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A guide to the AZ Alkmaar Ultras

AZ Alkmaar ultras may not be recognised alongside their counterparts in Italy and Greece as the fiercest fans in Europe, but in recent years they have certainly developed a reputation.

With various displays of violence culminating in their clash with West Ham supporters last year, they have become better-known, even if not for the right reasons.

Here’s our complete guide to one of the most notorious fan bases in Dutch football.

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The Ben-Side have been around since the 1970s, but are gaining extra notoriety nowadays. Photo by Icon Sport

Core identity

In the Netherlands, AZ fans are generally not regarded as particularly passionate. In fact, they are often considered plastic by the Dutch, glory hunters who arrived when the club built their new stadium in 2006 and won the Eredivisie in 2009.

However, a small group of ultras have sought to change that. Called the Ben-Side, the group is named after where they sat in their former stadium – the Jan van der Ben stand on the short side of the Alkmaardehout.

The group claims on their website that they are only focused on “improving the atmosphere in the stadium” – but their actions suggest otherwise.

History

Early violence

The Ben-Side date back to 1977 when they first clashed with fans of Feyenoord and Haarlem in two separate incidents – the former where they threw bottles at the Feyenoord players, and the latter when the brought knives to the game, resulting in riots and multiple arrests.

Nine years later in 1986, the group were involved in what was probably their most infamous clash until last year, a huge brawl with fans of PSV. On a day of chaos, 28 people were arrested and a 16-year-old PSV fan was rushed to hospital, having been stabbed in a fight outside the ground. Later, a home-made pipe bomb was thrown into the PSV stand. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Recent clashes

More recently, AZ ultras have been involved in more violence. In 2017, they organised a brawl with Feyenoord ultras in which 20 fans from each side met in a wasteland 50 miles from the AFAS Stadium to essentially beat the living daylights out of each other. There were even rules to the fight, with prior arrangements banning weapons and stating that anyone who had fallen to the ground could not be hit.

In November 2021, during coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands, members of the Ben-Side broke into a behind-closed-doors game against NEC Nijmegen. About 15 minutes into the game, they began letting off flares and fireworks, and some were even able to get onto the pitch. The referee had to stop the game and wait for security to remove the intruders.

West Ham incident

However, by far the most notorious clash that AZ Alkmaar ultras have been involved in came in May last year when they attempted to break into a section of their stadium where the families of West Ham players were sat, following their Europa Conference League semi-final loss against the London side.

With the apparent purpose of attacking the players’ families, the group broke through a fence before they were forced back by West Ham supporters. One video showed two men, including soon-to-be internet sensation Knollsy, stood at the top of a flight of stairs fighting off around 50 AZ fans.

Some of the West Ham players, fearing for the safety of their families, also tried to intervene in the brawl.

The violence shocked the footballing world, with each manager having their say on the incident following the game. David Moyes said: “The biggest problem is that is the area where the players have all their families in, friends and family. That is where the problem came and a lot of players were getting angry because they couldn't get to see if they were OK.”

Equally concerned was AZ coach Pascal Jansen, who said: “It's annoying, it doesn't belong in our stadium. Preferably in no stadium. I feel shame. You have to control your emotions, even on a night with a defeat.” 

Famous Tifos by AZ Alkmaar ultras

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AZ Alkmaar fans display a large tifo reading “It's time to shine” before a Europa League game against Manchester United. Photo by Icon Sport

The Ben-Side are known far more for their violence than they are for their tifos, but that doesn't mean they haven't had their fair share of impressive banners over the years. In October 2019 before a Europa League group stage game against Manchester United, one banner read “It's time to shine”, picturing the city of Alkmaar dominating Europe.

Other tifos, both in 2023, have read “Come on you boys in red” and simply “Ben-Side”.


Jamie Barton

A freelance football writer and podcaster, Jamie has appeared on/in the BBC World Service, PA Media, Charlton Athletic FC and Empire of the Kop, among others. He's attended matches all around the world, from Tranmere to Tokyo, and once had his bus home from the 2022 Champions League final in Paris delayed by 28 hours.

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