It was around May 2010 and, as is usually the case around this time in even-numbered years, I was starting to get “that funny feeling” deep down in my belly – that feeling of anticipation, that feeling of excitement, that feeling of maybe, just maybe…this is the year! Yep, I was definitely feeling what my entire home country of the Netherlands was feeling! That Crazy Orange feeling! The football butterflies! We were getting ready for the World Cup of 2010 in South Africa!
This year was no different back in Holland, as was my understanding. Understanding because I wasn’t there! After years of travel and living in different countries, I currently live in Phoenix, Arizona and did so back in 2010 too. This meant that we were not experiencing the craziness first hand, but as we always do, we tried the best we could at home! Dutch flags, orange paraphernalia everywhere!
I grew up and lived in the Netherlands for the first twenty years of my life and, like almost all of the boys in the neighborhood and at school, I have been playing and enjoying the great game since I was old enough to run around and kick a ball! Plus, growing up in the 70’s meant growing up with one of the world’s greatest players and still one of my all-time favorites – Johan Cruyff! I was barely old enough to grasp what was going on at the time, but now I understand very well that I was witnessing the birth of “Total Football” by Cruyff’s AJAX and ultimately the Dutch National team during the 1974 and 1978 World Cups!
Needless to say, football was in my veins, and I always enjoyed the regular domestic “Eredivisie” league games, the Sunday night highlight show on TV, my local team FC Utrecht, and the annual European Cups. However, the big tournaments where nations play against each other always had an extra special appeal. Every two years – either during the Euro Cup or the World Cup – the entire nation becomes one! Everything and everybody turns orange! Orange hats, orange shirts, orange cars, orange houses, even orange toilet paper!
This year was no different in the Netherlands, as was my understanding. Understanding because I wasn’t there! After years of travel and living in different countries, I was then living Phoenix, Arizona. This situation meant that we were not experiencing the craziness first hand, but as we always do, we tried the best we could at home. Dutch flags and orange paraphernalia everywhere!
The expectations were pretty high this year, and the butterflies were even stronger because of it. For those who are unfamiliar, a national team has to first qualify to participate in a World Cup. These qualification matches are played all around the world during about a one-and-a-half-year period before the big tournament. With superstar players like Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, the Netherlands did really well – winning all eight of their qualification games and earning all 24 possible points.
June 11, 2010 – The World Cup kicks off at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg with the opening match featuring the host nation, South Africa, who played against Mexico. The hosts had a dream start when Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the tournament in the 55th minute. The thrilling game eventually ended in a 1 – 1 draw after Rafael Marquez scored a late equalizer in the 72nd minute. The tournament was off to a great start!
June 14, 2010 – After three days of waiting, the Orange finally played their opening match against Denmark. Finally! And what a great start it was! After a slow first 45 minutes, the Dutch took control in the second half with an impressive performance that ended with a 2-0 victory thanks to an own goal by Denmark’s Daniel Agger and a late winner by Dirk Kuyt. In the next group-stage matches, we defeated Japan 1 – 0 and Cameroon 2 – 1 win. The Netherlands consequently extended their unbeaten streak to 22 games and made it to the next phase of the tournament.
In the round of 16, the match was played in Durban, and the Netherlands faced Slovakia. Slovakia’s fairy-tale run came to an end after Robben and Sneijder both scored to give Holland a 2-0 lead. A late consolation goal by Vittek made it 2-1, but another win for the Dutch meant that things were starting to get serious! On we went to to the quarter-finals.
July 2, 2010 – It would be a dream quarter-final because the mighty football powerhouse Brazil was going to be the opponent! The pre-match tension was almost unbearable. Reaching the quarterfinal is a great achievement, but playing it against Brazil makes the game so much more interesting. Things didn’t start off too well as little Robinho scored for Brazil after just 10 minutes. I could gradually feel the excitement fading away and making room for an all-too-familiar and unpleasant feeling dating back to the 1994 quarter-final when Brazil defeated us!
The first half went on and on without an equalizer and only more chances for Brazil. Half time, still 1-0, where is this match going? But then, the second half turned into the Wesley Sneijder show! After a miscued attempt at a volley, Sneijder swung in a cross from the right that flew by everybody in the 18-yard box and into the back of the net. 1-1! Finally, some relief! The entire country then exploded when the little feisty midfielder scored again. Off a Robben corner that was flicked on by Kuyt, Sneijder scored a rare header and put us ahead by a goal! We were in the semi-finals! I thought to myself: Could this be it? Is this really the year?
