Why root for the Dutch? You get to wear awesome orange windmill shades to every match. The end.
In 8th grade social studies, I had to give a report on my family history. I stood before my classmates and recounted the story of my ancestors, and as soon as I told them that my last name was Dutch for "sheep," I was barraged by a chorus of: Baa baa baa. Never mind that I’d explained I descended from wool merchants and not, in fact, from sheep: I still got baaaa'd at for the remainder of the school year. In the hallways. The cafeteria. The gym. Baa. Baa. Baa. Fun.
But you know what they say about that which does not kill you. Such teasing toughened me up, and rather than trying to run from my Dutchness, I owned it. And the more I learned about the Netherlands, the more pleased I was to be, at least in name, Dutch. How tolerant—and tall—they are! Progressive, artful, industrious! Tulips! Gouda! Legalized… whatever.
Somewhere along the way, I also discovered that they played a distinctive style of soccer—and I knew that Oranje was the team for me.
David Winner, in the introduction to his brilliant, original, and often very funny book Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, asks: "What made them the way they were? What was Dutch about them? When they played beautifully, what exactly were they doing? Why did Dutch football look so different from everyone else’s football? Why did they screw up at vital moments in the biggest competitions?" To address these questions, Winner discusses Dutch social movements, Dutch architecture, Dutch topography, and suggests that these factors—and many more—contribute to the character of Dutch soccer.
I missed out on the glory days of Johan Cruyff, and the peak of totaatlvoetbal the fluid, aggressive style the Dutch pioneered in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But by the time I’d started paying attention, exceptional players like Dennis Bergkamp and the great goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar made it clear that KNVB, the Clockwork Orange, whatever you call the Netherlands National Football Team, was still something special, still something elegant, and still, in some seductively mysterious way, distinctly Dutch.
This doesn’t mean they ever win. Never has the World Cup been theirs (Oranje was runner-up twice, in 1974 and 1978, and took fourth place in 1998), and though I will root for them again with all my heart this year, I know it’s unlikely they’ll prevail. But not impossible.
And that’s o.k. Because Oranje may be the only team in the world for whom winning isn’t everything; playing beautifully is. As the great Cruyff himself once said, "There is no medal better than being acclaimed for your style."
Whether the stars in the current squad—including Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben—buy into this notion remains to be seen, starting tomorrow, when they face Denmark. I’ll be up bright and early, ready to cheer HUP, HOLLAND, HUP! Sounds much than better than baa, baa, baa.