Ajax vs. AZ: Referee Correct to Red Card Goalkeeper for Kicking Fan Who Attacked

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Ajax vs. AZ: Referee Correct to Red Card Goalkeeper for Kicking Fan Who Attacked
Fight: AZ Alkamaar goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado defends himself against an outside agent attacker. The Ajax vs. AZ Alkamaar contest was abandoned as a result of ensuing activity.

An intoxicated 19-year-old spectator invaded the pitch during Wednesday's Dutch Cup Ajax vs. AZ Alkmaar soccer match, ultimately resulting in the contest's premature termination.

Field intrusions at any level are no laughing matter. Hooligans in all sports have been known to wreak havoc after making it into the open field, especially when a player or referee just happens to be nearby when the playing area is being invaded.

So when this spectator—not to be confused with a fan, for fans do not commit such irresponsible and dangerous actions—encroached upon the playing field and attacked AZ Alkmaar goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, the Costa Rican keeper justifiably fought back.

Yet Alvarado didn't stop after simply kicking his attacker to the ground. He continued wailing on the subject long after he became incapacitated.

The incident occurred during the contest's 35th minute, with Ajax leading 1-0 at the Amsterdam ArenA, and resulted in match referee Bas Nijhuis issuing a red card to Esteban.

Per FIFA Law 12—Fouls and Misconduct—violence of any nature is listed as a sending-off offense. Specifically, the Laws of the Game rules book states, "a player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences...violent conduct."

Furthermore, the law states a player "is also guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against...and other person."

Alvarado's extra activity—continuing to kick his attacker after his attacker had already been decked—represented conduct in excess of force appropriate and reasonable to protect himself and was correctly penalized by a send-off penalty.

The rules further specify that disciplinary sanctions, including a send-off, are to be used whenever a player "commits a cautionable or sending-off offence...[towards] any other person." This includes spectators who have invaded the pitch, which are known as "outside agents" under FIFA Law 3. 

However, Alkmaar coach Gert Jan Verbeek might have saved his team by ordering them to leave the pitch after the 35th minute incident.

Referee Nijhuis was then forced to abandon the match, which means Dutch Cup officials and FIFA will now determine whether to resume, conclude or replay the match. Per Law 8, this match likely will be replayed.

Complicating matters, the Amsterdam ArenA is Ajax's home field, meaning a supporter of the home team evaded the home team's field security to attack a visiting player.

Because Verbeek and Alkmaar club director Toon Gerbrands had gone on the record saying, "The players didn't feel safe anymore." FIFA will encounter a complex situation in determining whether Alvarado will or will not be eligible when the match is replayed or resumed.

It is almost always the home team's responsibility to provide adequate security during events. The security staff must ensure the safety of both teams and other on-field personnel, while assuring absolutely no outside agents—streakers, attackers or otherwise—get within striking distance of any person they have been designated to protect.

Ajax security clearly failed to adequately protect the players—stewards should have arrived on scene far before Alvardo started excessively beating the outside agent—and as a result, officials will have to consider whether this match was abandoned because of Ajax's security failing, Alkmaar's voluntary withdrawal in protest or a combination of the two.

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Because play could not continue after the outside agent's field intrusion and before Alkmaar's voluntary withdrawal from the pitch, Nijhuis' report to FIFA and Dutch football officials will play a huge role in determining who is at fault for the match's abandonment—specifically whether Nijhuis abandoned the match due to "infringement of the Laws" or due to "outside interference of any kind" (Law 5).

If officials determine the match was abandoned because of both an Ajax security lapse and Alkmaar's protest, they will have to consider what one event was most at fault for causing the game's vacation.

In the grand scheme of things, there are responses which are appropriate and proportional to the stimuli that produce such reactions and there are responses which are not.

In the end, Alvarado was correctly disciplined for his infringement of the Laws, clearly violating the "excessive force" component of Law 12 by kicking the outside agent while said agent was down and no longer an imminent threat.

Alvarado's reaction was over the line per FIFA Laws, an illegal offense punishable by no less than a send-off, which is exactly what happened March 8, 2011 when Dorchester Town's Ashley Vickers was ejected for tackling a Borat-inspired streaker to the ground.

As for the person who committed the field intrusion, he was arrested and should expect penalties, not the least of which will be a multi-year ban from Ajax facilities.

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