Everyone wants a taste of Holland at the moment, and you don't even have to go to a coffeeshop in Amsterdam to sample it. Total Football is a legal high and for British users, it's currently available via your television set about twice a week. However, our government should be concerned - the drug is proving to be dangerously addictive and after Friday night's heavy session, I think I'm hooked.
It all started innocently enough as we queued optimistically outside De Hems just off Shaftesbury Avenue - the official headquarters for Netherlands fans in London. It soon became clear that we weren't getting in. The pub was full to capacity, and there was no chance of persuading the bouncers to make an exception for us - particularly as we weren't wearing orange (despite my friend Dan's claim that his terracotta-striped polo shirt proved where his allegiance lay. It didn't). With time ticking down before kick-off, we hot-footed it to the Sports Cafe on Haymarket.
On arrival, a contretemps had escalated outside between an irate France fan and the hired muscle on the door. Coxy, our other companion, claimed the latter was a "celebrity bouncer" and when I questioned the burly doorminder later, he did proudly state that he had been on the telly a lot recently "including Sky News". I've tried to Google him but to no avail. He did put on a star performance for our benefit, however, leaving the angry Les Bleus supporter glummer than Nicolas Anelka after the Champions League final.
Having paid a frankly extortionate £5 entry fee which at least included a bottle of Becks, we took our places between a loud sweaty group of Dutchmen and a sombre posse of France supporters. We'd already missed Dirk Kuyt's headed opener and although France were now in the ascendancy, their forays forward kept ending in frustration. An unfeasibly tall Frenchwoman who we labelled 'Grande Oiseau' attempted to block our view but after sidestepping round her with the poise and grace of Zidane, our viewing position was ideal for the thrilling second half in Berne.
Earlier, Coxy told us a rumour had been going around about Arjen Robben's recent injury problems. Apparently the Real Madrid winger wasn't actually receiving physio treatment for a calf injury but had been to visit a different sort of clinic entirely. Robben's appearance on the touchine was then greeted with the comment, "look, he's itching to get on!" raising suspicions that the whole tale was just an elaborate set-up after all.
There were clearly a few Cockneys in amongst the genuine Holland fans, whose enthusiasm was contagious - except to the French of course. Thierry Henry's well-taken goal gave them hope, but within seconds Arjen Robben had extinguished that. Then came Wesley Sneijder's world-class strike, which capped another superb performance from Marco van Basten's side.
Knees and toes
After a quick falafel stop, we headed back to De Hems where the post-match celebrations were in full flow. Quite why the DJ was playing Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' will remain a mystery, but the Oranje fans were loving it. Next up was a quick burst of 2 Unlimited - predictable, but also well-received - then a series of Dutch favourites, including something to the tune of Auld Lang Syne and then 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes', which I discovered becomes seriously complicated when you've had about six pints of Heineken and Oranjeboom.
The night drew to a close with the three of us feeling thoroughly accepted by our Dutch brothers and sisters, and with their team looking good for a long run in the tournament, I recommend checking out De Hems for their remaining games. Just make sure you wear something orange (terracotta doesn't count), and get there as early as possible.
Back at chez Dan, we caught up on the highlights from Italy v Romania and marvelled at Gianluigi Buffon's phenomenal penalty save from Adrian Mutu. The Group C results thus far have set up a potential winner-takes-all clash between France and Italy next week, although Romania can pip them both to second place if they beat Holland. I'll be at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich to see Les Bleus face the Azzurri, and I'm looking forward to seeing how both sets of fans cope with such a nerve-racking game. But can the winners match the Dutch for post-match high spirits? Somehow I doubt it.
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