Dutch Community Prevention Project



“A hug instead of a push”



Some 25 years ago police work in Holland was mainly solving crime at various levels. At that stage the word “prevention” had not been discovered. The police responded after the facts. Most police officers were hardly aware of the term “social worker”. Indeed, co-operation with social workers was almost unknown.


Over the years I am glad to say that the picture has changed on both fronts - on prevention and on social work. It has been a radical change and the police service is actively involved in prevention in areas like housebreaking, traffic safety and safety in areas with a heavy concentration of bars and nightlife.


Obviously, preventing crime at any level is useful and necessary. The slogan “prevention is better than cure” is good news for the general public and for the police.

In Holland we call this “working at the sharp end of the problem”.


This approach also applies to football hooliganism.


Community Prevention Projects

It is now generally accepted in the Dutch police service that we do not have to solve all society’s problems on our own. It is recognised that working together with other bodies, like social workers, is or can be highly effective.

Dealing with a problem together, and looking at it from your own professional angle, produces far better results than “every man for himself”.


Back in the 1980s neighbourhood or district police officers, had their eyes open for young local problem-makers, during weekdays. At weekends these same youngsters would misbehave at football matches. They would be major troublemakers in the neighbourhoods and the football stadiums: provocative, sometimes threatening – and breaking the law. This made local people and other fans at football matches feel unsafe.


As these young people were also troublemakers during matches, the idea developed of taking joint action. Football was the overall binding factor.

The police and youth-workers – who had got to know each other in the meantime – contacted the professional football clubs – with the aim of dealing with the trouble. The objective was to get in contact with these youngsters and positively influence their behaviour: to make life – in the neighbourhood and around the stadium more peaceful.

This was the birth of the community prevention project. And by the end of the 1980s community prevention projects were in place at seven professional football clubs.




1997 was the year of “Beverwijk”.

Not many people outside Holland will know the place-name. But (sadly), it is a national benchmark in football violence.

It was in Beverwijk, in a field next to the highway, that supporters of the Feyenoord and Ajax clubs arranged to meet for a battle that ended with one person dead. This was Holland’s worst incident around football violence, and it prompted a determined reaction from the government.

The shorter-term measures were:

Ø       Ø       That existing measures were made tougher,

Ø       Ø       That existing agreements were improved

Ø       Ø       And that arrangements were made for “tuning” between the parties involved.


Meanwhile, a pair of tools was proposed for the longer-term approach:

Ø       Ø       A personal club card or PCC, and

Ø       Ø       Community prevention projects


The PCC - the personal club card as a means for controls and sanctions did not make it, as there was not enough grassroots support, particularly from supporters.

However, plans for the community prevention projects were well received.


Community prevention policy

In 1998 a special bureau for community prevention policy was set up by the Dutch Football Association (KNVB), working jointly with the ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The organisation operates as part of the KNVB while the ministry provides annual finance of around € 100,000. If necessary the KNVB provides the additional project finance.


The Community Prevention Policy bureau focuses on:

Ø       Ø       Developing community prevention policy for supporters, by the clubs, at the local level, as a joint effort with specialised youth workers, the supporters’ association, the local authorities and the police,

Ø       Ø       And, where necessary, giving a boost to existing projects.


Our real priority here is establishing an excellent community policy. This reinforces links between the club and its supporters. At the same time it erodes the need for young people to act in a negative manner.


The projects focus on risk supporters and the younger generation of football supporters. With this second group the idea is to prevent them slipping into hooliganism.


These projects also seek co-operation with organisations that can help make a positive contribution to the lives of the supporters.

These could include:

q       q       Employment bureaux,

q       q       Training bodies,

q       q       Neighbourhood social workers

q       q       Sports clubs,

q       q       Drugs prevention and treatment organisations.



There is also intensive contact with the HALT agency. In Dutch these initials stand for “The ALTernative”.

HALT works like this: when an under age person is arrested for an offence, HALT consults with the police about giving an alternative punishment. In this way, the young person does not go to court.


The alternative punishment may be cleaning or carrying out repairs in the football stadium – maybe removing his own graffiti. In other words the football club can take responsibility for seeing that the punishment is carried out.


The current situation (end 2001)

Holland has 36 professional football clubs and 18 of these have well-operating, or at least operating community prevention projects.


-          -          At 11 clubs the project has been developed and receives support.

-          -          Two of the clubs have regular contact, aimed at development or steering of a project. These are projects that have started or which will start quite soon.

-          -          And five clubs are in contact on a non-regular basis, for information. These clubs say they do not have any problem supporters.


So, all in all, every professional football club in the country is tuned in to community prevention projects.


The main attraction in a project is the youth worker. In Holland he is called the  “supporters’ co-ordinator” or “fan-coach”. This person will often have a background in social work. He is employed by the club or the municipality – and they also pay his salary. The fan-coach, the supporters association, the municipality and the police all work closely together on a project. The police are not the driving force, but they are a full member. The project partners work as equals while keeping their own identities and methods.


