He came to the bar ‘’Hey, a beer for Jan! It’s his birthday tomorrow,’’ the beany guy said. The lady behind the bar cussed ”Take it easy ye?’’ They were quiet for a while and then both laughed.

Anko and Jan inside cafe T’ Kruispunt

The guy went to Jan*, sat down and they began to chat. A little while later the beany guy’s name is mentioned, Anko*. ‘’Illegally piss,’’ Anko* says, ‘’you’re pushed into the bushes by the cops and then you have to piss there.’’ He was talking about Union Berlin away. Anko* was one of the 70 men arrested for the organized street brawls. He mentions he didn’t see much of the game and had to spent four hours in jail. He exaggerates and says that there were ‘’More than 200 of us,’’ even though it was less than half. After he was released he only saw the last fifteen minutes of the game.

It was a good choice to come here after all. There is a problem with finding information about hooligans online. That being that there’s not much to find apart from blurry pictures and hooligans who admit they were one; back in 2017. ‘I’m a hooligan for life. [..] But differently than back in the day, back then I really went there to fight, always. Full throttle.’ Yoeri Kievits said in an interview with NPO’s Geloof en een Hoop Liefde back in 2017.

Because of their natural opposition to the authorities many hooligan groups have gone under the radar. They exclusively talk via private servers and post next to nothing on social media. In a video found on Facebook we see Feyenoord fans chanting their club songs. Indications for violence are in the video posted by C. Wol*: torches on the floor, people wearing ski masks – but a fight isn’t recorded, if it even went that far.

Most acts of hooliganism are spontaneous and often are acted out in retaliation. On the 18th of January 2022, Feyenoord hooligans assaulted a group of hard core FC Utrecht supporters which were training outside. Voetbalzone mentions how it seems to have been an act of retaliation for something these Utrecht supporters did earlier.

Back in the bar Anko* was boasting. ‘’I had this chunk of hashish in my pocket,’ he widened his fingers to the size of a credit card, ‘chucked it just in time.’’ He talked about police batons and how they were taunting the police while they were opposite them.

Anko* expressively mimicing the taunting of police

Anko* didn’t stay for long. He spouted some more about cops and shitty clubs that weren’t Feyenoord and said he was heading out.

Anko* was the guy I had to talk to. But it didn’t come to that this day. I said ‘’Hey man,’’ and he greeted me back with a suspicious look. I was too much of a stranger to ask direct questions at this point, the only reason I had for not getting my brains squashed was that I supported Feyenoord after all.

In an interview with Sebastian Steveniers, a photo journalist for the Belgian De Standaard, he mentions how ‘It’s a job for the long haul.’ When you want to find out about bosfights, street brawls, you need to become a part of their society in order for you to get to the source. In order to get there Shwet and I needed to ‘’gain their trust and be honest,’’ as Sebastian put it. This investigation was still too much of a baby for that.

Still we knew that their local meet ups are the bars around Beijerlandselaan. Most prominently café T’ Kruispunt. We identified a dozen or so individuals affiliated to some of the hooligan groups in the country. That’s more than we had when we started. That’s more than we had if we accepted that they were – just – unfindable.

At this point the man infront of me turned around. ‘’You’re from Rotterdam no?’’ He said it with a tone that gave me a chill. As soon as I confirmed I was from Rotterdam but now lived somewhere else he became friendly. Steve* was a sizable guy, the type of guy that could run through a wall. He was jolly and friendly, I didn’t understand much of what he said. I later discovered that he himself was affiliated with the S.C.F. as well.

Then Jan*, now without his buddy, came over and started talking football. How great Anre Slot was, and how there was finally a clear vision to Feyenoord’s play. I agreed and we shook hands. I told him I’m a journalist and came here to watch the game, visit my family and talk to hooligans. He laughed and said: ”You calling us family already?” Jan, a dock worker, comes to the café to watch games and drink beer and talk shit about whoever Feyenoord is playing. And because I knew my Feyenoord stuff he didn’t mind me so much.

It all fits into that image we have about hooligans. Hard working unskilled labourers who use football as their form of comradery. Football, their way of escaping the sludge. According to hooligan expert Ramon Spaaij ‘The hooligan subculture at Feyenoord continues to attract local young men seeking risk, excitement and recognition from peers.’ Hooligans who have trouble with authority take youngsters to fight, who then develop a troubled relationship with authority too.  Good old vicious cycle.

Club support is the mode through which hooligan’s push back against their life’s problems. Still the behaviour enacted by hooligans is illegal. And with the increased social media attention they tend to avoid the spotlight; and then go to bars to boast about the things they cannot admit anywhere else.

Authorities are doing their best to identify hooligans and stop them from getting into conflict. But they rarely succeed. The Union Berlin arrests seem to have been an incident rather than the standard. The older generation of hooligans still try to act with some form of ethics. Trying to keep the conflict contained between them and other hooligans. But with the increased activity of hooligan youngsters, who tend to be more violent and do not limit their actions amongst hooligans. Because of that the older hooligans needed to go under the radar too.

Opinions on hooligans are divided. Some people don’t mind them as long as they stay away, while others have a severe distain for their increased aggression. The bulk of Feyenoord supporters detest the recent acts of aggression by a small group of hooligans. On the 27th of October the youngsters of R.J.K. assaulted the house of former Feyenoord managing director Mark Koevermans. R.J.K. pelted his house with stones and terrorized him to quit because they didn’t like how he was running the club. After the incident Koevermans resigned.

This to the outrage of Feyenoord fans. Who denounced the actions of R.J.K. associates, feeling that violence is rarely the answer. ‘They’ve been ruining Feyenoord’s image for years.’ writes.  

With increased media scrutiny and negative public opinions hooligans try to vanish from the public eye. In order to keep fighting they feel the need to go under the radar; after which they go to boast about it in a bar.

The match was over, I finished my drink and called it a day.

*Names followed by an asterisk were changed for privacy reasons.

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