Former Newcastle defender Jetro Willems was punched by a supporter as tensions boiled over in a Dutch top-flight fixture on Sunday.
Groningen hosted rivals Heerenveen at Euroborg and the atmosphere turned toxic after the visitors took a two-goal lead through Sydney van Hooijdonk. There was a pitch invasion in the 80th minute and furious fans in the Z-side stand had to be restrained by stewards, who were at risk of being overwhelmed.
Willems was among the Groningen players to help those attempting to keep the peace, going over to the fans and pleading with them. It was at this moment that a fan reached over the supporters in front of him and punched the former Netherlands international on the top of the head.
Willems, 28, was ushered away from the fans by stewards and, fortunately, he did not appear to be hurt. The left-back, who spent the 2019/20 season on loan in the Premier League with Newcastle, went back over to supporters and appeared to be comforted by some of them before the players were sent back to the dressing rooms by referee Serdar Gozubuyuk.
There were fears the match would be abandoned but play resumed after a lengthy delay and Heerenveen went on to secure a 2-0 victory. Willems played the full match for the hosts, who sit in the relegation spots in the Eredivise table while their visitors rose to ninth.
Groningen are the club where Virgil van Dijk came through the ranks and Luis Suarez is among their other high-profile alumni. They share a bitter rivalry with Heerenveen as they are both located in the north of the Netherlands, contributing to the unsavoury scenes which marred Sunday's fixture.
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Willems joined the club on a short-term contract in February after his deal with German club Greuther Furth was terminated last year. The versatile left-sided player made 22 appearances for the Dutch national team between 2012 and 2016 and was previously a transfer target for the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Having burst onto the scene with PSV Eindhoven, he joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 2017 and was loaned to Newcastle two years later. He made 20 appearances for the Magpies in all competitions, scoring twice in the league, and made a strong impression during his time at St James' Park.
However, his impressive impact was curtailed by a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in January 2020 and he returned to Eintracht the following summer. It remains to be seen what actions Eredivisie and Royal Dutch Football Association chiefs will take after Willems was punched by the fan at Euroborg, outside which there was a strong police presence to try and contain fans.2023-03-19T14:22:17Z dg43tfdfdgfd