This article was originally published by VICE Sports Netherlands
For a decade, Nick Hay* lived the life of a football casual, travelling the Netherlands to watch his team – and getting involved in a fair few scraps along the way. In this article, Nick explains what happens when a gang of hooligans find themselves in a nightclub tear up.
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On a Sunday morning, while the average bloke is dipping into his soft-boiled egg, two groups of young men are in a railway station giving each other a beating. I get hit by an umbrella and the taste of fresh blood mixes with lukewarm beer. Two terrified teenagers, wearing low-slung jeans and each eating a hotdog, are observing the scene from a distance. Hotdogs before lunchtime – for fuck's sake, lads.
In front of a bookshop in the station hall, our 12-strong group decides to launch a final attack; fittingly, their toughest man is the last to hit the ground. On this particular freezing Sunday afternoon, we've won. Next to the rack of birthday and get-well-soon cards, the guy crashes into the shop window and then a bookstand. Underneath his foot there are two copies of 'The Big World' by Dutch author Artur Japin. His flatcap ends up a bit further away, landing against an information board. Our friend Nelis wants to smash the stand of colourful Hallmark cards over his head as a final parting gift. But we intervene – in our eyes, the fella with the cap deserves respect for being the last man standing. The humiliation of defeat is enough.
With a few exceptions, there is always respect between groups on match days. But, when the sun sets on those days, everything is different and the rules become blurred. In my 10 years as a hooligan I've seen many young men put too much faith in their own rules, leading them to make mistakes in bars, clubs, and on the street. After all, you never really know what to expect from another group. For them, we were a bunch of innocent bastards wearing chequered caps and high-buttoned polo shirts, but they didn't have a clue how we behaved on match days. Around matches we had respect, codes of conduct, and we took drugs and alcohol with measure. But, once we went out at night, all bets were off; there was no respect at all for our opponents.
If there are things that I regret, it would be those nasty 'lawless' fights while we were out at night. As a hooligan you become embittered by life. Things that are seriously crazy when looked at objectively begin to seem normal. As you are living in a world in which violence is a regular occurrence, never far away, you are always on standby mode. That makes you able to switch whenever necessary to another mode, one that became very familiar to me over the years. I just can't get rid of that mode and I'm not sure how that makes me feel.
I still hate bars and clubs. Extremely loud music, flashing neon lights, and colours that would make more sense at a fun fair. Everyone smells like a combination of too much deodorant, adolescent sweat, and lukewarm beer. Basically, everything sucks. Nevertheless, every weekend you would go and, as ever, it starts with one push and then a scream. After this, everything happens fast. Once, a very rough fight broke out where neither of the two groups showed any respect from beginning to end. You can compare those fights with waves crashing against the breakers: one side continues until the other collapses.
That particular Saturday evening, the waves were produced by eight blokes wearing too-expensive polo shirts and white trainers. The breaker was formed by a group of men filled with steroids and wearing too-tight shirts. With tribals on their arms, they mowed through the dancefloor. No one had to think twice; everyone knew that the scream meant it was kick-off time. Very quickly, a circle of men had formed on the dancefloor.
Those that wanted nothing to do with it left in search of safety. Then, the waves began crashing. During match days things are pretty restrained, but now the violence was boundless and came with an intent to cause serious injury. Alcohol and drugs blur that last little bit of respect; there are no borders anymore.
My double life cost me part of my innocence. The barriers to violence became so easy to overcome that sometimes I find it completely normal. I'm no longer shocked by violence; more often than I'd like, I think: 'He probably deserved it'.
Of course it was my own choice. I can't complain about it and nor do I wish to. But I know that I see and create danger more often than others. My experiences made me tougher and more fierce, especially towards people I don't respect. Unfortunately, this will never go away.
* Nick Hay is pseudonym. His real name is known by VICE Sports.