AMSTERDAM: The ‘Klassieker’ between bitter rivals Ajax and Feyenoord was abandoned Sunday after fans lobbed flares on the pitch in Amsterdam, with violence later erupting outside the stadium in the latest unrest to blight Dutch football. Feyenoord had taken a 3-0 first-half lead at the Johan Cruyff Arena, sparking ugly scenes from the hardcore supporters of Ajax, who are suffering one of the worst crises in their storied 123-year history. The unrest spilled out of the stadium, as furious Ajax fans smashed into the main entrance, prompting riot police on horseback to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The clashes were the latest in a string of violent incidents to plague Dutch football that have prompted soul-searching within the game and from politicians across the spectrum. “If you go to a football game you also want to go with your family and you can’t go here with your family because there’s always violence,” Bryan Buffing, a communication advisor for a translation company, told AFP. “We have a real, real big issue in the Netherlands,” said the 32-year-old. Sunday’s match had already been suspended twice during the first half, once for flares on pitch, the other time after a cup was lobbed from the stands.

A double from Santiago Gimenez and one from Igor Paixao had given the team from Rotterdam a comfortable first-half lead. With 55 minutes on the clock, TV images showed three flares burning on the pitch with smoke from other flares billowing from the notorious south stands of the arena, where the hardcore “F-side” fans sit. “After the abandoned Ajax-Feyenoord game, ‘supporters’ forced their way into the entrance. Order has now been restored. Mounted police carried out several charges and deployed tear gas,” Amsterdam police said in a statement.

The coaches and players were confined to their dressing rooms over fears for their safety. Ajax have made a miserable start to the season. After winning their first match, they have drawn two and lost one in the Eredivisie. They are 13th in the table. The club is in chaos off the pitch as well, with technical director Sven Mislintat under investigation for potential conflict of interest over a recent transfer. Defending champions Feyenoord, in contrast, remain unbeaten in the top flight this season.

Meanwhile, the remaining 35 minutes of the ‘Klassieker’ between Ajax and Feyenoord will be played Wednesday behind closed doors, the Dutch football federation said, after the referee abandoned this weekend’s match due to flares fired onto the pitch. The KNVB association said it had been guided by the principle that in such cases “a match should preferably be decided on the field... the match must then be resumed as soon as possible.” Dutch giants Ajax were 3-0 down after 55 minutes on Sunday, as their bitter rivals from Rotterdam humiliated them in front of their home fans, taking an unprecedented first-half lead.

The rescheduling of the match sparked immediate anger from Ajax and from FC Volendam, who were supposed to be playing Ajax that night. “Ajax does not agree with this,” the club said in a statement. It suggested the match be moved to the first week of November. “Not only the clubs, but also the supporters are victims of this (rescheduling). That is why Ajax is considering legal action.” For their part, FC Volendam declared themselves “surprised” by the decision and also said they were considering their legal options.

Sunday’s ugly scenes represented a new low in the crisis suffered by Ajax, a four-time European Cup winner struggling both on and off the field. With only five points from four games, the 36-time Dutch champions are having their worst start to an Eredivisie season since 1964/65. Reports of a power struggle in the boardroom have been all over the Dutch press, and the crowd had barely been cleared from the ground than Ajax sacked their director of football Sven Mislintat. He had been under investigation for a potential conflict of interest during a summer signing, but the club justified the sacking by saying Mislintat had a “lack of broad support within the organisation.”

“This is a bitter pill to swallow,” Ajax manager Maurice Steijn told ESPN. “It may sound strange, but I thought we actually started quite well, but you can’t play football and make such childish mistakes.” In a blog post on their website entitled: “The club is in flames”, the Ajax supporters’ association said the violence represented a “low point in the crisis of the club.” The club itself said in a statement: “This is not behaviour that belongs at Ajax.” – AFP