The rivalry between Standard Liege and Anderlecht in the Belgian league is not to be underestimated. Like many rivals across the world, tempers can flare when the two sides meet with usually the smallest thing setting them off. So when a former Standard Liege captain and star player joined Anderlecht recently, police penciled in extra support for last Sunday’s epic clash. Little could have prepared them for what actually happened. Before the game even started, the Standard Liege ultras made their feeling towards Steven Defour very clear and the anger they have towards him joining their arch rival by unfurling a massive banner that depicted a Jason like figure from the Friday the 13th movie series holding the decapitated head of Defour with the caption “Red or Dead”.
Defour could hardly ignore the banner which covered up most of the lower part of the stand behind the goal. The player was visibly upset at it and it appeared to affect his game as the crowd taunted him continuously. Naturally incensed, Defour made several attempts to get the referee to do something about the giant banner but when that led to no avail, his frustration started to show itself on the pitch. As frustration grew, Defour found himself in the referee’s book for kicking the ball high into the stand which earned him a yellow card. However Defour failed to learn from this and on the 51st minute of the game once again kicked the ball into the stands this time with slightly more ferocity. Defour claimed he had kicked the ball out to allow treatment for an injured Liege player. But the referee had seen enough and produced a second yellow, then a red ending Defour’s nightmare return to the Stade Maurice Dufrasne. The sending off sparked angry scenes in amongst the travelling Anderlecht fans who threw seats onto the pitch in disgust. Anderlecht goalkeeper and captain Silvio Proto tried to calm the fans down and eventually was successful but not before significant damage had been done. Defour refused to accept the decision and protested on the field in front of the referee for a further three minutes before eventually being dragged off the pitch by his teammates and club officials and frog marched down the tunnel.
Standard Liege have reacted by saying that they will hold emergency talks with the fans about the banner, with the view to resolving the issue in house before FIFA or UEFA get involved. As yet, Belgian police have not filed a report against the club but Belgian politicians have been quick to condemn the actions of the fans involved and will want the club to take appropriate action against them. Standard Liege supporter and former Belgian Prime minister blasted his club on social media claiming the game was ruined by a minority of supporters and that he was shamed as a supporter by the banner. The club will likely hand down significant fines to the fans involved and could also ban them from future games for a period up to five years. The only issue is that there are no specific guidelines in the rules about what to do in this type of situation but it may be viewed as inciting a riot. Whilst the expression of free speech is every fans given right, a banner showing the decapitation of a former player goes too far.
Memories of that famous pigs head thrown onto the pitch and the signs of Judas spelled out by Barcelona fans towards Luis Figo after he switched to Real Madrid come to mind. That however was less offensive that what Defour was put through with Figo simply shrugging it off and getting on with the game. It was clear from the off that the Standard fans wanted to rattle Defour and get a reaction which he duly obliged with. But now their actions could cost the club a lot more than some dented pride and anger over a club rivalry. Defour for his part has apologized to the Anderlecht supporters for his sending off which ultimately cost them the game. However Defour knows that it may be an incredibly long time before he ever receives an apology from the fans who decided to mark their disgust in the most distasteful way.