Facts and figures

Results are evaluated every six months. These evaluations use project reports, interviews with the key parties, plus data from the CIV.


Some conclusions to date:

We have found that it takes at least 12 months before a project really “takes off”. That means a considerable time-investment before the organisation structure and co-operation are working at a reasonable level.


The most important bottlenecks are:

Ø       Ø       Different outlooks among the parties,

Ø       Ø       The fact that the local council, or the club may take a stand-offish attitude


At nearly half of the professional football clubs the focus is almost exclusively on problem supporters. Slowly but surely the focus is taking in younger supporters, and the prevention approach is more of a reality. This young group had been ignored because the hard-core took up so much time and energy.


As we have already seen, all the projects aim to improve links between the club and its supporters – including the problem category.

What is interesting is that the problem supporters often try to avoid activities designed to improve their links with the club. We suspect that this is because they want to stay anonymous. If you get involved in a project, your name and address go in the records of the project organisers. This makes it easier to arrest an individual and/or to charge him with criminal acts if he is involved in disturbances.


From the side of the project partners there is an ongoing approach to the young people. But while welcoming is allowed – we cannot force them. In fact two clubs actually say that the linkage factor has declined.


To measure results we look at factors including football hooliganism and police deployment.


And here are the results:


Ø       Ø       At seven clubs hooliganism was less or the same, and police deployment was less;

Ø       Ø       At two clubs hooliganism was less or the same, but police deployment was up;

Ø       Ø       At six clubs hooliganism was less or the same, but supporters caused more trouble at away games. (This might be because you are more anonymous away from home – where the stewards and the police do not know your face.);

Ø       Ø       At three clubs arrests were up and so was police deployment;

Ø       Ø       Verbal abuse was up at almost half the clubs. Three clubs reported a decline;

Ø       Ø       At 10 out of 18 clubs there was a clear increase in alcohol and drug abuse. AND NOWHERE WAS THERE A DECREASE.


The increase in alcohol and drug abuse is an important finding. Indeed, an increase in alcohol and drug addicts is bound to have a negative effect on the neighbourhood. The nuisance factor increases, and so does crime. If a community prevention project, centred on football, can bring this problem more into the open, if it can help get supporters clean and sober, and give them longer-term back up (like helping them to find work), the neighbourhood is sure to benefit. There will be less trouble from young alcohol and drug abusers. Their lives will take a positive turn instead of being wasted.



The “fan-coach” or supporter co-ordinator



Society is becoming more specialised and professional. For young people this means that decisions influencing the rest of their lives must be made earlier and earlier. When quite young they are expected to behave “in a grown up way”. And so, increasingly, they try to escape the psychological pressure; they do this via excitement and sensation in their leisure time – like violence and alcohol and drug abuse.

Meanwhile, today’s society is also marked by growing individualisation, mobility and migration. This erodes social structures and puts people in danger of isolation.

To escape this isolation, young people look for a group to join – preferably one that displays their own “fingerprints” and meets their own need for challenges and excitement. In certain cases these groups will rebel against the standards and values of the day – and will also confront other groups.


In football all these ingredients come together. Football creates the adrenalin to take your mind off things. The regulars among the young supporters meet up at every match, in the same section of the stadium. They form a group and the image of the club provides an own identity. This enables the group to have its own image in society – and against other groups, including other supporters. 

An immediate problem arises when the match fails to deliver the excitement; the group may then decide to make its own. And if their club team plays a poor game, the group may feel that it also looks weaker. Credibility must be protected, and to do this, the group may turn to violence against other groups – often under the influence of alcohol and drugs. We see this sort of thing in the football context. The only way the problem can be solved is for parties in and outside football to work together. This is the basis for our community prevention projects where the professional football clubs have governmental backing for their own youth policy. The club uses its prestige to get youngsters involved. This also means outside the football context - in the neighbourhoods and at school.


The corner stone here is the supporters’ co-ordinator (fan-coach).


The supporters’ co-ordinator (fan coach) is a social worker or specialised youth worker. He has the same target as the projects, this means: reducing football hooliganism or making it manageable by creating stronger links between risk supporters and club.


His tasks are:


q       q       Making contacts and building up mutual confidence with problem supporters.

q       q       Backing-up the supporters association when organising activities for young fans.

q       q       Organising their own activities for groups of young, problem supporters.

q       q       Escorting supporters to home and away games.

q       q       Coaching individual supporters who are in danger of coming off the rails, in various aspects of life.

q       q       Providing schools with information.

q       q       Preventing and combating racism and discrimination.

q       q       Providing information around drug abuse by young people - and prevention of this, in co-operation with the relevant local institution.

q       q       Content for alternative punishments for football-related offences, in co-operation with the HALT bureau.

q       q       Coaching youngsters who have been sanctioned for a football-related offence, in co-operation with the justice and probation services.

q       q       Starting-up and jointly implementing neighbourhood activities around football hooliganism and crime prevention.

q       q       Deploying the “football network” to assist with local or neighbourhood activities for hard to reach groups of young people.

q       q       Providing back up for the Dutch Football Association around international matches.



