The reason for this blog is the European Soccer (football) Championships, which is the current big sports event that nearly every dutchman has his mind set on, this year hosted by Austria and Switzerland.
The Dutch team:
Whenever large groups of Dutch (go abroad to) suppport a national sports team (really, any sport), they dress up in all kinds of various ridiculous costumes that vary each year, although some remain popular throughout the years. All these costumes have one thing in common: They're bright orange!
Football (that's right americans, that's what it's propery called, not soccer!) is the most popular sport in the Netherlands. Like Rugby in Ireland, and Baseball in the USA, the Dutch get all excited about football.
Fans of opposing football teams that "hated each other's guts" now dress up in orange and have the best time of their lives together, all in support of the national team. This is what we call in Dutch the "oranjegevoel" (the orange feeling). This happens on some national celebration days as well.
The Orange Legion (we come in vast groups) flocks over towns and gives the inhabitants the best time they had in years. (especially the beer brewers and pubs) They bring a positive vibe, and surveys show that hosting countries have the Orange Legion as first preference to come and cheer up the towns.
The orange legion:
The Legion strikes down on camp sites in close vicinity of the stadiums that host the matches in which the Dutch team has to play. (The team wears orange too) Everything on the sites fades to orange:
Why orange? Well, the Dutch royal family's last name is Oranje Nassau. That's right, they're descendants from the famous William of Orange. Hence the colour orange became the national colour of pride.
Those who cannot join the Legion to the hosting countries stay at home and some even decorate entire streets:
In my hometown, a pub owner wrapped his pub in orange seal, and hired large screens on which you can follow all the matches.
Tonight is the first match for the Dutch team. They have been put in a tough pool. They have to fight the Italian team, who became World Champions 2 years ago. That'll be a tough opponent. Then, they have to play against the French, who became World and European Champions many times. And finally the Romanians. They're unpredictable.
The last time the Dutch won the European title was in 1988... we're still hoping...
Good luck boys!
UPDATE: Netherlands - Italy
I do not believe it! We WON! From the Italians! We thought they'd flog our ar$es, but our team flogged theirs in stead! A historic match with an astounding 3-0 score in our advance! We expected them to get that score! But, we can not cheer too much yet, because we still have to play against France and Romania in the first round. And if that works out well, we'll meet up with Germany eventually. That's the derby that's looming in the back of our heads now. I checked the German evaluation of tonight's match, and even they were impressed. We stand a chance amongst the big names, all of a sudden.
UPATE 2: Netherlands - France
Tonight the dutch nation was nearly literally chained to their TV sets. The Dutch had to play against France, former Vice-World Champion (2006), European Champion (2002) and World Champion (2000). The French gave our team a big challenge. But after half an hour of playing, one of our star players, Dirk Kuyt, unexpectedly knocked in the ball with his head. 1-0 for us.
Then the match came to be in advance of the French, but luckily we have one of the most experienced goal keepers in the world: Edwin van der Sar, who kept out a few crucial shots. For about a quarter of an hour they were in control of the game. But after a player change, in the second half, Robin van Persie showed his worth with a massive shot at the French goal. The shot got blocked by the goal keeper, but to no effect; The ball kept its forward motion and rolled over the goal line: 2-0 for us.
Then the French regained hope with a combination goal that was last touched by Thierry Henry: 2-1. In a quick counter by the Dutch, the formerly injured, but this week quickly recovered star player Arjen Robben took a thunder shot from an impossible angle and scored 3-1, only 1 minute after the french goal, which came across as a scolding for the French.
Because it was a physical match, there were lots of minor injuries, which took some time to treat. Therefore the referee decided to add 2 minutes of extra time to the match. The French tried their best, but in a Dutch combination counter, half a minute before the end signal, Wesley Sneijder, one of our top shooters, played on the French defence, turned around his own axis and did what he is famous for: shoot with all the force that's in him. The ball passed over the French goal keeper's finger tips, and touched the underside of the goal bar, from which it bounced into the net: an unbelievable 4-1 score! The match was over for the French, and it was another historical match in Dutch football history.
After 2 victorious matches in the first round, we're ensured of a place in the quarter finals. Even if we lose the last game of this poule (against Romania), we still have the highest ranking: 7 goals in 2 matches, with only 1 counter goal. What a night!
Update 3: It's over.
The match against Romania was also superb. Our trainer decided to play that match with our substitutes, to give those players a chance to play as well, and to give the regular players some rest. It ended in a nice 2-0 for us. The Dutch and many European countries thought the Netherlands were going to be European Champion 2008. We eliminated all our opponents in the first round.
Earlier last week, one of our defenders, Khalid Bouhlarouz, heard the devastating news that his wife had given birth to a daughter. She died shortly after birth. It was a mental blow for the whole team, who had brought their wives and children to the tournament as well. I think he decided to put his frustrations, mourning and anger into his playing, because he insisted on playing the next match.
Here's the Legion in Basel supporting Khalid Boulahrouz, singing "You Never Walk Alone", and shouting "Boulah, Bouhlah" afterwards:
Then we got to the quarter finals last saturday. Meet the Russians. They had played abominably in the first round, but finally defeated Sweden, which should have been a sign. The match started off well. But the Russians had trained extensively during the tournament and matured through all the matches. Their trainer is Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman who works miracles with every national team he coaches (Vice-World Champions with South-Korea, which was not much of a football nation, 8th place with Australia). This year he coaches Russia. The Russians already nicknamed him 'Tsar Hiddink'. During the first half of the match, the Dutch and the Russians were playing at about the same level, but in the second half, the Russians took charge of the game and used the chances they got. The Dutch did get some chances, but failed to make use of them. The Russians scored 1-0. It took way too long for the Dutch to level the score again: 1-1. The match needed thirty minutes of extra time. 10 minutes before the end signal, the Russians scored 2-1. The Dutch tried their best, but 2 minutes or so later, the Russians scored again: 3-1. They were better. They deserved to win.
The European Championships are over for the Netherlands. The nation had a blast. Even the most stubborn football haters got some Orange Fever in these three weeks. Many gamblers all over europe will feel the loss down into their wallets, because they placed their bets on the Dutch to win the tournament. But it's over. After that final match, some Dutch hooligans had to spoil everything and caused riots and fights with the Russians. But thanks to proper intervention by the Suiss police, they got arrested and the good-willing people will spend some more time in Switzerland, turning into a giant and pleasant holiday mob.
There's one aspect in which we're absolute world champions: Dutch supporters brought an atmosphere that will not easily be forgotten. The Orange Legion accumulated to some 100.000 supporters last week.