On the 11th of July 2010, I was in a noisy Dutch bar just off Museumplein Amsterdam dressed in orange, screaming and shouting for the three hours leading up to the World Cup finals. The shouting continued for the better part of 116 minutes of the match - standing on a couch in the bar which had a little more space than a peak time Mumbai local.
Everyone knows what happened in the match, so I won't go into the details. I'm no football expert for sure, with my interest only taking off this year after moving to Holland. This post is about the atmosphere of Amsterdam and the reactions and attitudes of the its people.
On the day of the finals, the eyes were saturated with orange and the ears were near-deaf with vuvuzelas and the odd irritating airhorn. When we got to Amsterdam, three hours before the match, Museumplein was teeming with people. (More than a lakh, I'm now told).
Being a drop in the sea of orange was not for us, not just because it was noisy and loud, but because we were too short to even see the screen. Which is logical when you consider the fact that the Dutch are the tallest people in the world. The next best option was to head to a bar, and we walked into the first one that proclaimed "WK Finale" or such like at its doors.
The match was actually quite riveting for us, the battle of wills between two teams was interesting to watch. Some straightforward missed opportunities and some amazing saves by Stekelenburg generated tremendous noise.
The Dutch crowd was friendly and the wife and I had good company. There was a young guy who turned his flirtatious energies from Girl 1 to Girl 2 because he saw Girl 1 kissing another guy. This guy also bought us a couple of beers because he spilled two drops of water where we were sitting. Then there was a wise, older man who educated me with:
- The Dutch translation of "He is a duck penis", every time a Spanish player took an Oscar-worthy dive or Mr Webb decided to exercise his arm.
- Andre Hazes and the song that is the title of this blog post.
- The fact that the Dutch national anthem (the oldest in the world) actually honours the Spanish king. (Video below)
The real irony of it is that the Cup was won by a country that is quite divided. Not everyone in Spain was cheering for the team, and some were even betting against it. On the other hand, almost everyone in the Netherlands was dressed in orange, hoping to prove Paul the octopus wrong and make the most of their World Cup finals appearance after 32 years. I still think their achievement of reaching the finals is commendable considering how small the country is in terms of sheer numbers.
In contrast with the pre-match din, there was a murmured silence after the goal in the second half of extra time. Unlike India, where the silence manifests only in the stadium where Sachin Tendulkar gets out or the opposing team hits a boundary, this quiet was present in the bar, on the streets of Amsterdam and followed us onto the train, all the way to Utrecht.
People kicked the odd beer can on the street, complained about Webb and looked despondent as they held their heads in their hands, sitting by the streets. But the silence was not accompanied by any aggression. I didn't hear anyone shouting or making a nuisance, and that was a nice thing to see.
Somewhere in the middle of the match a beverage influenced Dutch fan asked me, "Have you ever seen an atmosphere like this?" I answered his rhetorical question with a quiet "Yes", thinking of the recent IPL. A tinge of homesickness surfaced as I reminisced the days when my brother, father and I watched every single ball of a test match. Come to think of it, my answer probably broke the man's heart; but for him and the millions of Dutch fans around the world, there was much more to follow.