The Hague is an international city renowned for peace and justice. Thousands of people work here for numerous organisations that make a secure world their number one priority. The Peace Palace sits here as the worldwide judicial ideogram of the last 100 years. In this city, conflicts are discussed, stopped and peacefully solved.
However, this city has never been the owner of a truly successful football team.
You’d imagine that a world-renowned city like The Hague, that inhabits over a million people when you count the numerous suburbs, a city classed as the third largest in The Netherlands behind Amsterdam and Rotterdam, would have possessed a trophy-laden footballing side at some point in history.
Nevertheless, The Hague’s ADO Den Haag have been national champions on only two occasions. The successful campaigns came during the war-ravaged period in 1942 and 1943 under the name ADO (Alles Doer Oefening).
Their only success of note since 1943, came in the 1968 and 1975 KNVB Cup wins. The second of which came under the name of FC Den Haag after ADO merged with city-rivals Holland Sport in 1971.
Another merger followed in 1996, and they’ve been ADO Den Haag ever-since.
In 2014 though, a ray of light flickered at the end of the Den Haag tunnel.
A Chinese businessman by the name of Wang Hui bought a 98% stake in the club. His company, United Vansen International Sports, vowed to turn ADO Den Haag into an European footballing powerhouse over the course of the next decade.
This vow was welcomed, given the club had largely been known as the nearly team of Dutch football, having often finished in the Eredivisie top five only to narrowly miss out on silverware.
The club was nearly as renowned for their reputation on the pitch, as they were off it.
ADO Den Haag had one of the fiercest hooligan reputations throughout Europe, striking a vicious rivalry with Feyenoord and Ajax. They also burned down their old Zuiderpark Stadion’s main stand following a 4-0 defeat to Haarlem in 1982.
Today, their fans paint a different picture.
They are now known for helping the The Hague’s less fortunate by donating vast amounts to food-banks and helping out on a weekly-basis, whilst adopting an open-arms policy to refugees at their club.
Having welcomed Wang Hui, the Den Haag fans jumped on the bandwagon by daring to believe they could find themselves among football’s elite in the near future.
“Many ADO fans started to believe something might change, so at first it was a novelty,” explained Alastair Ryan, a law-student at The Hague University, who follows Den Haag on a weekly basis.
He continued: “Wang Hui stated that he wanted ADO to be in the UEFA Champions League within three seasons. Now however, it seems that’s not going to be the case.”
Having promised the world and made numerous enthusiastic appearances during his first few months as owner, which included joining in with first-team training at one point, Wang Hui suddenly disappeared from public view and left a trail of missed payments in his wake.
Eighteen months on from the buy-out, ADO were still a mid-table club in the Eredivisie. Wang Hui’s promised funds failed to materialise. The KNVB decided to keep an eagle-eye on the situation. The fans were wary all of a sudden.
“Many Dutch teams report losses so it wasn’t a worry at first. However, he hasn’t been acting on his promises when it comes to investment. Because of this, people are starting to feel that wages may not be paid and we may end up in administration.” Alastair said as he went on emphasising the worries that were now creeping into the fan base.
However, during an interview from his Beijing based office, Wang Hui said that given he was now the club’s owner, he can choose how much he invests and when he does it.
“After I pay the takeover, the club is mine,” he said. “It is my business in terms of how much I will invest in the club.”
Despite Wang Hui’s insistence that it’ll be his choice regarding the timing of investments, the KNVB had other ideas.
Dutch clubs are required to submit their accounts to the KNVB each year to gain a playing licence approval. This then provides a category rating from one to three – category three being good, category two being could do better and category one being used for the worst cases.
If a club is issued a one rating, the KNVB then has the right to intervene and provide a clear plan to become self-sufficient again.
A recent well-known case is FC Twente’s third-party ownership agreement with Doyen Sports Investments.
When documents were leaked to the press, it became clear that Doyen had control over the club’s transfers, which is prohibited by both the KNVB and FIFA. The club was subsequently fined £35,000 and banned from European football for three years.
Whilst a well-known footballing man like Den Haag-born Dick Advocaat called on things to change at his hometown club, ADO fans stayed somewhat surprisingly loyal to the new ownership structure.
Most fan-bases across Europe would have been protesting for change and causing havoc across the surrounding city.
Instead, ADO fans waited and clung on to hope. They chose to pen an open letter asking for a meeting with Wang, whilst insisting they’ll give him time to prove his intentions.
No reply was ever given by the owner.
“It was a chance for Wang to show what his plans were, and it felt like he ignored the fans. This was really the start for the discontent. However, we still have some hope that Wang will deliver his intentions.” Alastair Ryan said as he explained the fans’ view of the situation.
This hope seemed to disintegrate last week as the first signs of protest was shown at the stadium.
Having been placed in the category one pot by the KNVB during the previous week, the worries became a reality and frustrations boiled over for the first time.
During their 1-0 victory against NEC Nijmegen, banners were unfurled from the North Side section of the Kyocera Stadium calling on the ownership to pack their bags and leave.
One stated ‘United Vansen Crooks’ whilst another said ‘Wang Out’. Another translated to ‘With Wang in power, our local pride will be raped’.
The ADO faithful’s change in opinion was striking.
It remains to be seen if Wang Hui and United Vansen Sports International will take any notice, but Alastair Ryan believes the protesting emphasises the change in opinion towards the owner’s behaviour and the fans won’t stand for it from now on.
“There isn’t this trust anymore, and Wang has a lot more to prove if he is to show he’s committed to the club.”
It remains to be seen if Wang Hui will be part of the long-term practice for a club that lives by the motto ‘Everything Through Practice‘.