These are the words on a poster which Dutch national newspapers have printed today for use in all amateur football clubs this weekend – when no amateur football will be played out of respect for Richard Nieuwenhuizen, a linesman who was senselessly killed by players from a youth football team last weekend. A minute’s silence will be held before every professional game played this weekend. All players will wear black armbands.
The death of the linesman has caused much soul-searching here over the past week. There is genuine shock that such a tragic incident could happen during a boys’ football game. Condemnation has come from every quarter, including from within the game itself. Frank de Boer, Ajax coach, said: “ Something has to be done. This is ridiculous”. Other violent incidents have come to light. Teams known for their intimidatory tactics have been publicly named and shamed.
The hope is that the Dutch football community will recognise the issue of violence and do something about it. As a football fan myself, I know only too well the damage that can be caused to the reputation and image of sport by violence. The UK has suffered from it too – and there has been a huge campaign to instil respect for the match officials, and remove violence from all aspects of the game.
In England, the Football Association always encourages referees to report any incidents of violence or abuse at grassroots matches and it is encouraging that the most serious types of assaults have steadily declined in recent years. In 2011-12, there were six reported incidents of serious bodily harm compared with 11 in 2010-11, 13 in 2009-10 and 15 in 2008-9.
At the same time, the number of qualified referees has increased by 27 per cent since the launch of the FA’s Respect campaign in 2008. There are now around 28,000 referees officiating 112,000 teams in England, compared with 22,000 qualified officials four years ago.
As fans of the Premier League will know only too well, respect for the referee is sometimes still in short supply in the English professional game. Perhaps this week’s events in the Netherlands will have an impact across the North Sea.
Football is often called the beautiful game. Watching Brazil, Barcelona or Arsenal (on a good day), you can see why. But when something as tragic as the death of Richard Nieuwenhuizen occurs, all of football suffers. Let’s hope that his death, and the cancellation of football games this weekend, results in a renewed respect for the spirit of the game – and not just in the Netherlands.