I love the Dutch (occasional flirtations with ultra-right-wing politicians aside). I’ve spent many happy times in the Netherlands over the years, enjoying their culture, their modern outlook on the world, their warm hospitality and the under-rated beauty of their countryside. And I’ve always been a big fan of their football team, so I’m delighted that they have quietly slipped under the World Cup radar to reach the semis.
The era of Rinus Michels, Johann Cruyff and ‘Total Football‘ was slightly before my time, but my earliest memory of the game is the 1978 World Cup Final between the hosts, Argentina, and Holland. I don’t remember a terrific amount about the match itself apart from my Dad telling me that I should be supporting the Dutch. Ever the loyal son (and, to be honest, quite taken with the orange shirts) I took the Old Man’s advice and I’ve had a soft spot for Holland ever since.
Over the years I’ve had that affection reinforced in a number of ways, not least by some of the great players who have performed in the famous ‘Oranje’ – Gullit, Van Basten, Bergkamp, to name just three. As I’ve said, I’m also a fan of the country itself – its quirkiness, its beauty, its open-mindedness – but most of all I absolutely adore the enthusiasm that the Dutch fans bring to a World Cup – from the madness of ‘Hup Holland Hup’ to the sheer drenching of tournament stadia in orange.
Not for the Dutch the England football fans affliction of grossly-inflated expectation. Holland have never won the World Cup, although many would contend they should have at least once, but they have at times set the competition alight with the astonishing flair of their football (see the grainy old clip below). The Dutch World Cup experience has tended to be one of promise defeated either by pragmatic opponents or personality clashes within the dressing room, and their fantastic, exuberant support seem to be able to live with that.
This time around things look a little different. The 2010 Dutch team seem more pragmatic and less flamboyant than their predecessors, but also less riven with in-fighting and more of a unit. There is little weight of expectation on this team, yet they are now unbeaten since 2008 and have a realistic chance of making the Final.
Standing in the way are arguably the tournament’s surprise package, Uruguay, before a potential meeting in the Final with either Spain (the modern answer to ‘Total Football’) or a stunning German team who have swatted England and Argentina aside in the knockout rounds.
The Dutch are nowhere near favourites to win this year’s World Cup, but no nation could bring more colour to the Final in Johannesburg than the Dutch. Hup Holland Hup!