The Netherlands was in shock today after a 41-year-old Sunday youth league linesman died from severe head injuries apparently sustained while being savagely beaten by a group of teenage football players in an apparently motiveless attack.
Richard Nieuwenhuizen collapsed and was taken to hospital hours after being beaten by three players from the Amsterdam youth club Nieuw Sloten on Sunday afternoon. Doctors said they had been unable to save his life and he died on Monday.
Mr Nieuwenhuizen had been officiating in a match against the rival Buitenboys club in the town of Almere and one of his own sons has been playing. He was set upon by three teenagers aged 15 and 16 after the game ended in a 2-2 draw. “It is unbelievable that something like this can happen,” said Marcel Oost, chairman of the Buitenboys club.
“Nobody can understand this lethal attack, there was actually no reason for it,” said Rob Mueller, a board member of the Buitenboys club.
Dutch police said yesterday that three teenagers from Amsterdam were to be charged with manslaughter, after their earlier arrest over what they described as an apparently unprovoked attack. “They are under arrest while investigations continue. They are allowed to speak to no one apart from a lawyer,” a police spokeswoman said.
Witnesses interviewed by the Dutch television channel RTL4 said that several players ran up to Mr Nieuwenhuizen after the final whistle was blown. They said a group of them then attacked him and pushed him to the ground. One of the players, wearing football boots, was reported to have stood on his head. “Then he was kicked three times in the stomach,” one of the witnesses said.
Mr Nieuwenhuizen got up and the spectators, many of them parents of the players, gradually left the sports ground. Apparently not seriously affected by the attack, he stood on a touch line watching another game. “Suddenly he collapsed,” Rob Mueller, a board member of the Buitenboys club, told Dutch television.
An emergency doctor was summoned to the pitch and Mr Nieuwenhuizen was taken to hospital. When doctors noticed that he was unable to speak, he was transferred to a special neurological clinic. But doctors there said his brain was not receiving oxygen so they were unable to operate. They decided to turn off his life support system on Monday afternoon.
Mr Mueller said yesterday that play between the two teenage teams had to be interrupted several times during the match because members of the Nieuw Sloten side were becoming unruly. A press statement on the club’s website expressed “deep shock” over the incident. “Violence has no place on our pitches,” it added saying that the arrested teenage players had been expelled from the club.
“Of course, harsh words are spoken if a linesman’s decision is not agreed with,” Mr Mueller said yesterday. “But we have never experienced this level of violence,” he added.
The Netherlands, like many of its European neighbours, suffers from football violence. In Haarlem, a few miles away, another linesman was attacked during a match last Sunday afternoon.
A recent survey revealed that 51 per cent of Dutch players, spectators and referees had experienced verbal threats while 32 per cent had experienced soccer related physical violence on and off the pitch.