The fan coaches can share information, “chat” about work and generally get to know each other via a specially set up national consultative organisation – known by the Dutch initials LOS. The LOS also acts a consultant for the Dutch Football Association.

Usually, the core of the fan coach’s job is to make contact with the young people.

The supporters’ co-ordinator (fan coach) has to focus on building a relationship of trust.

When he has done that he will be in a position to steer his young “clients” into a change of behaviour – to get them to accept, back up and take part in activities.  The next move for the supporters’ co-ordinator (fan coach) is to seek insights into individual environments (money, housing, schooling or work). Lastly, he aims to get insights into the nature and composition of the group: who are the leaders, how many are in the group and what is their background.


Difficult position

The supporter’s co-ordinator (fan coach) is in a difficult position.

He is right in the middle of the group of partners involved in football – with all of them trying to pull him this way and the other.


Who are these partners?

The professional football clubs (often they are his employee, sometimes jointly with the local councils),

The sponsor,

The risk-supporter,

The Crown Prosecution Service,

The police,

The local council.


Each of these partners expects something different from the supporters' co-ordinator (fan coach).

Ø       Ø       The police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the local council want information around public order and safety,

Ø       Ø       The football club and the sponsors want a positive image.

Ø       Ø       The supporters expect him to be a “fixer”, someone who gets things done. This might be arranging club activities, overturning a stadium ban, or getting permission to take banners and drums into the stadium.


In his fixer-role the supporters’ co-ordinator builds up a stock of return favours. “I scratch your back – you scratch mine”. It is also important to remember that he is often the supporters’ only line to the other partners. To summarise, we can say that the supporters’ co-ordinator (fan coach) must be an expert in the art of walking the tightrope between all the partners. And, by definition, he has only done his job properly if and when all the partners are willing to co-operate with him.



Activities in community prevention projects

The supporters' co-ordinator (fan coach) can organise a large number of activities within the contexts of community prevention projects. Time is essential for this – that means a fulltime employment contract, and – not to forget – financial backing.


Here are a few examples:


The schools project

This is designed for the senior classes in junior schools.

A player from one of the clubs tells the children about his personal experience in regard to bullying, intolerance, discrimination and the importance of “rules of the game”. This covers his school and club careers. In a discussion with the class the co-ordinator draws links with the experiences of the player and the children. He translates the experiences into game-rules for every day life, and standards and values.


The Junior fan club (JFC)

This targets children in the 10 to 12 age group.

An invitation to join the JFC is sent to all senior classes in junior schools in the town or region. As well as getting attractive small gift-items, membership allows the school to take part in its various activities.

These include:


-          -          penalty cup or shoot-outs at half-time during matches

-          -          welcoming players on the field

-          -          meeting favourite players

-          -          a tour of the stadium

-          -          sports events

-          -          junior days, and

-          -          outings


The JFC organises evenings for parents: to introduce them to the club, to the JFC and to its activities. This is also an opportunity to talk with parents about standards and values and how these are reflected in club rules – and, in turn, what this means for the behaviour of their children at the stadium.

JFC membership also gives you discount on a place in the family stand.

On their 13th birthday members of the JFC are invited to join the “fan-company”.


The fan-company.

The priority of the fan-company is to improve the atmosphere in the stadium at match time and to organise fun-activities outside matches. Members are more producers than consumers.

In a way they are part of a business. Indeed, they can also take “company courses”:


-          -          The basic course for all members tells all about their club and the ins-and-outs of a football club/business in general;


-          -          Other courses train members to use the products and services of the fan-company, for example:


·         ·         services to the club

·         ·         improve the atmosphere in the stadium and in their own section

·         ·         sports activities

·         ·         summer camp

·         ·         the fan-company fanzine and

·         ·         the dedicated homepage on the internet.


There is a special youth section in the stadium for fan-company members. They are free to set this up as they like (within club guidelines!) and equip it with atmosphere elements. This section has its own, regular stewards. Their task is to draw the line when someone goes wrong. They will also point out what is and is not acceptable behaviour in general. The same stewards also cover other fan-company activities. This realise an important goal early on, namely:  “know and be known”.


Obviously, one could think of many more activities to deal with specific issues at a given club.


However, we have found – time and time again – that the supporters’ co-ordinator (fan coach) plays a crucial role. We have also found that for him to do a good job in targeting supporters, he must have the support of the club, the local council, the supporters association and the police.


Hence, the punch line:


A hug instead of a push


applies to the supporters’ co-ordinator (fan- coach) as much as to the actual supporters.




Henk te Roller,

Policy staffer, Central Information Unit for Hooliganism

Utrecht, The Netherlands




Kroonstraat 25,

3511 RC Utrecht.

The Netherlands.


e-mail: [email protected]

website : www.civ-voetbal.com.