I have never been the biggest football fan but in 2010, I happened to be living in the Netherlands when they made it all the way to the final of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
At the beginning of the World Cup my only thought was that I vaguely hoped Australia might do well, before one of my friends casually commented that if the Netherlands made it a long way the atmosphere around Amsterdam would be great. As it turned out, he was 100% correct.
The Netherlands entered the World Cup ranked fourth behind Brazil, Spain and Portugal. They had little trouble topping Group E, beating Japan, Denmark and Cameroon, and proceeded to the knock-out stage. They won the round of 16 match against Slovakia 2:1, and qualified for the quarter-final, where they would face Brazil.
As Brazil were ranked first in the world, the Netherlands faced a big challenge, but they defeated the South American team 2:1 to make it to the penultimate match. It was then that most of my friends and I began to take notice (I know some might groan at such a statement, or call me some sort of name related to bandwagon jumping…what can I say? I’m part of the small percentage in the world that finds other sports more captivating).
When you live in a country hosting a major event like this there is a ‘buzz’ everywhere. This part of the summer was all sunshine and happiness as the Dutch enjoyed their nation’s success and were optimistic at what was to come.
A group of us planned to watch the semi-final in Museumplein in the centre of Amsterdam, where there is a large, empty grass area perfect for hosting big screens and large crowds. As usual when an event celebrating all things Dutch takes place, bright orange clothing and all manner of stereotypical items were expected.
Dressed in our best orange outfits, which for me included a furry cowboy hat, we met on the Friday evening. I located my friends, who had already been holding a spot and saluting the Netherlands with cans of Heineken, amid a sea of thousands of people. We waited for the game to begin in a festival-like atmosphere, with music blaring from surrounding speakers and nowhere near enough public bathrooms nearby.
Watching the Netherlands beat Uruguay 3:2 was so exciting. The Netherlands scored the first goal of the game before Uruguay equalised. Early in the second half, the Netherlands added two more goals in quick succession, and though Uruguay scored another as the game neared full-time, they could not level again.
As the final whistle approached I gathered my belongings from the ground as one of my friends warned “when the game finishes, everyone is just going to start jumping.” He was right – the game ended, the Black Eyed Peas ‘I Gotta Feeling’ played, and a huge, spontaneous party began. People splashed around in the nearby fountain, and as we walked through the streets we found all the cars helplessly stopped, with their drivers laughing, as people danced around vehicles and climbed traffic lights.
It was a great night, and filled me with anticipation of the final.
The day of the final was an unusually hot, perfectly clear sunny Sunday. The population of Amsterdam swelled as thousands of people made their way into the city from the surrounding smaller towns, and most spent almost the entire day out drinking, eating and generally being merry in the lead up to the game. Excited anticipation was in the air as we received free orange shirts from random people in the squares, and also received buckets of water on our heads from people in apartments above main pedestrian streets.
Finally it was time to make our way to Museumplein, which on this day was filled with 180,000 people – significantly more than the semi-final. While I was excited for the match, it was also a LOT of people and football fans are not known for being the calmest supporters. I admit to being a little apprehensive as we stood in the midst of the huge crowd, thinking what on earth I would do if the Dutch lost the game and people showed their displeasure.
The only goal in the game was scored right near the end. Spain won 1:0 and as the reality sank in, the atmosphere in the crowd deflated quickly. One person nearby threw a beer bottle at the screen, but apart from that the reaction was fairly low-key. Everyone simply walked quietly away, and all the bars and terrace cafes set up ready for a huge party were left empty as the streets returned to normal.
A few days later the team returned home and there was a huge parade in Amsterdam, by which time people had recovered somewhat are were ready to celebrate the team’s achievement of finishing second.
Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC