Having now been in the Netherlands for over two weeks, it must be time for an update. We took the cheapest [read: slowest] option to get here, which involved spending eight hours of Antony's birthday in a pub in London, all our belongings piled up in a corner, watching the Nadal Federer final and some football to kill time before jumping on a bus headed for Amsterdam. Twelve very long hours later, after a bus trip to Dover, a ferry across the water to Calais [mirroring exactly the Eurostar trip we took that very morning], then back on the bus and through Belgium to the Netherlands, we eventually climbed out of the bus in The Hague, found a train to Leiden, and ran into Paul in the train station just after seven in the morning. Needless to say, by about 11, we thought it should be late afternoon and could have done with a nap [who would have thought those bus seats weren't comfortable?] but we struggled on, familiarising ourselves with Leiden before having our first real European football experience...
We trained back to The Hague with a group of Paul's friends for the Netherlands opening Euro2008 match against Italy, and not much could have prepared us for the orange madness that we would meet when we got there! Every pub/restaurant/bar/house in town seems to have draped itself in orange flags, banners, posters and anything else they could lay their hands on, and every tv was tuned in. The crowds jumped and screamed and clapped every time a Dutch player landed boot to ball, and as the goals started coming, it only got louder. Coming from a nation where the national economy takes a hit every time our sports teams take a fall, we thought we knew a bit about patriotism and crowds going wild. Turns out we were wrong. These guys really know how to enjoy a game of football :)
We've watched each of the Netherlands games since [as well as a fair few of the others, just to keep up with the results ;) ] in different locations, all crowded, all very orange, all very loud. And yet even when the Quarter on Saturday ended in the shocking result that it did, the supporters put on a brave face, packed up their orange and dispersed quietly. The pub we were at even put on 'Always look on the bright side of life' over the PA system, and the crowd started to sing along. They were proud of their team for doing as well as they did, and in a way, Netherlands was the winner on the night either way, as Hiddinck, the Russian coach, is a former coach of the national side here.
It seems All Blacks fans have got something to learn after all.