July 6, 2010 – The semi-final at Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium was a five-goal thriller unfit for the faint-of-heart. The Netherlands were clear favorites going as they were on a 24 game unbeaten streak. However, Uruguay was poised to repeat their World Cup success from way back in the 30s, and La Celeste certainly didn’t make things easy! After a lively start with chances for Sneijder and Kuyt, the game slowed down and nobody expected what happened next. Giovanni van Bronckhorst took possession in the 18th minute and unleashed an unexpected left-footed shot that went straight into the upper-right corner! Holy s**t! What a goal! Are you kidding me!?
That was the start we needed! What a moment! But, there was still a long way to go till the final whistle. Uruguay would soon prove that they were there for a reason. Old-timer Diego Forlan scored an equally stunning goal and made the match 1 – 1. I Half-time … time for a breather! Time for a cold one! I can’t take this anymore! Nervous feelings like I have never felt them before! I was so in the moment that I forget about everything end everybody around me. The second half started shakey for us as Uruguay was feeling energized by their late first-half equalizer. Time went on, and it took two very close clearances by the Dutch goalie and many more chances on both sides before Sneijder scored in the 70th minute. Robben added Holland’s third of the game three minutes later with a fantastic header off a measured cross from Kuyt.
With a 3-1 lead, it seemed like the Dutch were going to the final! While there were still twenty minutes on the clock, I started to think about what it would be like if Holland truly made it to the final; the craziness back in the Netherlands, the lack of that mania back in Phoenix. What was I going to do? This upcoming match would be the third final in our history and surely I have to be part of all the moment!
And then, the moment I will never forget finally came. Uruguay scored an extra-time consolation goal, yet the final whistle sounded soon after. We’re in the FINAL!! I can’t believe it! Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!
I called my family back in Holland, and we screamed and cheered together like little children on the playground. It was then that I made a decision that I will never regret. This moment was so special, so fantastic! This was the third time Holland was going all the way to the final of a World Cup. I was too young to really experience and appreciate the other two – in 1974 and 1978 – but I knew that those matches changed the way the Dutch played and enjoyed football forever.
While I was too young to be enveloped in the mania that comes with a World Cup final, I do recall the one time we won a major prize – the Euro Cup of 1988. And the party was unbelievable! There were an estimated 1 million people along the canals of Amsterdam cheering on their heroes, jumping into the canals, swimming alongside the team’s boat, fans leaping off bridges, sinking houseboats! Absolute mayhem!
I thought to myself: If this is what happens when they win the Euros, imagine winning the World Cup! After coming to this realization, I knew that I had no other choice! There was absolutely no doubt in my mind! I immediately decided there was no way I was going to watch the final in Phoenix. An hour later, I was online booking tickets to Amsterdam for my oldest son and me, who was ten at the time. I didn’t care about the ticket prices (very un-Dutch), I just wanted to go back home!
Now, some of you may be wondering: why go to Amsterdam instead of South Africa? Well, there is a very simple reason – there were an estimated 200,000 orange fans in Johannesburg for the final, and even though that would also be an incredible experience, there were 16 million orange fans in Holland! I knew that the entire country would be going crazy and once again, everything would be orange. This was the experience I wanted, and more importantly, I wanted my son to be a part of it!
So, off we went! The day after the semi-final win against Uruguay, we were on a plane to Amsterdam! Crazy! But good crazy!
We arrived on Saturday morning and went to check out my hometown of Utrecht that afternoon. As expected, things were nuts! Entire streets decorated in orange, terraces full of people in the orange jerseys, people dressed up in silly orange outfits. It was fantastic! This trip was going to be something to never forget; no matter what would happen the next day!
July 11, 2010 – the day of the final! It was a day that seemed to drag on forever. How long can it take?! The tension was unbearable. We had to wait until 8:00 in the evening for the big game to kick off, so we hit the streets again and enjoyed all the decorations, all the madness, all the jolly people! Later in the day, my younger brother showed up with the “gear.” He brought his projector along with a custom made wooden mount for the screen and the projector itself. A few hours and a few beers later, the whole thing was set up, and we were ready to light up the BBQ. The weather was fantastic that day, so we all hung out in the backyard, ate some great food and got ready for the game. Getting yourself ready for the game pretty much means putting on every orange piece of clothing you own – no matter how silly it looks. Faces painted, even my hair was dyed orange!
And then, finally! It was 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening, the game preview had started and a group of about fifteen friends, family and neighbors started to congregate around the big projector screen. At this moment, the nerves really started racing through everybody’s bodies.
It’s almost a sickening type of feeling that’s hard to describe. So many emotions, so much at stake! It had been twenty-two years since that fantastic victory in 1988 and thirty-two years since the tragic final of 1978. Needless to say, we were hungry for victory!
After the obligatory national anthems, the final got underway. I remember sitting next to my son in a weird state of mind, total concentration, totally unaware of the rest of the crowd in the room, unaware really of anything that was happening around me. My entire world, my entire existence was in front of me, on a 100” projection screen.
The game lived up to its expectation with two footballing cultures that were both heavily influenced by the ‘tiki-taka’ and Total Football style of the legendary Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels who introduced these tactics to Spain and the rest of the world in the 1970s. It was no surprise that the first half was goalless even though Spain’s strong attacking lineup produced some scary moments in front of the Dutch goal. It was mostly a half that belonged to each team’s midfield and the defense that kept their doors closed.
The second half slowly opened up, and after a threatening header by Spain’s Carlos Puyol, the Dutch got a golden opportunity in the 62nd minute. Sneijder put in a fantastic through-ball to send Robben running clear with just Iker Casillas to beat! This was it! Come on Robben! Everybody in the room raised up from their seats. Only the keeper to beat! This HAS to be it! A big, loud NOOOOOO came from the room as Robben’s shot was slightly deflected by Casillas’ right foot despite the fact that he dove in the wrong direction. Sadly, the ball ended up on the wrong side of the post.
Several chances followed on both sides but still no goal. On we went to extra time! The game progressed with chances on both sides, but the better ones came from Spain. Unfortunately, the hammer finally came down on the entire country of the Netherlands in the 116th minute of the game. After more pressure from Spain in front of our defense, Fabregas found “the Magician” Andres Iniesta alone on the edge of the box with enough space to unleash a strike that ended up in the back of the net.
With just four minutes on the clock remaining, Spain had taken the lead.
The living room fell silent, feelings of excitement and joy made way for sorrow and despair. Not again! Please, not again! But when the final whistle blew, it was all over, and Holland did what no country ever did before – they completed a hat-trick of defeats: 1974, 1978, and now 2010 – three finals, three losses! Unbelievable! I was heartbroken and immediately left the room, then left the house to find a spot for myself. I just sat there in some neighbor’s front yard and couldn’t help but shed a tear to release the roller-coaster of emotions that was flowing through my body. Eventually, my son found me there and joined me on the side of the street, just as upset, just as emotional. In a way, this moment helped me realize that my son had just experienced what I wanted him to experience – the emotion of Football! Just as any sport can do this to anybody around the world, these emotions are real; they’re raw!
We made our way back to the house where time seemed to stand still. The projector had been turned off; they weren’t even watching the post-game show. People had slowly started cleaning up the mess and left the house, undoubtedly on their way to their places of solace, dealing with their emotions. Not much talk, just the routines of cleaning up and getting ready for bed when instead, we should have been driving around the orange colored streets honking our horns and waving our flags. None of that. Just the prospect of crawling under the blankets and perhaps dream of what could have been…Robben, the 62nd minute … I’ll never forget that moment!
The next morning felt like the day after a serious pub-crawl. It was an uneventful day until my younger brother proposed a plan for Tuesday that turned out to be one of the most memorable days ever! As it turned out, the city of Amsterdam had organized a massive homecoming celebration for the players upon their arrival back from South Africa. The three of us went on a train to the Capitol and found ourselves surrounded by even more Crazy Orange fans!
It was fantastic! We ended up joining some 200,000 supporters at the Museum Square where the party was in full swing. A big podium was setup where the players would eventually end up after a canal tour. This scene reminded me so much of that 1988 Euro celebration! My son didn’t know what hit him as he looked around in total disbelief!
This is how they celebrate a lost game? Wow! A special moment came when the players were flown over the square in two Chinook helicopters. The whole crowd went nuts! Cheering and waving to their heroes! What an experience!
And then, it was all over. We made our way back home with a bag full of mixed emotions. Sure, we lost the final but the entire experience, the pre-game excitement, the game itself, the emotional roller-coaster, the celebration in Amsterdam – what a trip! In just four days, my son had been infected for the rest of his life with a good dose of Crazy Orange! Now he knew what the madness is all about! An experience we will never forget! Sad and disillusioned by the loss but one heck of a memory richer!
- Author: Marcel Verkerk